S03|E03: Leave it to Beavers & Gnar Pow

In this week's episode we look into the long history of beavers in North America and why we humans seem to always be in conflict with them. Plus when did skiing get so fancy? And can Sam teach show producers who've never skied how fun it is to careen down a mountain on two planks?

Note: This is an hour-long broadcast version of our show made especially for the radio. This show is made up of stories subscribers to the podcast have already heard so it won't show up in your podcast feed. If you'd like to hear us on the airwaves instead of just in your earbuds, consider asking your local public radio station to air the show! And if you'd like to support the work that we do, consider supporting NHPR, the NPR member station for the great state of New Hampshire, and the entity that pays our bills. Thanks!

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Part 1

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Leave it to Beavers

Beavers (Castor canadensis), have been kicking around in North America for 2 million years. Ecologically they do all sorts of great things: their ponds ease flooding downstream, and support large numbers of bird species, fish, amphibians, and otters. They're what's called a keystone species, as in the keystone to an entire eco-system. But they're also the world's second largest rodent and a nightmare for property owners. Humans and beavers have a long history together because they like to live in the same places, but the way we've built our infrastructure has almost guaranteed our two species will be locked in eternal conflict.


Part 2 & 3

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Gnar Pow

Is skiing a sport reserved for rich people? It’s a question that has come up among the Outside/In crew a bunch this winter. Producers Maureen and Jimmy think so. They’ve never been skiing, and always associated it with exclusive resorts and tricked-out gear. Sam wants to prove them wrong. 

In this segment, Sam takes his skeptical colleagues skiing for the very first time to prove that it doesn’t have to be a fancy endeavor. Will he succeed? Will it be wicked expensive? Will they enjoy it? Listen to find out.


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

This week’s episode includes tracks from Ari De Niro, The Marian Circle Drum Brigade, Blue Dot Sessions, Revolution Void, Jason Leonard and Podington Bear. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from these artists.

Episode 36: Leave it to Beavers

Beavers (Castor canadensis), have been kicking around in North America for 2 million years. Ecologically they do all sorts of great things: their ponds ease flooding downstream, and support large numbers of bird species, fish, amphibians, and otters. They're what's called a keystone species, as in the keystone to an entire eco-system. But they're also the world's second largest rodent and a nightmare for property owners. Humans and beavers have a long history together because they like to live in the same places, but the way we've built our infrastructure has almost guaranteed our two species will be locked in eternal conflict.

We have created a trap for ourselves. A trap that ensures that we will come into conflict with nature’s most industrious rodent. A trap that also guarantees that we will come into conflict with each other as we try to sort out how to get out of this trap. That’s the conclusion I’ve reached, anyway, after spending the last few weeks researching beaver.

For seven years I said, you can’t kill them, you have to outwit them. That’s back when I thought you could actually outwit a beaver, but you can’t.
— Carol Leonard

Take Carol Leonard for example: a self-described “hippy-girl” who was the first registered midwife in the state of New Hampshire. (Incidentally, in what was perhaps the weirdest reporting coincidence I’ve ever come across, Carol was the same midwife who helped deliver me, 31 years ago.) When Carol retired to a beautiful 400-acre spread in mid-coast Maine, hoping to build her dream house, she and her husband ran head-first into conflict with beavers. A growing dam led to an expanding pond that was getting ominously close to where Carol wanted to put her septic system.

A pick-up truck swallowed whole by a beaver dam. | Photo Courtesy of Mike Callahan,  beaversolutions.com

A pick-up truck swallowed whole by a beaver dam. | Photo Courtesy of Mike Callahan, beaversolutions.com

“For seven years I said, you can’t kill them, you have to outwit them,” Carol told me. “That’s back when I thought you could actually outwit a beaver, but you can’t.” Eventually Carol apprenticed to become a trapper. Her decision was that if she couldn’t outwit them, she would eat them. “I always thought I was on the other side, when I was doing my midwifery, so it always surprised me when I got into trapping.”

Beavers and people like to live in the same places, and if you pick a fight with a beaver, here’s what you’ve got to consider: we’ve got other stuff to do—jobs, meals to cook, soccer games. Beavers on the other hand, they do one thing: build dams.

So if, as in Carol’s case, a beaver were eyeing the same spot that you wanted to live, what would you do?

First We Eliminated the Beaver

If you’ve never seen a proper, massive beaver dam before, you need to get yourself over to Google image search right now and look at some. The biggest one in the world is about a half a mile long and 13 feet tall, and was identified from outer space.

Beaver teeth grow constantly, and they actually have to keep chewing wood to keep them in check. And yes, they do actually just eat wood: they eat the cambium, the soft spongy layer of new growth that’s just under the bark.

