Ray Dunn helps construct the roof on a new lean-to volunteers helped build Saturday near Pisgah State Park.(Howard Weiss-Tisman/Reformer)
Ray Dunn helps construct the roof on a new lean-to volunteers helped build Saturday near Pisgah State Park. (Howard Weiss-Tisman/Reformer)

CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Soon after Kim Nilsen joined the Friends of Pisgah Council he recognized the need to have more options for hikers to spend a night out in the woods.

Nilsen has worked on a number of trails and shelter projects in New Hampshire's North Country and he wanted to give outdoor lovers a chance to experience southern New England's forests under a starry sky.

On Saturday a group of volunteers came out to help Nilsen see that plan through. About a dozen volunteers with the Friends of Pisgah came out to help build a three-sided shelter that will now be available for overnight camping.

The Friends of Pisgah is a local conservation group that works both in Pisgah State Park as well as on lands the group owns near the park, and the new shelter was built on land that abuts the state park.

"We're a hiking group, and a trail maintenance group, but we don't have any place to enjoy the woods in the evening," Nilsen said. "So everybody agreed that it would be a nice thing to do."

Pisgah State Park is made up of 13,300 acres in the towns of Winchester, Chesterfield and Hinsdale, and at 21 square miles it is the largest property in the New Hampshire park system.

About 12 years ago approximately 100 acres were donated to the group and the new shelter lies within that boundary.

After convincing the rest of the council that it would be a good idea to build a shelter, the group purchased the materials and over the past few weekends volunteers have come out to help put it up in a clearing about one-half mile off of Route 63 near the Chesterfield-Hinsdale line.

"If you're a day hiker you come in and go out and you limit your experience in the woods," Nilsen said at the site Saturday in between guiding the work crew on the construction. "But if you're in the woods, and you stay in the woods, and you listen to those night sounds, it expands your horizons. Hopefully that increases their interest in maintaining what's around us."

Abe Howe came out early Saturday with his son, Gabriel, a fifth-grade student who was out to do community service work.

The two worked on the shelter and Gabriel got a lesson in nail-banging.

"This is something we already enjoy and it's something that's going to benefit the community so we thought it would be a good way to spend a Saturday," Abe Howe said.

The Friends of Pisgah have had a sometimes uneven relationship with the state over funding and maintenance of the park, said John Hudachek, who is also a council member with Friends of Pisgah.

Things have improved recently he said, and new shelter will hopefully one day be part of a longer trail and lean-to system.

Trials currently allow hikers to go from Brattleboro to Keene, N.H., through the park and beyond, though overnight camping is not allowed in Pisgah State Park, which is under the jurisdiction of the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation.

Gabriel Howe, of Westmoreland, helped nail boards on to a new lean-to during a volunteer work day near Pisgah State Park Saturday.(Howard
Gabriel Howe, of Westmoreland, helped nail boards on to a new lean-to during a volunteer work day near Pisgah State Park Saturday. (Howard Weiss-Tisman/Reformer)

The group has also built a latrine near the shelter and there is a spring nearby.

The Friends of Pisgah also has established a few trails in the area that lead into the park

"This is Friend's of Pisgah land," Hudachek said. "The state would never let us build this in the park; there's no fires, there's no overnight camping, so we said 'We can be right next to the park and we don't have to ask the state.'"

Nilsen said having a work project like the one that helped build the new shelter does more than just enhance the resources.

"I love this kind of work, because it's camaraderie. People come out of the woodwork and volunteer. They love to do these kinds of things because they'll benefit from it. We'll all benefit from it," he said. "It is it's own self reward. We all get together to do this kind of thing. It's a communal experience. There's no money involved and at the end of the day we're all elated."

Nilsen says the lean-to will be open to the public, and initially the group is going to just have it available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Bringing together a group of volunteers to make something that might be used by the community for decades is important, Nilsen said, both in what it means for those who will use the shelter and explore Pisgah, as well as for how a night spent in the woods can have a lasting impact on someone.

"We're trying to instill a conservation ethic in people, and if they really have a whole blown experience in the woods, in a quiet environment and a natural setting, then they're going to want to become involved, protecting that setting and conserving that setting," Nilsen said. "We all have open spaces we cherish, and we've got to take care of those open spaces. We absolutely have to. We have to do more of it because there are pressures on open spaces from every other art of our society are intense. We need to do something about that, get active, and be a positive force for keeping these environments open."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.