Peter and Betty Gregory

At a mile from their nearest neighbor, Peter and Betty Gregory are far removed from civilization when visiting their property in Shushan, NY. Located in a natural bowl near the foothills of Vermont, the 116 acre expanse of land has been in the Gregory family for 65 years, though only under the management of Peter and Betty since 1966. Throughout the property runs a mile-long tributary of the Battenkill River, which intermittently dries up over the summer, but always provides charming scenery. The property also consists of open fields, wooded areas, and an old farmhouse, which was originally built around 1860. Though the farmhouse has since been remodeled for modern conveniences, the Gregory’s continue to depend on a wood stove and fireplace for heat, as well as kerosene lamps and a generator for light. Because of the opportunity for a primitive lifestyle in Shushan, Peter and Betty still consider their property to be a “mental and physical health resort,” and thoroughly enjoy managing their Huckleberry Hill: Apiary & Tree Farm.

Named for the many huckleberry and blueberry bushes on the property, Huckleberry Hill is certified through the New York Tree Farm Program and managed for its timber resources, wildlife, and as a recreational family investment. What were open fields in 1941 are now home to white ash, red oak, chestnut oak, sugar maple, white pine, and birch trees, which are managed for their timber value. With the help of forester friends including John Hastings, Ron Cadieux, and Steve Warne, the Gregory’s are able to skillfully manage their property, culling the UGS (unacceptable growing stock) from the population, which allows the AGS (acceptable growing stock) to flourish.

In contrast to the tree farm, the apiary portion of Huckleberry Hill is more of a hobby in the Gregory family. With bee hives at the Gregory’s permanent residence in Burnt Hills, NY, as well as on the forest property in Shushan, Peter, Betty and family have a continuous, personal supply of honey. However, they do have some competition. Black bears in the area are also attracted to the honey and have even managed to defy the 5 foot solar-powered electric fence enclosing the bee hives. Nevertheless, the Gregory’s have learned to cope with the thefts and continue to maintain their property to benefit the native wildlife.

While the honey-stealing bears present an obstacle to the apiary, the entire property must battle other aspects of nature, as well. As Peter stated, the property has seen “all of the plagues that you can imagine at one time or another,” including gypsy moths, ice storms, and a high deer population. In the late 1950’s, a recommended arsenic-based herbicide was used to thin a 10-acre natural white pine stand. The result was a “flashback” which caused the deaths of adjacent trees, whose roots were interconnected with those that had been treated. Though the tree loss was unfortunate, the forest stand managed to rebound, demonstrating its resilience.

The preservation of the wildlife in the area and the improvement of the natural resources are the prime concerns of the Gregory’s. The New York Forest Owners Association has helped them learn about their concerns and interests. As long time members of NYFOA’s Southeast Adirondack chapter (SAC), Betty and Peter have gained much experience through their involvement with other people and during chapter activities. Peter, a former chair and co-chair of the SAC chapter, is a proponent of safety first, especially courses which teach chainsaw safety. Betty, the membership chair, is also a community volunteer, and, together with her husband, received a special recognition award from NYFOA this past February. In addition to NYFOA, the Gregory’s are members of the Society of American Foresters and the Beekeepers Association.

With their combined experience, Peter and Betty have managed to accomplish many projects with the help of friends and family. A woods road and trail network has been developed, in addition to the planting of wildlife shrubs throughout the land. They have also planted and raised some varieties of old fashioned apple trees on the property. As an annual project, the open fields are mown to benefit those wildlife species that depend on open, early successional habitats.

Though there is always something to do at Huckleberry Hill, after a few days the Gregory’s “appreciate the return to the comforts of civilization”. While there are always tasks to be completed, family and friends can also hike, observe wildlife, cross country ski, snowshoe, hunt or relax when they visit. With five sons, their wives, and nine grandchildren, Peter and Betty hope to keep Huckleberry Hill in the family for generations to come. Their sons have grown to appreciate the land more now that they’re older and also look forward to keeping it in the family. Cutting down a sheared white pine each December to serve as a Christmas tree and having a favorite rock on the property are just a few of the enjoyable activities and memories Huckleberry Hill provides.

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