On the ecological side, beavers do all sorts of great things. Beaver ponds help to ease flooding downstream. They slow water down as it rushes towards the ocean, meaning they help to recharge drinking water aquifers. Their ponds support large numbers of bird species, fish,  amphibians, otters. They’re what’s called a keystone species, as in the keystone to an entire ecosystem.

Beaver have been kicking around in North America for 2 million years. What’s new, on the millennial time scale, is Europeans.

When the Europeans arrived in the US, first came the fur trappers and fur traders, driven by intense demand for top hats, made from felt which is made from beaver fur. (Because nothing says class like putting the world’s second largest rodent on your noggin.) They traded extensively with Native Americans, and paid them for every pelt they brought. After the fur traders, came the farmers.

On the ecological side, beavers do all sorts of great things.
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“Beaver were going to be both a source of cash for these settlers and, of course, a problem for these settlers, because beaver are competing for the same environment,” explains Ann Carlos, economic historian from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Beaver ponds, once the dams are destroyed and the water drains, turn into something called beaver meadows, which are fantastic places to grow crops. So farmers come in, trap any beaver that are left, destroy the dams, drain the ponds and make their fields. One study found that sixteen states lost more than 50 percent of their wetlands as the settlers rolled in. Another six states, mostly in the Midwest, lost more than 85 percent.

“By about 1830, many of these populations were being seriously over harvested, and run down,” notes Carlos. This was especially true in the United States, where all throughout the Northeastern part of the US, beaver were virtually wiped out.

And Then We Set The Trap

Meanwhile, year after year, we’re building. Those farms built on old beaver ponds are connected together by roads. More of the fields are subdivided and turned into housing developments. Bit by bit, we occupied the space the beavers once held.

Pat tate with a local beaver's handiwork | Photo: Sam Evans-Brown

Pat tate with a local beaver's handiwork | Photo: Sam Evans-Brown

Then in the early 1900s, we brought the beaver back. Why? Because for one, biologists had begun to recognize how good they are for ecosystems. But also people like having beaver around as a game species. In other words, an animal that is around so they can be trapped. So wildlife agencies reintroduced them and helped them build back up until they numbered in the thousands.

“Our roads were based on native American trails—a high number of them—and a high number of those native american trails were based on game trails. And I can say as a hunter who has walked all over the state of New Hampshire, their preferred wetland crossing every time has been a beaver dam,” explained Pat Tate, the furbearer biologist for Fish and Game here in New Hampshire.

In other words, many of our roads have been built the same spot that beavers like to build their dams. And in the cases of bridges and culverts, we punch a tiny hole through those roads for the water to pass, which is like a giant blinking arrow to any beaver that encounters it, indicating “build your dam here!”

So What Do We Do? Kill them?

The paradigm under which we currently operate is called the American system of wildlife management, under which wildlife is a commonly owned resource, and through regulation we decide how many animals we will kill. Are deer eating the shoots off of too many saplings out in the forest? Increase the number of deer hunting permits issued. Are farmers complaining about losing livestock to coyotes? Relax limitations on hunting them. Are there so many beaver that they are expanding wetlands until they flood wells and roads? Call in trappers to reduce beaver populations in that location.

This ensures that the population stays below what is called the “biological carrying capacity” which is a fancy science-y way of saying “how many beaver the land can sustain.” Pat Tate is a big believer in keeping animal density low, because he believes it makes the animal’s lives better.

I once removed a beaver that had a beaver-tooth in its back, and it didn’t grow its own tooth in its back, that was a tooth from another beaver that somehow broke off in the animal’s back.
— Pat Tate
Jeff Traynor shows us one of his beaver traps. The stick is the food. | Photo: Logan Shannon

Jeff Traynor shows us one of his beaver traps. The stick is the food. | Photo: Logan Shannon

Beaver are very territorial animals. When a young beaver reaches two-years-old, they strike out on their own to find their own water body to live in. Often they have to battle other adult beavers to find their place. “I once removed a beaver that had a beaver-tooth in its back, and it didn’t grow its own tooth in its back, that was a tooth from another beaver that somehow broke off in the animal’s back,” Pat said, “As I’ve reduced numbers in the wetlands, and went back subsequent years to trap, the amount of scarring and bite-marks on the beaver decreases. So the individual animal’s health increases.”

Most trappers aren’t doing it for a living, or to feed their families they do it because they want to. They want to connect with a tradition they identify with, or maybe they just like getting outside, and doing the close observation of nature that trapping requires.

And trappers I’ve spoken to hear a lot of hypocrisy whenever they hear people call trapping immoral. For instance, a trapper from Southern New Hampshire, Jeff Traynor, points out there isn’t the same outrage at housing developments or highways or parking lots: forces that have just as much to do with keeping beaver populations low.

“We are the most invasive species on the planet, there’s no doubt about it,” he told me, “As we encroach more we’re pushing them. So where is that overflow going? There’s only so many places that they can go. It comes to a point where you can say, well let’s just let nature take its course, or you can say, as human beings can we manage this creature with moral wisdom?”

