Conservation center takes shape in Deerfield
“What we're trying to do is foster an appreciation for the natural world,” said Jean Cumings, a zoology teacher at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. “What I really want is for people to be able to come here with their kids, maybe pick some wild berries and have a picnic, like a day at grandpa's farm, because there really aren't too many of those around anymore.”
After receiving conditional approval from the Planning Board in June, the pair plans for a mid-July opening of the Cumings Conservation Center, a family nature discovery center showcasing New Hampshire wildlife.
Set in a residential neighborhood, the sprawling farm now features a hummingbird garden, pens for pygmy goats and various other habitats, both naturally occurring and created by the Cumingses. Walking trails lead about a half mile through the woods to a beaver pond that's part of a state conservation easement, so no development can occur alongside it.
An 1840s Cape-style house will showcase displays on birds, mammals and reptiles. The barn will house rabbits, alpacas and other animals, plus a loft that will serve as function space. Cumings said she'd like to host barn dances and student sleepovers. There's a smaller, post-and-beam structure, too that she hopes to use as a classroom for educational presentations.
“My husband's really excited to restore it,” she said of the building they call the Wee House. “I think it was most recently used as a chicken coop, but it was a house once, and it could be a house again.”
Cumings said she and her husband had wanted to create a nature center for years. The catalyst to actually starting one came when their son interned at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn.
“I realized that one person or a couple people can do something if you work hard enough at it,” Cumings said.
While the couple is doing the majority of the restoration and other preparation on their own, the project as a whole is a community effort. One of Cumings' students is laying mulch and landscaping a garden as a senior portfolio project, and other area volunteers have chipped in as well. The center will be funded through donations and membership fees.
Still, Cumings said she knows it's going to take some luck for her dream to be realized.
“I know the economy's tough right now, and nonprofits are falling apart,” Cumings said. “We live across town, so worst-case scenario, we just move out here and live, because it's just such a nice farm.”
But she remains optimistic, believing in the power of community bonds over a down economy.
“I've lived in Deerfield for 26 years now,” she said. “And it's the kind of town where people really support projects like this.”
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