Hancock’s Lee Baker Awarded Volunteer of the Year
As I was having lunch with Lee Baker at Fiddleheads Cafe in Hancock, one of the restaurant employees approached us with some grave news and a request: “There’s a huge dead bird in the parking lot,” she said, “and I thought, ‘Get Lee, he’ll know what to do!’” Lee and I put our lunch on hold and walked out to the parking lot to have a look. Sure enough, there was an adult red-tailed hawk sprawled lifeless on the gravel. In a matter of minutes, Lee found a box and prepared the hawk for transport to the appropriate authorities. “This is the kind of thing that happens to me quite a bit around here,” Baker mused sheepishly as we returned to our lunch.
In his little hometown of Hancock, Baker is known as a “conservation guy” who is easily approachable and has the answers to all sorts of nature-related questions and conundrums. A volunteer for 25-plus years for the Forest Society and other organizations, including the Harris Center for Conservation Education and Monadnock Conservancy, Baker doesn’t just know conservation, he lives it. In 1993, after becoming one of the first trained volunteers in the Forest Society’s nascent Land Steward Program, Baker went on to steward Jaffrey’s Blaine Forest and Hancock’s McGreal and, following its protection in 2006, Kulish forests.
To recognize Baker’s many years of hard work and dedication, the Forest Society named him the 2018 Trish Churchill Volunteer of the Year at its Annual Meeting in September. This award is given annually to recognize volunteers who go beyond the call of duty.
Baker cannot remember doing a lot of structured hiking in his childhood years, but he notes that he was outside a lot. As a young adult, he was employed as a caretaker for several properties in the Monadnock Region, one with a tree farm and others with extensive trail networks. The time spent outdoors on these properties is where he credits developing a love for hiking and being in the forest. “My life really started when I became involved with conservation,” he says. Baker began volunteering by mowing and trail clearing in his free time, and he has never looked back. Twenty-five years later, he is still at it, keeping trails open on the McGreal and Kulish forests, and mowing the rocky fields at nearby Welch Family Farm and Forest.
Baker’s many community connections in the Monadnock region have made him an invaluable resource for the Forest Society’s land protection staff over the years. He regularly leads hikes in the local area, and he recently guided a hiking tour of the Welch Family Farm and Forest for several Forest Society staff and trustees. When asked whether he likes doing stewardship work or teaching people about it, Baker can’t make up his mind. “Both are great,” he notes, “but I do really enjoy getting out and showing other people these places. People often miss so much in the woods; they won’t stop to see the tiny mushroom or the bee on the flower, and I love helping others discover that.” He readily admits that people routinely show him things he didn’t see or know about in the forest too. “The best thing about volunteering is the interactions and connections you make with people.”