Latest Research, Record Attendance, and Many Firsts

David Govatski, NH Big Tree Volunteer
  • Group listening to speaker outside

Photo by Christine Tappan.

Over 260 people participated in the 7th Eastern Old-Growth Forest Conference on September 21-23, 2023, at the Geneva Point Center in Moultonborough, New Hampshire. The conference and field trips attracted participants from around the Eastern US and Canada who enjoyed fine autumn weather at this rustic camp on Lake Winnipesaukee.

The conference included the latest findings on eastern old-growth forests from leading researchers. Participants learned about ongoing efforts to identify and inventory the remaining old-growth forests in the Eastern United States. Defining such a forest was covered initially, and we discussed why this is not an easy "one-size-fits-all" definition.

This conference was unique for many reasons:

  • First time to have a dedicated Health and Wellness track
  • Record attendance of 260
  • Sunrise forest bathing, called “Shinrin-yoku” by the Japanese, with certified guides
  • The induction of Big Pines Natural Area at Hemenway State Forest into the Old-Growth Forest Network.

The conference was hosted by UNH Extension, led by Mary Tebo Davis, Steve Roberge, Tim Fleury, and UNH Extension Volunteers Chris Kane, Vicki J. Brown, Joel White, Janine Marr, Christine Tappan, and David Govatski. The 2023 Natural Resource Stewards class provided invaluable volunteer assistance on Friday at the conference.

The conference theme was Exploring Connections: The Value of Old Growth Forests in Today's World. The conference had four tracks: Old Growth Forest Ecology, Managing for Old Growth Forests, Carbon Storage and Climate Change Threats, and the Health and Wellness Benefits of Forests and Nature.

Big tree expert Bob Leverett gave a history of previous conferences held throughout the East. The last conference was in 2004, also at the Geneva Point Center in Moultonborough. That 19-year interval meant we had many research findings and new information to discuss. The level of interest surprised conference organizers as we reached the maximum capacity.

Participants enjoyed forest bathing excursions and 11 different field trips to such spectacular old-growth forest places as Mt Sunapee State Park, Castle in the Clouds, Mt. Kearsarge, Pisgah State Park, Lost River Gorge, Dry River, Lafayette Brook, the Bowl Research Natural Area, and the Big Pines Natural Area.

The Big Pines Natural Area at Hemenway State Forest was a popular choice. This 170-acre white pine and hemlock forest is now the second designated Old Growth Forest Network site in New Hampshire. The Tamworth Pine at Big Pines Natural Area was the site of a brief ceremony with Patrick Hackley, Director of NH Forest and Lands, members of the Tamworth Conservation Commission, and others involved in the nomination process. We are fortunate for the excellent stewardship of the Big Pines Natural Area since the 1930s by the State of New Hampshire.  

Several outstanding plenary speakers -- including David Foster of Harvard Forest and Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities, author Florence Williams, author Joan Maloof, author Bill McKibben, and author Suzanne Simard – inspired and moved us to protect more forest, make changes at the local level, act now on climate change, and find “awe” in nature wherever we go.

Two artists added much to the creative side of the gathering. Professional photographer Mitch Epstein displayed large prints of old-growth forest trees that dazzled the audience; see his work at Artist Sarah Koff helped 60 participants make their own custom oak print that came out beautifully; you can view the custom-made print (and purchase it) at

The Geneva Point Center staff were excellent hosts and provided hearty food and various lodging options, ranging from tent sites to cabins and rooms in a historic inn or newer lodge. Geneva Point even had campfires with all the ingredients to make "S’Mores" and new friends. Our feedback survey showed that the social hours often led to an exchange of ideas and connections and were a highly-rated part of the conference.

All of the organizers were thrilled that the conference went so well. That happiness turned to deep sadness when, a few days later, we learned that one of the organizers, Chris Kane (seated second from right in photo below), passed away while on a family vacation in California. Chris Kane was a forest ecologist who, in many ways, was the heart of the conference. He was the only one on our team that helped organize the 2004 conference. Chris knew many of the speakers personally. His work inventorying old-growth forests in New Hampshire, including Mt Sunapee and Mt Kearsarge, was well known and appreciated.

Planning is underway for the next conference in 2025 in Vermont. View PDFs of the presentations from the Eastern Old-Growth Forest Conference 2023 on the Old Growth Forest Network website here.

Eastern Old Growth Forest Conference Steering Committee

Eastern Old Growth Forest Conference Steering Committee:  L to R: David Govatski, Janine Marr, Chris Tappan, Vicki Brown, Sarah RobbGrieco, Mary Tebo Davis and Chris Kane.


  1. Eastern Old-Growth Forest Conference 2023 presentations (PDF)
  2. Finding Old-Growth Forests in New Hampshire
  3. Top Old-Growth Forests to Visit in New Hampshire
  4. Video: The Lost Forests of New England – Eastern Old Growth
  5. Magnificent Dry River Old-Growth Forest is a Hidden Gem in Crawford Notch State Park
  6. Towering Trees in Tamworth: Big Pines Natural Area
  7. Saving the Old Growth Forests of Mad River Notch - A Century Ago
  8. Explore the Valley of the Green Giants in Randolph, NH
  9. Find and nominate old-growth forests at Old Growth Forest Network

David Govatski is a NH Big Tree volunteer with UNH Extension and was one of the organizers of the 2023 conference. He is also a county coordinator for the Old Growth Forest Network.