June 21, 2018
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Land trust to open unique Rockport picnic cottage on select days

Heather Steeves | BDN
Heather Steeves | BDN
The Coastal Mountains Land Trust will open Beech Nut, a 1915 sod-roof hut, for a few days this summer.
By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKPORT, Maine — A local land trust will open a historic picnic house for several days this summer.

Beech Nut, a sod-roof hut built in 1915, sits on top of blueberry-covered Beech Hill. For about 350 days of the year, the little cottage is closed, but Coastal Mountains Land Trust will staff the stone Norwegian hut for several days through October to allow the public to walk through.

“It’s such a peaceful, spiritual place,” said Coastal Mountains Land Trust volunteer Lynn Bannister, who sat on the wrap-around porch on Beech Nut on Wednesday, one of the open house days. “It’s a landmark for sailors because it’s bare — there are no trees. It’s a beautiful spot with a 360-degree view. You can see two lighthouses, the wind towers [on Vinalhaven], the cross on Maiden’s Cliff, the tower on Mount Battie.”

The hut was built to be a picnic house for a family that lived nearby. It has intricate stone arches, timber cathedral ceilings, a stone fireplace and a roof that blooms with flowers. The inside of the hut is an open floor plan with three large stone arches separating three smaller rooms.

It’s an easy 15-minute hike from a small parking lot to the hut, which sits on the summit.

Norwegian architect Hans Heistad was doing stonework on a local estate near the water but in the winter it got too cold and windy for such work so he and his crew headed up Beech Hill and used their time to build the picnic hut, according to Bannister. The hut is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Each stone was hauled to the site by horse, individually wrapped in burlap bags and set in place by hand,” according to the architect’s daughter, who was quoted in the Beech Nut scrapbook.

People trickled into Beech Nut on Wednesday, one of the first open houses of the season. Mazie Cox of Rockport seemed captivated when she entered the stone hut.

“The stonework is just extraordinary. People are very sentimental about this place. It’s a place people come to celebrate. It’s everything special about this area. You turn this way and you get the hills and valleys. You turn this way and there’s the ocean,” said Cox, who is an architect.

In the 1940s, Beech Hill’s 300 acres were sold to a farmer who harvested blueberries. In 2003, the land trust bought the hill and began renovating the hut, which needed a new roof and floor. The Coastal Mountains Land Trust still maintains the blueberry fields, harvesting about 4,000 pounds of blueberries a season from 25 acres on the hill.

The land trust doesn’t make a profit from the harvest, but as blueberries become less profitable for farmers, the site becomes more important as a demonstration site, said Joe Zipparo, stewardship project manager for the land trust.

“This is our most diverse preserve. It’s public access and it has an organic blueberry farm that the land trust manages and there is the historic site — Beech Nut and the farm road,” Zipparo said.

The winding old farm road path starts at a trail head on Beech Hill Road in Rockport and is well marked. The path is an easy, gradual quarter-mile climb through the blueberry fields. A more challenging path up Beech Hill starts on Rockville Street. There is a trail head and parking lot there. The trail winds through a 2-acre sugar maple stand, a young forest and blueberry fields.

Beech Nut will be open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. July 11 and 21, Aug. 4, 5 and 22, Sept. 12, Oct. 10 and 27. It will be open from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 21 and Sept. 29. A free blueberry pick will be held on Aug. 5.

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