Jeff Traynor prepares a trap. | Photo: Logan Shannon

Jeff Traynor prepares a trap. | Photo: Logan Shannon

One of jeff traynor's traps under a thin layer of ice and snow | Photo: Logan Shannon

One of jeff traynor's traps under a thin layer of ice and snow | Photo: Logan Shannon

After chopping away at the ice, jeff Prepares to check the trap. | Photo: Logan Shannon

After chopping away at the ice, jeff Prepares to check the trap. | Photo: Logan Shannon

Or Just Keep Them Off Our Lawns?

But this “moral wisdom” argument, just doesn’t do it for many beaver believers. Skip Lisle, founder of Beaver Deceivers International, has heard this argument for years in his line of work, and doesn’t buy it. “You know, you always hear, we have to kill the beavers so they don’t get hungry. And if you were an individual beaver, you can imagine which choice they would choose if they had one to make, right? Would you rather be hungry or dead?”

The proponents of restricting beaver trapping often point out that while some management decisions are based on ecosystems science—with government biologists going out and to try to estimate how many animals the land can sustain— other times, the decision is based on our willingness to tolerate animals. This is, almost euphemistically, what we call the “cultural carrying capacity.” And for beavers, it’s often that cultural limit, and not the actual limits of the habitat, that they bump up against.

Beavers are a two-million-year-old species, right? By some miracle, they survived just fine. They suffered, they died, they thrived, but they did it on their own, like most species do. You know we don’t manage chickadees so that some chickadees aren’t hungry sometimes.
— Skip Lisle

Skip and his disciples argue they can increase society's tolerance for beaver by keeping the two species from coming into conflict. Beavers’ damming instinct is triggered by running water, and by using a clever arrangements of grates, culverts, and drainage pipes, Skip keeps beaver far enough away from the running water that they don’t get the urge to start building a dam.

By putting in this type of “fixed protection” whenever a conflict arises, Skip argues we can have the best of both worlds: a growing beaver population and an infrastructure that isn’t submerged under beaver ponds. For him, the argument that trapping leads to a healthier population is beside the point.

This is a pond leveler or flow device, prior to being installed. This device tricks the beaver into believing that his or her dam is working. | photo courtesy of Mike Callahan.

This is a pond leveler or flow device, prior to being installed. This device tricks the beaver into believing that his or her dam is working. | photo courtesy of Mike Callahan.

“Beavers are a two-million-year-old species, right? By some miracle, they survived just fine. They suffered, they died, they thrived, but they did it on their own, like most species do. You know we don’t manage chickadees so that some chickadees aren’t hungry sometimes.”

These pipes and fences, limit where and how much habitat beavers can make. When the young beaver in these beaver colonies move out of their parents lodge, they won’t be able to just make this pond bigger and move to the other side. Instead of coming into conflict with humans who live close to the pond of their birth, they set off over land, and come into conflict with things that normally keep beaver populations in check: predators or other beaver.

Or maybe they’ll just wind in somebody else’s backyard; someone less dedicated to a non-lethal intervention.

What Would Happen If Trapping Went Away?

In 1996, animal welfare groups put forth a ballot referendum in Massachusetts proposing to eliminate the use of ,what they considered to be, inhumane traps. The referendum passed, making Massachusetts one of a handful of states to restrict the use of the standard trap that is used to kill beaver. After the referendum passed, the beaver population tripled in just a few years. (Though local wildlife advocacy groups argue this would have happened even if trapping was left in place.)

“As a result, the conflicts with people and the complaints essentially skyrocketed,” said Dave Wattles, the furbearer biologist for MassWildlife.

Mike Callahan of BeaverSolutions.com installed a flow control device on our beaver pond, to maintain the pond at its current level.

While the beaver advocates likely see the population boom as a victory, the rise in complaints had unintended consequences. In 2001 the state legislature passed a bill allowing kill trapping to be done through an emergency permitting process. Now though, those permits are given out by towns, instead of the state. This means that the state is no longer collecting data about how much trapping happens in Massachusetts, and that beaver can be trapped in the spring when it's possible to kill mothers, thus leaving young kits abandoned.

Dave Wattles also notes that beavers killed under a nuisance permit aren’t necessarily used for meat or fur. “The beaver that are now taken during these emergency permits, quite often they’re just trapped and thrown into a landfill and not used at all.”

What Would You Do?

Carol Leonard, who started off our story, spent seven-years trying to figure out how to fool the beavers on her property. “In my naivete I said oh well we’ll try these beaver deceivers and these beaver bafflers and all these do-hickers,” she recalled. But eventually she gave up and apprenticed with a trapper, and started to trap out the animals that threatened her property.

