Christmas Tree Sale.


When I think about politics and government these days my thoughts often turn to the role of lobbyists and the words taxation without representation.

An example of this I think exists in Bethlehem, NH at a place called The Rocks Estate which is a substantial piece of real estate by any standard. Originally constructed in the late 1800s by John Glessner, one of the founders of American Harvester Farm Equipment this estate was gilded by every sense of the word. A huge working farms, estate buildings, guest houses and gardens surrounded by carefully constructed stone walls. I won’t recount the total history but by 1980 the property was in a trust ready to be handed over to NH non-profit organization Society for the Protection of NH Forests (SPNHF) based in Concord.  As I understand it the property was later handed over, including a trust fund for its upkeep and provisions stating that the property was to be kept in its original state inasmuch as it is possible.

During my two terms in the NH House I became concerned that the rocks estate was an example of taxation without representation, in this case no taxation and no representation. Over the course of their first ten-twelve years of ownership of this property SPNHF made a number of structural changes to this estate. The most noticeable here was the disappearance of the working farm which included cows, pigs and numerous horses including the popular Belgians and Pergerons which were used to pull rides for the public at various times of the year. In its place the not for profit corporation planted row upon row of Christmas trees across the barren fields. Christmas trees that are now sent via FedEx all over the world including the troops in Iraq. At the time my concern was that SPNHF d/b/a The Rocks Estate had all the land in current use, paid no local property taxes whatsoever and was making substantial profits from the sale of Christmas trees-- and whether this is fair to other NH tree farmers and if this defines keeping the estate in its original condition. To my knowledge including studying local history, neither John Glessner or any member of his family ever engaged in tree farming on this massive estate.

So my first call was to local property manager, Nigel Manley who manages the day to day operations of the estate. He didn’t return my call instead an individual named Tamara Van Ryn called me and I can’t remember what her title was, it might have been policy director but she was based in Concord. And I explained my concerns: I asked her if it was fair that SPNHF pays nothing and is able to run an operation of this magnitude and not pay anything, and especially so when other NH farmers including Christmas trees face increasing costs and competition.

Ms. Van Ryn as I recall is a very pleasant individual she didn’t display any emotion and not a word was out of place; I found this interesting because my questioning was varied and though taxation was my primary interest, our conversation would eventually lead to the NH State Park in Franconia.

To Be Continued…