Bear Hill Pond Camp Reopens: A Living Historical Camp!

By: Renee Rosenbaum,  SCA New Hampshire Corps, Americorps; Conservation Steward

Looking closely, you can see the cabins poking through the winter trees, built by the CCC in 1937.

There is nothing quite like the experience of camping. The benefits of living in the outdoors – even if just for a couple days –  does wonders for the mind, body, and soul.  In some cases, it also provides a historical reference to past times or important events.  That is why I was thrilled to find out that the Bear Hill Pond Camp has reopened to the public this year!  With extensive planning, development and renovation, New Hampshire State Parks hopes to continue to restore this historic camp to its former glory.  When finished this will include 4 camping units, each with 8 sleeping cabins, a lodge, and a wash house.   The camp will eventually add to its amenities a beach area, bath house, and small supplies store.  Combining the efforts of the past, the dedication invested now, and a vision for a lively future camp presents conservation work at its best.  It is a truly unique time to be a part of New Hampshire’s camp life.

Parks planning members discuss beach rehab options on site.
When first opened, the beach included a marked swimming area, docks and a sizable clean beach.  This was taken the day before camp opened- June 26, 1937!

The overgrown beach, due to years of non-use, has narrowed the shoreline.

Etched in the cabin wall, probably by some mischievous, love struck, young camper reads “SV+NS.”  Among the other markings of graffiti, some in ink and some carved, are the remnant stories of past campers of Bear Hill Pond Camp. 

Carved messages keep the past alive–however, I’m not sure what this message is trying to convey.

These campers began coming here in the late 1930s.  Seeing these vintage messages within the newly furnished cabins ties together the past and present use of the camp.  This also offers an exciting time to visit. Renovations continue at Bear Hill  through the rest of this season and into the next. You can now rent these cabins originally constructed 80 years ago!  Just be reminded, this is an in-house project; the NHSP staff are taking on all the work, without outside contractors so the work is present, yet progressive.

A work in progress- newly constructed deck and ramp to accommodate all visitors being added to the original cabin.

Originally, Bear Hill Pond Camp opened in 1937 and operated until 2008.   The camp, as well as Bear Brook State Park in which it is located, were developed by the National Park Service and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s and 40s. 

Construction and completion of actual cabins at BHPC- 1937

Just one month after his presidential inauguration, Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed his vision for the conservation and rejuvenation of the nation’s natural resources and beauty to Congress. 

The purpose for the CCC was “…to relieve…unemployment existing in the United States, provide for the restoration of the country’s depleted natural resources, and advance an orderly program of useful public works.” 

It provided job training to young men in need of work and purpose during the Great Depression.

The original cabins still stand– awaiting new campers to fill and bring them back to life!
Some original construction;  just needs a face lift
Voila! Good as new!

From 1933-1942, the CCC greatly added to the nation’s vast natural resources.  They planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest the land, constructed trails, lodges, and related facilities in more than 800 parks nationwide; their efforts aided state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.  New Hampshire was a direct beneficiary of the program.  After construction was complete, Bear Hill Pond opened as a camp to hold week-long sessions for organizations including 4H, Girl Scouts, and the YMCA.  The initiative of the camp was to improve the physical health, moral character, and social skills of children by giving them the experience of outdoor living.  Unfortunately, shortly after the 4H organization had to discontinue their patronage to the camp, BHPC closed after 70 years of hosting thousands of campers.

Recently, members of New Hampshire State Park involved with BHPC met on site to discuss current and future plans. 

This is not a hacky-sack circle! The planning team discussing architecture, engineering, design, operations, and construction on site.

The walking tour of the Oaks Unit (now open and being renovated), Maple Unit (renovation in the works), and shared public spaces (to open soon) offered a glimpse of the various stages of project development.

There is work going on in every direction to bring these structures back to life.  Reopening involves many decisions concerning how to allocate resources, prioritize  projects, and foresee how the 80 year old camp can best continue to host eager groups and families of campers.  I got an inside look into one of the newly furnished cabins ready to be rented.

Newly furnished 4 person cabin with bunk beds and extra comfortable futon couch/bed.
Double bunks in a 4 person cabin–already settled in for a fun weekend.

With its charm and cozy interior, I would love to plan a camping get-away to this place.  This is now possible with the opening of Bear Hill Pond Camp! 

Outside the renovated cabin- a relaxing porch facing the pond.
Happy campers! I spoke with this family about their Bear Hill Pond Camp experience, their smiles tell the response.
One of the cabins available now.  Cooperative work effort with the SCA NH/Americorps and NHSP to restore these beautiful cabins.

New Hampshire State Parks recognizes the potential that Bear Hill Pond Camp holds and is diligently working to restore its historic legacy.  Dedicated efforts are being made to rehabilitate the beach, restore and redesign the bath house, and continue to open more sleeping cabins. 

From mid to late July, a New Hampshire Student Conservation Association/ Americorps crew contributed their services to complete a variety of projects to get the facilities prepared and spruced up for public use and camping.

Group photo of some of the SCA NH/Americorps crew taking some time to enjoy a job well done.

These projects included: painting and cleaning cabins, building picnic tables and fire rings, clearing brush, opening view sheds, and renaturalizing the area with native plants such as blueberry bushes.

Another pow-wow planning in the camp’s pavillion.

  Come be a part of this cultural heritage and enjoy the scenic landscape, well constructed and maintained cabins, and enjoy the many recreational activities around the camp.  By renting here, you will be a part of living history at Bear Brook. Just remember to always  use principles of Leave No Trace.  Respect and preserve historical resources so future campers can enjoy the same experience– leaving stuff like the graffiti as is.  While you may fall in love with this place, please don’t advertise this on the hallowed walls.  Its important to keep the authenticity of this camp intact for the next campers- to see the past, be a part of the present, and allow the future of this unique camp to remain one of New Hampshire State Parks great treasures.

Happy Trails!

Interested in reserving a Bear Hill Cabin? For the remainder of the 2018 camping season (through late October) we are taking reservations in-house and you can reserve a cabin at Bear Hill by calling (603) 271-3556.

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Discover Power of Parks SCA Interpreters

Discover the Power of Parks is presented by New Hampshire State Parks in collaboration with the Student Conservation Association and made possible by generous financial support from Eversource. The program offers a look into the natural world through hands-on programming. Interpretive programs focus on connecting participants with nature and building appreciation for New Hampshire's unmatched natural heritage. Programs include guided hikes, interpretive tours, and imaginative environmental workshops for children and families. Programs are offered free to guests with paid park admission fee. No pre-registration is required.

10 thoughts on “Bear Hill Pond Camp Reopens: A Living Historical Camp!

  1. My family and I stayed there the first weekend it opened this month and we LOVED it. I see my photo of the bunks was used above too. (Happy it was cleaned up!) We look forward to many more trips!

  2. Love that the camp buildings are being restored and that campers will again enjoy camp!

    Bear Hill and Spruce Pond hold a special place in my heart for all my years of camp memories.

  3. My mother was a camp nurse at Bear Hill for a summer and later Spruce Pond for a few summers in the early-mid 70’s. I’d love to see a similar renovation project at Spruce Pond. Both camps are treasures.

  4. Such an amazing and magical place! Thank you for putting in the effort to share this with others again. So many happy memories. I hope to return in years to come.

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