I think the traditions of hunting and trapping in New England are good, healthy traditions. And I can’t talk against hunters… I can’t. I’m a meat-eater.
— Carol Leonard

“We are meat eaters, you know, we are hunter gatherers, it’s part of who we are. And so to be able to turn a blind eye to that is just a blind eye,” she said. She applauds animal rights activists, but says she thinks their efforts are better spent protesting concentrated animal feeding operations, or other places where animals live short and miserable lives before heading to our plates.

“I think the traditions of hunting and trapping in New England are good, healthy traditions. And I can’t talk against hunters… I can’t. I’m a meat-eater."

Carol says she has trapped somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 beavers from her property, and while many still remain just downstream, the pond that was threatening her septic setback is no longer growing. In 2015, she and her husband were able to start construction and their home, now completed, is gorgeous, judging from a recent photo spread done by Down East Magazine.

Beavers and people, we like to live in the same places. And if you ever find that a family of them are eying the same spot as you... well, good luck.


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, with help from, Maureen McMurray, Molly Donahue, and Jimmy Gutierrez. Logan Shannon was our digital producer.

Thanks this week to Ben Goldfarb, Dave Wattles, and Peter Busher, all beaver pros who helped me sort this week’s story out.

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-844-GO-OTTER (844-466-8837). Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

Music this week from Ari De Niro, The Marian Circle Drum Brigade, Blue Dot Sessions, Revolution Void, Jason Leonard and Podington Bear. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks from these artists.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

Outside/In is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Episode 27: Millionaires' Hunt Club

A quick note: this episode previously appeared in our podcast feed back in the spring of 2016, as an individual segment in one of our hour-long episodes we produced to air on New Hampshire Public Radio. So you might have already heard it, but…you might not have!

Sam is going to take us all hunting this week. Not hunting for animals, but instead, hunting for the secret of what’s behind that 26-mile fence cutting through the woods of New Hampshire, and why some people want it to stay a secret.

From my very first days as a reporter in New Hampshire, I started to hear about a place hidden up in the woods of New Hampshire. A place full of unfamiliar animals from other places, but fenced off from the rest of the state, and kept quiet. I never heard about it directly it was always through a guy who knew a guy, who had been inside but the more I heard about the place, the more unbelievable it seemed.

This massive, private park was called a “millionaires hunt club” and “the most exclusive game preserve in the United States” and yet there were many people I know who had lived their entire lives in this state, but had never heard of it. So what is the secret of what’s behind that 26-mile fence cutting through the woods of New Hampshire, and why do some people work so hard to keep it a mystery?

Helen M. Derry at corbin park central station, courtesy brian meyette. 

Officially it’s called the Blue Mountain Forest Association, but everybody who knows about it calls it Corbin Park. (Seemingly shortened from Corbin’s Park… we’ll get to the origin of the name.) It’s near the border with Vermont and it’s huge, though its exact size seems to be something of a mystery. Regardless, at somewhere between 24,000 and 26,000 acres this park is actually bigger than something like 60 percent of New Hampshire towns.

You can find the chain-link fence that encircles the entirety of the park at the end of any number of long rough dirt roads that lead to locked gates. It feels almost like like stumbling across a military base full of UFOs or some similar secret. The fence itself looks sturdy, if slightly weather-worn, and at regular intervals features small signs reprinted hundreds of times, “the enclosed park fence and signs are protected by a special law of this state and any person trespassing herein or in any way violating that law will be prosecuted.”

I got my introduction to the park from a man named Brian Meyette, a retired database administrator, who lives in an off-the-grid home, right next to the fence. “In the fall it’s cool, because you get elk bugling in here,” he said as we walked down his icy driveway,  “I actually even came down here once because I could hear one and it sounded like he was bugling just inside the fence.”

Elk, in case you didn’t know, are a Western thing. We don’t have them in New Hampshire. Except on the other side of this fence. And that’s not the only thing that’s over there.

“Any time people come up here to work or anything, they always say, ‘oh did you see the pigs?’ said Brian, laughing. When he says pigs, he’s referring to Eurasian wild boar, imported from Germany into New Hampshire.  “And no,” Brian continued, “normally you come down here and it’s just you see a bunch of trees, that’s all you ever see.”

But while you might not see them, there are elk bugling and Eurasian wild boars hustling around behind those fences.

But why?

The trouble with finding the answer to that question is that no one inside of Corbin's Park wants to talk about it. Corbin’s Park is a member’s only club. If you are a reporter, and identify yourself as such, not only do the employees of the park not want to talk to you, but the members don't want to talk to you, the people they have invited as guests don't want to talk to you, even some regular folks in town don't want to talk to you.

Meet Austin Corbin

Basically the only way to talk about Corbin's park today is to start by talking about Corbin's park 100 years ago. The farther back in time I went, the easier it was for me to find people who wanted to talk about this place, which is what brought me to Larry Cote. Cote is a retiree, and chair of the Newport Historical Society, which is where all the historical documents about Corbin’s Park have come to be kept.

