New Hampshire’s First State Park Administrator aka "Mr. Recreation": Russell B. Tobey (1903-1978)

Russell B. Tobey was born in 1903 in Dorchester, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

His family moved to Temple New Hampshire when he was 7 years old. His father Charles served several notable positions including that of New Hampshire state Senator, and governor (1929-31).

Russell graduated from Manchester High School in 1923, Derryfield Academy in 1924 and later attended Dartmouth College. In 1935 he applied for a job looking after New Hampshire’s public recreation areas. He was paid $25 a week and had use of a state pickup truck. He retired 36 years later (in 1970).

In 1935 about 250,000 people visited the recreation areas.  By 1970 almost 4 million people were visiting New Hampshire’s state parks, historic sites and wayside areas. He went from a budget of $11,500 a year to that of $3 million.

Russell Tobey was appointed as New Hampshire’s Director of Recreation on July 1, 1946, and appointed as Director of the Division of Parks April 1, 1962.

According to a 1973 Portsmouth Herald article, he was “a conservationist and a visionary who expounded on ‘optimum’ rather than ‘maximum’ use of the state parks, and he encouraged private campgrounds all over the state. A second article stated, “Tobey hadn’t endeared himself to many people because of his all-consuming interest in the growth and protection of New Hampshire natural resources. To Russ Tobey anyone who encroaches on these gifts from Providence is tempting the fiery coals of Hell and Tobey wouldn’t be hesitant to give them the final push. ” Much of this Parks’ prosperity has been due to Russell Tobey and his “continuing, stubborn battle to give our grandchildren a real heritage.”

He established “New Hampshire Day,” to help acquaint the people of New Hampshire with their state parks. For one day a year free admission was provided to all New Hampshire residents for all day-use state parks and historic sites, bathing beaches and picnic areas.

Due to his efforts, in September of 1969 the first National Conference on State Parks ever held in New Hampshire occurred. The four-day conference hosted by then New Hampshire State Parks Director, Russell Tobey, began September 28th at Crawford House in the White Mountains and ran through October 1st.  About 300 persons from state and private park interests attended.

In 1954 when the Governor Wentworth Mansion was offered to the state of New Hampshire, by Mrs. J. Templeton Coolidge, the main stumbling block to accepting the gift was the stipulation that the state repair and maintain the building.  Russell Tobey who assisted in preparing the survey for the building urged the governor and councilors “that the work could be done piece-meal and in time, the area could become self-sufficient.”

Also in 1954, at the request of State Parks Director Russell B. Tobey, the Old
Man of the Mountain received his second major physical in the 165th year of his known existence. He was also greatly responsible for the state’s eventual purchase of the summit of Mount Washington, and for the conversion of Fort Dearborn to the current Odiorne State Park.

In 1965 he received the Pugsley Medal–a prestigious award to recognize outstanding contributions to the promotion and development of public parks int the United States.

On resigning in 1970 he restated the State of New Hampshire’s need for land to protect its existing parks is critical. “Some were not protected when they were originally acquired, and we may have intrusions that may be detrimental to the state’s investment and to the natural resource,” he said… Tobey said another need is to enlarge the park program to include more of the “nature type of program” with nature interpretation and education for youngsters. [October 1, 1969, page 9, Portsmouth Herald]

If there was any real unpleasantness at all during his regime, it happened over the naming of a park. In 1969 while Russell Tobey was still alive, the New Hampshire’s executive council passed a resolution to rename Bear Brook State Park as the Russell B. Tobey State Park. Although well meaning and appropriate, this action “touched off a controversy among many of the residents of the area, complaining it would be expensive to change their signs and reprint brochures.” The Department of Resources and Economic Development then asked the council to rescind this resolution, which they voted to do.

Russell Tobey died July 1978 in Concord, Merrimack County New Hampshire without being fully recognized for his many years of dedication to the parks and people of New Hampshire.

In 1985 the Visitor Center at Odiorne Point (the former Sugden House) became the Russell B. Tobey Visitor Center. Odiorne Point was his final park acquisition (in 1961), and so this honor was fitting indeed.

And so the next time you visit a New Hampshire Park, and especially Odiorne Point, take a moment to honor Russell Tobey who made that beautiful place available to you, and to all of us.


*Additional Reading*

-Family Tree of Russel B. Tobey-

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