Black Rock Forest Consortium
The Consortium

History of the Consortium

Since its formation in 1989, the Consortium has transformed the Black Rock Forest into one of the nation’s more active field stations, while enhancing its long-term ecological stability.  It has:

  • dramatically increased levels of scientific study, publications, and training;
  • incorporated direct experience with nature into the academic programs of diverse schools and universities, brought students of all ages into personal contact with field scientists, and developed dozens of field activities in a wide range of subjects;
  • integrated a sophisticated environmental monitoring network into the Forest;
  • built the Center for Science and Education, with lab and classroom space, and the Black Rock Forest Lodge, with 60 beds and a gathering area, thereby creating 18,000 square feet of new facilities customized for academic use;
  • obtained grants for facilities and programs from leading foundations, including the National Science Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Arthur Ross Foundation, the Bay Foundation, and the Ambrose Monell Foundation;
  • welcomed more than 100,000 academic visitors to the Forest;
  • received awards for green building features;
  • awarded more than $400,000 in some 108 small grants to researchers and educators working in the Forest, thanks in part to support from the Ernst C. Steifel Foundation;
  • and added key parcels of property to ensure safe and secure access to the Forest.

The Creation of the Consortium

In 1981, Harvard University owned the Black Rock Forest, which had been given to it by Dr. Ernest Stillman (see Forest History), by bequest, in 1949.  One day that year, Daniel Steiner, the long-time Vice-President and General Counsel of Harvard University called William T. Golden, a long-time New York City friend who was involved and interested in scientific and environmental issues.  He asked for Bill Golden’s ideas about the future of the Forest, since Harvard made very little scientific or educational use of it, although it managed and preserved it, since it owned another forest, the Harvard Forest, in Petersham, Massachusetts, much closer to the university’s Cambridge campus.  He added that he knew Bill Golden was interested in forests, involved in the Catskills, and had hiked in Black Rock.

Bill Golden suggested that Harvard consider organizing a group of scientific and educational institutions to purchase the Forest and operate it as a consortium in a manner comparable to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which had been very successful.  He pointed out that there was plenty of forest for a dozen or more institutions to use it for research, education, and relaxation, and that the idea might be appealing to institutions within a two- or three-hour drive of the Forest.

Dan Steiner found the idea both financially and organizationally attractive and asked Bill Golden to pursue the idea. It turned out that most of the institutions Bill Golden contacted were interested in using the Forest and in the idea of a consortium, and were prepared to share operating costs, but had no funds to purchase the Forest. Over the next several years, Bill Golden had numerous talks with Harvard, with the institutions, and with local Cornwall-area residents (including Steve and Smokey Duggan, Esty and Hellie Stowell, and Franny Reese), whose active support proved very important.

Surprisingly, the matter concluded when Bill Golden purchased the Forest from Harvard University in 1989, putting it in the not-for-profit Black Rock Forest Preserve, which in turn leases the Forest to the Black Rock Forest Consortium.  Harvard then contributed the purchase price as an endowment for the Forest, to which Bill Golden also contributed.