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Mascoma Teacher Keeps His Land Free

Koby Van Beest, of Canaan, a science and English teacher at Mascoma High School does not post his 80 acres near Goose Pond, allowing hunting, hiking and snowshoing. Van Beest has been recognized with New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife's Landowner Appreciation Award. Thursday, May 1, 2014.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Koby Van Beest, of Canaan, a science and English teacher at Mascoma High School does not post his 80 acres near Goose Pond, allowing hunting, hiking and snowshoing. Van Beest has been recognized with New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife's Landowner Appreciation Award. Thursday, May 1, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Canaan — For the last 27 years, Mascoma Valley Regional High teacher Koby Van Beest has kept the 80 acres of hilly, diverse land he owns in Canaan open for public use. New Hampshire Fish & Game recently let him know how much it’s appreciated.

Van Beest, 59, last week was named the recipient of NHFG’s Landowner Appreciation Award, issued annually to recognize excellence in preservation of opportunities for public use on private property.

An English and science teacher at Mascoma , Van Beest founded the Mascoma Outing Club, leading members through various outdoor adventures and activities. He encourages members to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible on their own time, welcoming activities such as hunting, hiking and wildlife-viewing on his property.

Van Beest was nominated for the award by Sharon Guaraldi, a neighbor and New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner for Grafton County.

“As far as I know, I was the only one nominated,” chided Van Beest, a Chicago native who developed an appreciation for the outdoors while spending summers in Minnesota after high school. “Regardless, it’s a nice award. It’s their way of letting people know they appreciate when land isn’t posted and is kept open to everyone.”

Van Beest is disappointed when coming across land posted with “No Trespassing” signs or other obstructions to deter public use. He was once hiking on a trail in his neighborhood when he encountered a number of large logs strewn across a path, placed in order to stop users from advancing.

“It always makes me mad when I see stuff like that,” Van Beest said. “The problem is that it discourages people from enjoying the outdoors. Our motto with Mascoma Outing Club is ‘Come out and play.’ We don’t want to restrict people from enjoying the outdoors. We want to encourage it.”

Van Beest said he trusts users of his land to respect it. If an issue arises, he prefers to address it with a conversation.

“Especially with (motorized vehicles), there can be problems, if people are tearing up the soil or they’re too noisy, revving up two-stroke engines and things like that,” he said. “If that happens, just go out and talk to them about it. That’s what I do.”

Some snowmobilers — who happen to double as Van Beest’s students — love using his open field to blast through on their machines. Van Beest says that’s fine, as long as he’s not home. “If I’m home, they know not to do it because it’s too noisy,” he said. “I also have students who hunt deer and turkey. For that, I don’t mind if I’m home.”

Thanks to the relationships Van Beest holds with neighbors, he’s only had to mow his large, open field behind his house twice in the 24 years he’s owned the property. That’s because he allows visiting cattle, owned by neighbors, to graze on it all summer long, helping to preserve the field while feeding the cows.

Because of declining agriculture practices, New Hampshire is roughly 70 percent forested today. It was nearly the opposite 100 years ago, Van Beest noted.

“At the turn of the 20th century, New Hampshire was 80 percent open fields. It’s not that way anymore,” he said. “Fields are important to maintain because of the ecological value. A lot of plants and animals thrive on what are called ‘the edges,’ where the forest converges with open land. If you looked at the ecological value of a square meter in the middle of the forest and compared it with a square meter on the edge of a forest, the edges are going to have the highest value every time.”

Lindsay Webb, New Hampshire Fish & Game’s landowner relations coordinator, said Van Beest’s hospitality and attitude toward making his land open to the public is important in an era when she’s noticing more land becoming posted.

“It’s hard to gauge percentages, because there’s no system in place where landowners register their land as posted. The only regulations are that they have to post it in a certain way,” Webb said. “But we’ve noticed a general trend.

“Koby’s attitude toward his land is more in line with the history of New Hampshire. It’s part of our traditional heritage to keep land unposted and trust your neighbors and friends to help you be stewards of it,” she said.

Van Beest’s Mascoma Outing Club activities include adventurous outings such as the “deep freeze” camping expedition. Every February vacation, he leads club members for a winter hike up Lyme’s Smarts Mountain, where they camp in an unheated cabin near the summit.

“We snow shoe or use crampons on the way up, and we usually sled down. The kids have a blast with that,” he said.

On April 1 each year, he invites students to a “polar dip” jump into Canaan Street Lake to celebrate the arrival of spring — “More of them end up watching than jumping in most years,” Van Beest said.

Another annual favorite is the “Jell-O-thon,” where participants tote one-liter bottles full of the gelatin treat over a course featuring an array of disciplines, including row-boating and bicycling.

Recently, Mascoma Outing Club members have been enthusiastic about ultimate Frisbee, or ultimate, the popular sport combining elements of soccer, football and rugby while chucking the plastic disc.

“We’ve got a van to use now and we’re looking for other teams in the area to play,” Van Beest said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.