The Bunker Hill forest stays wild
Updated: 2 days ago
Annie Jacobs, October 27, 2023
As a young girl living in New Jersey, Betsy Boehme Howe had severe asthma. Her parents, Louise and Ernest Boehme, were advised to move someplace with cleaner air for Betsy’s health.
Louise had grown up in Troy, and Betsy was born in Troy before the young family moved to New Jersey.
Ernest, who grew up in Germany with summers spent on a family farm, traveled to Upstate New York for his work as a mechanical engineer. He learned that Grafton was known for its clean air. One day he passed a For Sale sign for a former dairy farm, known as Jay Hakes Farm.
Louise and Ernest moved Betsy and her younger brother Bill for a life in the country.
Their new home came with deep forests, wild strawberry patches, and a winding section of the Quacken Kill Creek, a high-quality trout stream. Bunker Hill, a forested hill with a rocky summit and overlook, rose up from the streambank.
Growing up on Jay Hakes Farm, Bill and Betsy scrambled all over the land, finding the best swimming holes in the Quacken Kill and rock hopping to get across.
On the other side of the creek, they would hike to the summit of Bunker Hill. Their parents, both working off the farm, raised animals including milk goats and a Guernsey cow.
Once grown, Betsy settled in Massachusetts and Bill in Montana. As Louise and Ernest were aging, they decided to move to Montana to be close to Bill. They sold the original homestead and five acres but kept most of the land. After their death, Betsy and Bill inherited that land.
A shared love of the land
In 2002, Betsy received a letter at her home in Massachusetts from David Hunt. Hunt introduced himself as a neighbor on Jay Hakes Road in Grafton, on the Rensselaer Plateau.
David shared in the letter that he was an ecologist and botanist with an affinity for Bunker Hill and the surrounding forest. He wrote of how he hoped to see that land remain wild. He asked for permission to hike on the summit of Bunker Hill to study the plants and animals.
He closed the letter asking if he and his wife Lori could harvest strawberries from the land and promised jam in return.
From that first letter came two decades of correspondence between David and Betsy, as well as in-person visits when Betsy came back to Grafton or David visited his hometown in Massachusetts.
David watched over the Boehme’s farm, collecting trash tossed along the roadside and leading ecology walks on the land.
“I really appreciated David's connection with the land and his deep knowledge of nature,” says Betsy.
Bunker Hill stays wild, forever
The future of the land in Grafton was on Betsy and Bill’s minds since their parents moved away. As they thought about how special the forest, creek, and hill had been for them, they were increasingly aware of nearby threats like mining and development.
“I live in a fast-growing suburban area in Montana,” says Bill. “Watching development happen so quickly makes me think about our land in Grafton. That mountain and trout stream need to stay wild.”
In 2022, Betsy and Bill decided to donate most of the land – 209 acres in total – to RPA for permanent conservation.
“It’s a special place, and we want it to stay that way,” says Betsy.
That fall, after Jim Bonesteel, RPA’s Executive Director, had started working with Bill and Betsy to conserve their land, Jim asked David Hunt to lead a group of RPA members up Bunker Hill.
After the hike, David wrote to Betsy about it, thanking her for her donation and sharing how much everyone on the hike appreciated the beauty of the land.
A few months later, David entered hospice care after a brief illness. Surrounded by family and friends, he passed away on March 24th.
“I was completely shocked,” says Betsy. “David loved the land and had so much respect for it. It was a real privilege to know him.” Cut yellow if needed
Boehme Legacy Forest is slated to open to the public in 2024, with a trail across the Quacken Kill and up the hill.
Betsy and Bill are grateful that future generations of young people will have the chance to explore the Quacken Kill, pick berries, and gaze out across a forested landscape from the summit of Bunker Hill. They know their parents would be happy, too.
In Memory of David Hunt
The Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, Rensselaer Land Trust, and our local conservation community have lost a legendary member. David Hunt, Ph.D. passed away from cancer at age 63 on Friday, March 24, 2023.
David lived on the Rensselaer Plateau for decades, where he became a leading expert in local ecology. He provided ecological assessments for RPA’s Rensselaer Plateau Regional Conservation Plan and the Rensselaer Land Trust’s Rensselaer County Conservation Plan. He was a founding member of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance.
Colleagues and friends will fondly remember David for his encyclopedic knowledge of botany and ecology, an unparalleled level of detail in his studies and reports, and his readiness to work in all weather conditions, or waist-deep in mud, without a thought.
He will also be remembered for his sincerity, loyalty in friendship, his love of playing games with family and friends, his choice to live without a cell phone or email, and his deep connection to nature.
Jim Bonesteel, Executive Director of RPA says, “David is one of a small group of people critical to the formation and success of RPA. He also produced the most detailed Conservation Plan around, identifying ecological communities down to a 50-foot radius.”