“This is our 4th year and you’re the first person who’s asked about it, so I’d say it’s pretty rare that somebody’s got a lot of inquisitive-ism,” Cote told me as we dug through binders full of photos and letters.

Here are the outlines of the history of the park. It starts with a guy named Austin Corbin born in 1827, grandson of the town doctor in Newport, New Hampshire, who left home to go to Harvard as a young man. He then he went to Davenport, Iowa where he fell into real-estate and banking, and became one of the founders of the American banking industry alongside giants like J.P. Morgan.

After making a lot of money in the midwest, he then headed out to New York, where he invested in some swampy property out in an underdeveloped borough: Brooklyn. “He drained the swamp, he tore down the shacks, he built two hotels  the Oriental and the Manhattan  and that’s how Coney Island got started,” said Cote.

But as he was amassing his fortune, part of him just wanted to go back to New Hampshire. So he hired an agent to start buying up farms in the towns around his childhood home. In so doing, he didn’t exactly endear himself to the locals. “There’s people that say he was a robber and all that stuff,” said Cote, who was quick to defend Corbin, saying the farmers got fair prices for their land. Even so, there was even a rhyme that people in Croydon  one of the towns bordering the park started saying about this time:

Austin Corbin, grasping soul,

Wants this land from pole to pole.

Croydon people bless your stars,

You’ll find plenty of land on MARS.

Corbin bought sixty some-odd farms, (again, in New Hampshire, this is the size of an entire town) and he set about building his very own dream game reserve.

“The elk cost him $5,000 dollars. The Moose $1,500, the buffalo $6,000, deer and antelope $1,000, wild boar pigs $1,000 dollars, and then additional other animals were another $5,500,” said Cote as he read from a ledger from the park’s archives. Caribou, reindeer, big-horned sheep, pheasants, Himalayan Mountain goats. The park contained animals from all over the world, like an exotic, cold-weather safari.

But just when the park was really starting to shape up, Austin Corbin and his son decided to take some new horses for a day of fishing and picnics by a nearby lake. His driver hitched some new horses to the buggy, but didn’t give them blinders and when Corbin opened a parasol the horses spooked. The carriage was overturned, and both Corbin and his coachman were killed.

For a few decades, the park was operated by Austin Corbin’s son (charmingly but confusingly also named Austin Corbin) and these are what you might call the ‘Golden Years’ of the park. Famous people like Teddy Roosevelt came to hunt, and a world renowned naturalist takes up residence in the park to make observations and take notes. The park’s buffalo were at least according to some instrumental in restoring Bison to the American West.

In the early days, the park was open to the public. Every Wednesday, they were invited in to explore and there was even a winter carnival held there when the townsfolk came in for a deer hunt, ski jumping, a ball, and a banquet.

But after Austin Corbin the senior died, his fortune slowly began to ebb away. Austin Corbin the son can’t quite replicate whatever business magic his dad had, and Cote said that the when Corbin the son died in 1938, he was more or less penniless. That same year, a massive hurricane blew down huge amounts of the fence that kept the park enclosed, and boar and elk escaped in large numbers. The park fell into disrepair, until eventually in 1944 his family gave it up and a group of wealthy hunters took it over.

As time went by, the park dropped further and further from the public eye. Today, most people I talk to who are from New Hampshire have never heard of the place.

These days, whatever’s going on in Corbin’s park, stays in Corbin’s park.

Except for when not everything stays inside.

Hunting around the edges

“Back in 1987 we believe,” Sonny Martin began explaining to me over the phone, before his wife shouted from the background (“Eighty-six!”), “Oh now, my wife corrected me, ‘86.” Martin is the now retired former owner of a hardware store in Lancaster, New Hampshire some 70 miles north of Corbin’s Park.

“So, somewhere, 1st of November, I was sitting in my tree-stand. It was getting dusky, I always call it next to dark,” said Sonny, falling into the rythms of a story he’s obviously told more than a few times, “Well, the next thing I knew, out comes this wild boar, and he just moves out into the middle of the clearing. He reminded me like a train, the way his legs moving, you know, I’ve always said that. And he just stood there, and does this ‘take your best shot.’”

Martin did take his best shot, and he mounted the head of the boar that he killed that day and for years it hung on the wall behind the register at his hardware store.

gate around corbin park, photo by sam evans-brown

Wild boar can weigh more than 200 pounds, and need to eat more than 4,000 calories a day. They’re aggressive, a nuisance to farmers, and they reproduce like crazy. It’s not unusual for one sow to have six piglets per litter, and sometimes they have two litters per year. To top it all off, they’re smart and wiley. One federal wildlife control official I interviewed said once they design a fence that can hold water, it will be strong enough to hold a pig.

