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Unique N.H. Property Opens Arms to the Public in Time of Coronavirus

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Todd Bookman/NHPR
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There’s a gem of a plot of land in Kensington, in the southeastern corner of the state, that is usually closed to the public.

But with the stress of the coronavirus taking a toll, the owners of the Alnoba property are opening their arms to the community.

“What we are doing right now is very unusual for us, and definitely it wasn’t in the game book,” said Jacquelyn Benson, director of social mission for the non-profit behind Alnoba. “But the circumstances have obviously changed.”

(Editor’s note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

Alnoba is a lot of things: a non-profit, a foundation, a leadership training facility, and an event space. 

But it is also a perfectly preserved slice of New Hampshire countryside. 

“It is 400 acres of land, a mix of forests, fields, there is this beautiful stream, Winkley Brook, just out of a fairy tale," Benson said.

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Going, Going Gone by Orly Genger

Alnoba’s founders and benefactors, Alan and Harriet Lewis, have decided to let the public in on this fairy tale on a limited basis. Reservations are required, and there are a maximum number of people allowed on site, to ensure social distancing. But if you can grab a time slot, there are ten miles of trails to wander. 

“Be among the trees and the fields and the streams, and just take a deep breath and pause for a minute,” said Benson.

We haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: Alnoba has quietly amassed one of the state’s premier collections of outdoor art.

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Boulder House, by Andy Goldsworthy

Walk over a hill, and you’ll find work by Orly Genger, or follow a trail to an Andy Goldsworthy project. Some pieces blend in; some purposely stand out. 

“It is present; it is not behind a plexiglass wall or a fence. It is right there in front of you,” said Benson. “You can get right up close to it in these beautiful natural settings. So it is kind of an extraordinary experience.”

The collection includes pieces from artists based in the region and from around the world. One of the highlights for Benson is a work by Patrick Dougherty entitled Wildwood.

“If you imagine…forts you build when you are a kid?" she said. "Like, what those actually look like in your imagination, that's what this is. It is like the most amazing fort that you’ve seen.”

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Wildwood, by Patrick Dougherty

Saplings and willow branches, all woven together in a clearing in the woods. Staring at it is a pretty good way to get your mind off the news. 

I asked Benson if she's worried that opening Alnoba up, even in this very limited basis, would spoil it. Will it let the secret out?

“I think we are welcome to being known,” she said. “I think we are welcome to having more people come and experience this property.  At the moment, we have to kind of limit things, to keep everybody safe.”

If you do get a reservation, it is a thing to look forward to: Another place to be alone in this time of aloneness, but one where you will enjoy the solitude. 

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A path in the 400 acre Alnoba property.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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