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Von Mertens honored by N.H. Audubon

Longtime advocate for conservation, outdoors receives organization’s annual Tudor Richards award

From the shores and trails of Willard Pond to the top of Pack Monadnock when raptors are flying to the fields around Peterborough that offer the best birdwatching, Francie Von Mertens is a familiar sight. An avid birder, she’s also a committed land conservation advocate, a skilled writer and a determined fundraiser for conservation causes. And now she’s the latest recipient of N.H. Audubon’s Tudor Richards award, given annually to someone whose love and knowledge of the outdoors and efforts to promote conservation exemplify the spirit of the late longtime executive director of N.H. Audubon.

“If Tudor Richards were here today, he might well observe, ‘It’s about time!’” said David Ries, a N.H. Audubon trustee and former board chair, in presenting the award at a ceremony on Sept. 28. “Francie’s life is all about commitment to the natural world. ... When she takes something on, Francie sees it through.”

Ries praised Von Mertens as being key to the fundraising effort to complete protection of the entire shoreline of N.H. Audubon’s Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary and cited her dedication to keeping the sanctuary vibrant.

“Francie never hesitates to act on behalf of the natural world, even when that action is challenging,” he said. “The state Site Evaluation Committee hearings in which Audubon participated this past fall are a case in point. Francie was one of four people to testify on behalf of our petition before the State Committee concerning a proposal for industrial wind turbines on land adjacent to Willard Pond, a sanctuary she has championed.”

The state committee eventually determined that the turbines were inappropriate for the site.

Von Mertens was also recognized for the many birding trips she leads in the Monadnock region every year. The award citation quotes Hunt Dowse of Hancock, who served on the board of the Harris Center for Conservation Education with Von Mertens: “Her knowledge of the outdoors is close to legendary. Taking a hike with her is a treat, there’s so much information passed on while on the trail. More importantly, Francie has a clear vision of the big picture of the goals for conservation in New Hampshire.”

Von Mertens’ “The Backyard Birder” column has appeared in the Monadnock Ledger and its successor, the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, since 1994.

She also writes all the scripts for N.H. Public Radio’s “Something Wild” program. She’s served on the N.H. Audubon Board of Directors for 10 years and was made an honorary trustee in 2006.

While on the board of the Harris Center, she co-chaired the capital campaign that resulted in a complete restoration and expansion of the center’s historic building.

She’s also been active in conservation efforts in Peterborough, where she lives.

“I love my local and regional work,” Von Mertens said on Wednesday. “I’ve been on the Conservation Commission forever. I was a founding member of the Open Space Committee. I go to my share of meetings”

She said she was a bit surprised to be recognized by N.H. Audubon.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Von Mertens said. “I think a lot of people read my articles in the paper. I hear about them from farther afield than you might think. It all seems to add up. By now I’m a familiar figure.”

She was also pleased to get this particular award.

“To be in any way associated with Tudor Richards really tickles me,” Von Mertens said. “He was a true gentleman, somewhat Paul Bunyanesque.”

Von Mertens recalled meeting Richards on a site visit to an Audubon preserve.

“He came with his canoe on top of the car. The rest of us left at the end of the day, but Tudor stayed on, said he’d go for a little paddle. He was getting older, and couldn’t hike as much but he could get his canoe on and off the car. And he could certainly paddle.”

In a “Backyard Birder” column published in the Monadnock Ledger in June 2003, Von Mertens wrote about an early effort to duplicate one of Richards’ traverses on Mount Monadnock.

“Twice this past week I climbed Monadnock early, paper in hand, counting birds heard along the Dublin Trail on the first climb, and then Pumpelly today. Pumpelly Trail is a long haul. Some 40 years ago, Tudor Richards — a legend in the New Hampshire birding world — did a count of Monadnock’s birds. His route is the one I follow in an attempt to make a comparison. ... I imagine Tudor striding across the mountain, making quick work of it, and decided that two climbs by a normal human would be the best approximation of Tudor’s one traverse up the Dublin Trail and down Pumpelly.”

Recalling those two hikes, Von Mertens said she felt proud to be literally walking in Richards footsteps. Now she’s has an award that honors her for continuing that walk through her long commitment to conservation.

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