“I mean it was kind of… it was a little bit unbelievable to see something laying there,” Martin said of the animal.

Martin is not the only one to have killed one of the escaped pigs of Corbin park. Technically, the wild boar that escape Corbin’s Park are property of Corbin’s Park, and hunters outside the fence aren’t allowed to shoot them without permission. But the park is liable for any damage to crops or lawns that an escaped boar might cause, so from what I’ve gathered from talking to locals and neighbors, they’re fine with letting local hunters clean up the problem for them. State Fish and Game doesn’t want to issue permits to hunt the pigs because they don’t want to create a demand among hunters for a species that in other parts of the country has become an invasive pest. (Now that you know to look for it, you’ll start to regularly see headlines about men arrested for transporting and releasing wild boar to new places to get new populations going.)

So, with this unregulated hunt, there’s something of a symbiotic relationship going on: local hunters experience the thrill of hunting exotic game without being a part of Corbin’s exclusive club, and they take care of one of the park’s more troublesome issues. I’ve spoken with several people who say they’ve hunted pigs outside the fence, including one who said he shoots multiple ones every year, but none of them agreed to be interviewed in front of a microphone.

It’s another layer of secrets. Not only is what happening inside the fence shrouded in mystery, but some of the activities outside the fence are happening under the radar too. Secrets within secrets: a Russian matryoshka doll of secrets.

But what’s happening today, on the inside?

I tried for a very long-time to talk to someone who is a member of Corbin Park. I called the president of the park. I called the superintendent a bunch of times. I called two other members whose names I managed to find. I even eventually wrote a letter to the park’s general address.

image courtesy brian meyette

No response.

I did succeed in talking to a number of people who have been guests and hunted inside the park and even managed to talk to a current member, but none of these folks wanted to be interviewed in front of a microphone. I was also able to pull the park’s tax returns, because it’s a non-profit, and they file numbers of how many animals are shot each year with Fish and Game.

So here’s what I learned.

There are 30 members. We know who some of these folks are, because their names show up as directors of the park on the tax-forms: one is the CEO of a plastics company that makes things like spout on a can of whipped cream; there’s a self-made millionaire whose company built a stealth boat they’re trying to sell to the US military; there’s the owner of a major gun manufacturing company, who also happens to own Austin Corbin’s old mansion; and there’s even one of the descendents of the Von Trapp Family Singers, from the Sound of Music.

central station, corbin park. image via google maps. 

These 30 members and their guests shoot somewhere between 200 and 600 wild boar every year, and between 40 and 120 deer and elk.

From the tax forms you can see that the park makes money off of meat-cutting (members can pay to have their meat butchered for them) but most of their income comes from membership dues, which cost something in the neighborhood of $25,000 dollars a year.

To become a member, you also have to buy the shares of a former member. No one told me how much it cost them to buy into the club initially, but I was told that calling it a millionaire’s hunt club is not an exaggeration.

So why all the secrecy? These are wealthy people who don’t want to attract the attention and perhaps the resentment of those who don’t approve of their habits. And believe me, there’s plenty of resentment.

“You can’t get into it. It’s the biggest secret. It’s the millionaires hunt club. The most exclusive game preserve in the United States,” said Rene Cushing in an interview, a New Hampshire state legislator who says that on the political spectrum he leans toward the socialism, “Millionaires only, and New Hampshire peasants need not apply.”

Cushing tried to get a bill passed to require the people who hunt boar inside Corbin Park to buy a New Hampshire hunting license, which is not currently required. I asked him why he felt their exclusivity was a reason to go after the club members.

“I don’t think it’s fair that the people who go surf-casting, pay their $8, pay the Fish and Game Department, should end up subsidizing the Fish and Game Department when they have to go to Corbin Park to respond to a hunter being shot, or when they have to go up to 89 and pick up a wild boar that’s escaped from this fenced in property, and the rest of us are picking up the tab,” said Cushing, “It’s just about fairness.”

I think this is why it’s so hard to talk to members of Corbin Park.  The probably feel like just laying out the facts of this place the cost, the invasive species escaping into the state, the overwhelmingly male membership and guests will prompt a negative reaction from the Rene Cushing’s of the world.

Reporters sniffing around the fences of the park inevitably puts them into a bind, though. If they talk to reporters, it could encourage more reporters to do more stories, which means more people talking (some negatively) about this gigantic exclusive park. If they don’t talk, then the eventual stories that do come out sound like this one, where the members seem somehow shady, for exercising their right to not comment.

The members probably feel like outside the fence, they can’t win.

So what is Corbin Park?

corbin park central station, photo by sam evans-brown

It’s 26,000 acres of rocky New Hampshire land, fenced off, stocked with elk, eurasian wild boar and white-tailed deer. It’s private, but you can get in if invited by a member, or if you ask on the right day. It was built over 100 years ago, by a super-wealthy banker. Every year, hunters inside shoot somewhere between 200 and 600 wild boar, and between 40 and 120 elk and deer. The animals are fed through the winter to help keep the populations up, but you’re not allowed to hunt around the feeding sites.

