A local park, rich in history, is celebrating a birthday


Monitor columnist

Published: 09-16-2023 9:15 PM

Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown is a direct descendent of a program born during one of the most important times in U.S. history, and both are celebrating milestone birthdays this year.

Bear Brook is 80. The Civilian Conservation Corps turned 90.

That will be the theme when Bear Brook hosts its own 80th birthday party on Sunday at the famous, spacious park. Visitors will be welcomed at 9 a.m. and the day begins with a nature walk at 9:30 a.m.

The usual recreational activities will be available. Hiking, biking and horseback riding, and museums, swimming, camping and basically any other summer activity that comes to mind.

Bear Brook remains the largest developed state park in the Granite State and sits on a 10,000-acre landscape, spanning four towns and two counties.

Planning for the birthday began early in 2023. Park Manager Christina Pacuk joined the staff when Bear Brook, which opened in 1943, hit 75 years old. She was busy acclimating herself to her new job and still had a lot to learn.

Now, for the 80th, she’s ready.

“We’re really excited,” Pacuk said. “I learned, so now I can throw myself into it.”

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Ten years before the creation of Bear Brook, in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was born to create jobs during the Great Depression. The work done on what would later become Bear Brook land laid the groundwork for what you see today: An outdoor Garden of Eden.

The CCC comes under the park’s celebratory birthday headline, but the two entities walked hand in hand, one dependent on the other’s evolution after its creation in ’33.

The CCC was a work relief program born during the Depression and part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, creating millions of jobs nationwide.

The land in which the park sits was one of the sites chosen for CCC work. Millions of trees were planted, walking trails were built and shelters were constructed during its nine-year run, which ended in 1942.

Bear Brook officially became a New Hampshire State Park a year later and was one of many great parks built during World War II that was influenced by the CCC, which shaped the outdoor facilities we see today.

“The CCC had its camp here, so that made the baseline for our trails and other things,” Pacuk said. “They built summer camps and bridges and stone pavilions, and turned little streams into big ponds. They built the park into what it is today, and it wouldn’t be here without (the CCC).”

The park’s history, while rich in detail and historical facts, contains a dark piece from the past: Four bodies were discovered in barrels – two in 1985 and two in 2000. The unsolved murders spawned a popular true crime podcast bearing the name: Bear Brook.

Pacuk said people are certainly curious. She had a ready response.

“We get asked that a lot,” she said. “People listen to podcasts and learn through the media, but we remind them that it did not happen on park property. It was private property, but you have to drive through ours to get there.”

Meanwhile, old buildings remain, used for different roles today. The former blacksmith shop now houses the lawn equipment, but it retains its feel from a different era. Other treasures from the 1930s and ’40s will be displayed at the CCC Museum.

There will be instruction on preserving the habitat of turtles, salamanders and snakes. The State Archaeologist, Mark Doperalski, will show artifacts he’s found near the river and at the former one-room schoolhouse.

“He has them from when before people were living there,” Pacuk said. “He’s had more recent digs that concentrated on Native Americans living along the Suncook River. Shards of arrows and where they had campgrounds, where you can see layers in the dirt where fires had been.”

The Derry Trail Riders and New England Mountain Bike Association will stage rides and hikes and explain the importance of volunteers, who cut branches and oversee drainage to create the paths. Horseback riding will be available as well.

The Allenstown Police and Fire Departments will be on hand to explain how they deal with injuries and the importance of fire safety.

Of course, Smokey Bear has always played a key role when it comes to fire safety. His deep, Johnny Cash-like voice has been reminding us for decades that “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

You can learn with Smokey while eating S’mores. As a matter of fact, he has a special birthday, too,  just around the corner.

“He turns 80 next summer,” Pacuk said.