Blog : Great Bay Stewards Green Story: Protecting New Hampshire’s Precious Coast

By Theresa | May 8, 2014 | in

Over four decades ago, the Great Bay Stewards organization was formed by a group of environmentalists determined to prevent the development of an oil refinery along New Hampshire’s pristine coastline. Since their success, the Great Bay Stewards have grown and transformed into one of the Seacoast’s most steadfast and hard-working conservation organizations. The Great Bay Stewards also act as a ‘friends group’ to the Great Bay Discovery Center and the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GBNERR).

In the mid 1990s, the Stewards spearheaded an effort to convert the former Pease Air Force Base into a National Wildlife Refuge. They were also instrumental in the implementation of the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Reserve is one of just 28 in the nation, and offers immeasurable opportunities for environmental education and research.

Today, the Stewards coordinate volunteer efforts throughout the Seacoast. Some of their recent projects have included erosion control efforts, invasive species removal, and runoff prevention campaigns. They also staff the Great Bay Discovery Center, the educational hub of the Research Reserve. The Discovery Center offers visitors a chance to learn more about ecology and marine biology issues involving Great Bay. The Stewards host workshops, design Center displays, and lead educational nature walks through the beautiful acres surrounding Great Bay. The Stewards help manage over 6,000 acres of protected land. Only one acre is developed, which houses the Great Bay Discovery Center. The other 5,999 acres provide prime estuary habitat, recreation space, and undisturbed wetland area.

The home of the Stewards, the Great Bay Discovery Center, includes two buildings that have been remodeled to include environmentally friendly features. The Discovery Center itself has solar panels and an energy-efficient Buderus heating system. The building directly adjacent to the Center, the Gregg building, has geothermal heating and cooling. The Stewards have also put through an installation of water-saving sinks and bathroom features. “We ‘greened’ our buildings here because we wanted to lead by example,” explains Peter Wellenberger, Executive Director of the Great Bay Stewards.


The Discovery Center is in the process of switching over to entirely green cleaning products, which is difficult due to the fact that the products need to be purchased through the state system. The next big project that needs to be done on the Reserve is replacing the boardwalk. This is currently in the brainstorming phase. Pressure treated mahogany is sustainable, but expensive. Plastic “wood” is cheaper, and doesn’t involve cutting trees, but incurs a large energy cost during its production. GBS is currently working towards finding an alternative that is both ecologically friendly and cost-effective.

The Stewards are also working on new outreach programs to educate Seacoast residents about the fragility of Great Bay. For example, their “Soak Up the Rain Great Bay” campaign. Wellenberger explains, “we’ve set up a partnership to reduce pollution, particularly nitrogen, from residential sources.” The Stewards have big plans for the future to keep Great Bay healthy and beautiful.

This Green Story was written as part of the Green Alliance sustainability certification process. You can read the full evaluation and report card at the Great Bay Stewards Green Alliance page.