Members can get the meat butchered and smoked on site. They can stay in cabins and old farmhouses - the ones that are still standing - that are sprinkled throughout the park. They can hike up Croydon and Grantham peaks, the two tallest mountains in Sullivan County, which are inside the fence.

It’s expensive to be a member, and only 30 people are allowed to be members. When someone wants to sell their shares, you’ve got to know a guy who knows a guy if you want to buy them; there’s no announcement in the papers.

And we also know that most of the people who live near this park, folks like Brian Meyette, have no problem with the place and tend to say it’s a good neighbor. The park is quiet, pays its taxes.

However you feel about all that… it’s up to you.

In the end, I don’t think Corbin Park is actually a mystery. At one point, I spoke to Heidi Murphy a lieutenant with Fish and Game, who has been inside to help the park staff with occasional issues with bears.

“It’s just you know a big huge patch of woods with some hunters that are camping out in some cabin,” she said, laughing at my insistence that it must be more interesting than that.

“It’s, you know, it’s New Hampshire woods,” she shrugged.


Outside/In was produced this week by: 

Sam Evans-Brown, with help from Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Special thanks to David Allaben and Tony Musante from the USDA. By the way, if you see an escaped boar in New Hampshire, you should report it to those guys. 


Thanks also to Ken Hoff, who volunteered his time and his skills to give us an airplane ride over Corbin’s Park

This week’s episode featured tracks from [tk tk tk]. Check out the Free Music Archive for more tracks.

Theme music by Breakmaster Cylinder

Episode 21: Nature is a Haunted House

Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Friday the Thirteenth, Blair Witch. It seems the woods make a great backdrop for scary stories, but why? Are we hardwired to fear the forest? Or, let’s throw it out there, do ghosts just like hanging out in the thickets? Sam goes on the trail with paranormal experts and talks with Lore’s Aaron Mahnke to find out what makes the woods so terrifying, and tests his own beliefs along the way.

Meet our paranormal experts

Rich Damboise is a nature photographer, screen printer, and ex-moto cross racer. He traded in his bike for an EMF reader and now speeds around New England investigating the paranormal.

Jerry “The Candyman” Seavey is a former pro-wrestler who hopped in the ring alongside Randy Savage, The Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels. He now gets his adrenaline rush chasing ghosts.

Rich and Candyman, along with a few other friends, run Adventure Cam-Paranormal, a YouTube series which investigates New England’s most haunted locations.

The Location

Rich and Candyman met the Outside/In crew at Vale End Cemetery in Wilton, New Hampshire which, according to the internet, is wicked haunted.

The Equipment

No ghost hunting expedition would be complete without the following tools.

EMF meter

...or electromagnetic field meter. This handy little tool can be easily purchased on-line and detects fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. If there are sudden bumps in activity, watch out! There could be a ghost, or power lines, near by.

Voice recorder

It’s always good for a paranormal investigator to have a voice recorder on hand because some ghosts want to be heard rather than seen. These ghostly recordings are known as EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon. A shotgun mic is a sure bet, but there are many recorders out there to suit any budget.

Camera

Photography is a must when capturing spirits who prefer to be seen and not heard. Things to look out for: orbs,  aura, mist, spirits. Rich is a seasoned photographer with a professional camera, but budget models will work in a pinch.

Of course there are many other tools that Rich and Candyman use including camcorders, infra-red thermometers, flashlights, motion detectors, and a teddy bear called BooBuddy.

The results

Our paranormal investigation didn’t turn up any spirits, but it did bring us to a beautiful New England cemetery rich in history. Plus, Rich and Candyman have promised to take Sam to a haunted house and they assure us things WILL go bump in the night.


The Shadowy Side of the Outdoors

Former extreme athletes Rich and Candyman say that the adrenaline of paranormal investigations is a good substitute for the heart-pounding moto-cross races and wrestling matches. There is a logical connection between fear and adrenaline, but what’s causing the fear? Why are we scared of the dark? Why are so many spooky stories set in the woods? To get those answers, Sam spoke with a man steeped in the stuff. Aaron Mahnke, host of the podcast Lore.

Why can the woods be so frightening?

I think for a very long time the wilderness represented the unknown to us. I know we like to feel like we have a full understanding of what’s out there, we’re modern humans after all, but I think we’d be lying to ourselves if we said there was nothing left to learn or explore. Sometimes I tell people, go find a photo of the New Jersey pine barrens or forests of the northwest. There are places in this world that are so huge that we can’t say with confidence that we’ve mastered them completely. I think that’s where the fear comes from. We fear the things that we can’t control. The great outdoors are a beautiful place, but they also hide a lot from us.

"I think for a very long time, the wilderness represented the unknown to us...I think that’s where the fear comes from, right? Because, we fear the things that we can’t control. The great outdoors are a beautiful place, but they also hide a lot from us. And I think that’s how the wilderness casts that spell of fear over us." - Aaron Mahnke

Why are people drawn to spooky stories?

I think we really want to believe that we’re not alone. Yeah, there are 6.5 billion of us on the planet, which shouldn’t make us feel alone , but we do live pretty solitary lives. We got through things in our lives, like loss and separation, I think, to some degree, people believe in stories of ghosts because it gives them hope that there might be something more, that there might be a way to stay connected to the people to the people that they’ve lost. But I also think there’s an entertainment value to it. The things that ghosts might do, the noises they might make in the house, it makes a good story.

Do you believe in ghosts?

So what I tell people, even the preface makes me sound like I’m dodging the question, but I tell people that I believe the stories. I believe that people really believe that these things happened. I believe them and there’s value in listening and sometimes there’s value in repeating those stories. I try to ride the fence. It makes for a better storyteller when you don’t fully believe in one side or the other.


Outside/In was produced this week by:

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Molly Donahue, Jimmy Gutierrez, and Logan Shannon.

Music for this episode is from Uncanny Valleys.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder

If you’ve got a question for our Ask Sam hotline, give us a call! We’re always looking for rabbit holes to dive down into. Leave us a voicemail at: 1-603-223-2448. Don’t forget to leave a number so we can call you back.

S01|E02: On the Hunt

Ever since becoming a reporter, Sam has heard stories about a secret hunting reserve in New Hampshire, stocked with elk and 200-pound wild boar.  It's the size of a medium-sized town, but most people have never even heard about it, and almost nobody wants to talk about it.

This episode is all about being on the hunt. We've got the secret history behind what one NH lawmaker calls: "the most exclusive game preserve in the United States." Also, an in-depth conversation with a moose-hunting guide, and a look at a terrifying/adorable songbird: the Northern Shrike.

Listen to the full episode:

The USDA traps and kills any wild boar they can find that have escaped.

The Wild Boar of Corbin's Park

To start the show, Sam is going to take us all hunting. Not hunting for animals, but instead, hunting for the secret of what’s behind that 26-mile fence cutting through the woods of New Hampshire, and why some people want it to stay a secret.

We've got photos of Corbin's Park--er...rather its fences--below. 


Question 1: Lobster Traps

Senior Producer Taylor Quimby asks Sam how lobster traps work, and the answer may surprise you. 


Photo Credit: Megan Tan

The Moose Whisperer

Every year, about 2,700 of the roughly 50,000 people who apply, receive a moose permit in Maine. If you're one of the lucky ones who has waited 20 years for this moment, you’re going to want an expert on your team. You’re going to want a moose whisperer.  


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Question 2: Deer Hunting Protests

In January, Sam reported on a deer hunt in Massachusetts for NHPR news. The hunt took place in the Blue Hills of Massachusetts, and while there were some groups protesting the hunt, some were absent. Executive Producer Maureen McMurray asks Sam why major conservation groups weren't at this particular hunt.  


 


Cute Predators: The Tiny Terror

When you think of predators, you probably think of lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). Massive mammals with claws and teeth made for killing. But some predators are adorable little fluffs of feathers and are just as lethal. Eric Masterson works by day as a Land Specialist for the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, New Hampshire, where he runs the stewardship program for the organization’s approximately 10,000 acres of conservation easements, assists with new conservation projects, and coordinates their field trip program. 


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Question 3: Human Bait?

Catching prey often involves baiting. Producer Logan Shannon poses this question: if humans weren't at the top of the food chain, and there were a predator hunting us, what would they use as bait?


Corbin's Park Photos

Sam visited the periphery of Corbin's Park on numerous occasions and even flew over it. Here are photos from his adventures along with a few historical photos from Brian Meyette's website.

 
 
 
 

Outside/In was produced this week by: 

Sam Evans-Brown, Maureen McMurray, Taylor Quimby, Logan Shannon, Molly Donahue, and Megan Tan.

Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder. Songified questions were composed by Uncanny Valleys. 

Photos of Sam are by Greta Rybus unless otherwise noted.

Special Thanks to:

David Allaben and Tony Musante from the USDA. Ken Hoff who gave us an airplane ride. Win Watson of UNH who helped Sam answer the lobster trap question by sharing his lobster research.

Episode 3: Moose Whisperer

...or Why Moose Hunting is Like Watching a Soap Opera.

In 2015 about 2,700 of the 50,000 people who applied will receive a moose permit in Maine and if you’re one of the lucky ones who has waited 20 years for this moment, you’re going to want an expert on your team. You’re going to want a moose whisperer.  

Listen to the episode:

Photo Gallery