New Life for a historic High Peaks Inn

Below Sentinel Mountain’s
jagged profile on Keene’s northern border, where Limekiln Road meets Alstead Hill Road, there’s a farmhouse painted the color of freshly churned butter. The surrounding acreage has transformed from homestead to dairy farm, and then a center for horseback tours and cross-country skiing. But one use has been constant for 150 years. This has always been a traveler’s rest.

The sign reads Bark Eater Inn. That name came in the 1970s, but the home dates to the 1800s, when a stagecoach ran past the front door, jolting passengers along a rugged journey from Lake Champlain to Lake Placid. And while a four-year renovation effort by new owners has updated the historic property for the 21st century, the 200-acre property’s spirit and character remains intact.

That’s by design. Black Mountain Associates, of New Paltz, created an independent entity to purchase the Bark Eater in 2013. Next, the family-run, conservation-minded development firm hired Meghan Kirkpatrick as general manager and Tyler Nichols as property manager. Kirkpatrick has worked as an herb farmer, landscape gardener, and outdoor recreation leader; Nichols brings a farming and land management background to his stewardship role. Once the pair moved on-site, their employers let them lead the renovation process. “There was no grand opening set in stone,” says Kirkpatrick. “We were given the time and opportunity to do it right.”

Their attention to detail paid off. A 96-by-64-foot garden full of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers now occupies the front lawn. Guests approach the original entryway on a raised boardwalk lit by solar lanterns. Inside the front door, a side table laden with homemade chocolate-chip cookies and fresh-cut flowers greets arrivals. Original timber beams crown downstairs rooms, while wood floors—some quarter-sawn pine with squarehead nails—have been restored. Timothy Fortune’s oil paintings of Adirondack waterways adorn the walls. More work by local artists, all for sale, hangs throughout the inn.

The previous owner, Joe Pete Wilson, took over his family’s operation—then called Wilson’s Ranch—in 1972, after stints in the Army and on the Olympic cross-country-ski team. He expanded horse paths into cross-country-ski trails and renamed it the Bark Eater. He built a regulation-sized polo field and stabled 55 horses for tours. He was a generous neighbor who hosted locals for skiing, pond hockey and an annual fishing derby. But as the financial and physical demands became too much, he decided to sell. “They’ve done a masterful job,” says the 82-year-old of the new owners.

Part of that is maintaining the inn’s place within a larger ecosystem. Each morning, Kirkpatrick harvests fresh greens and vegetables—everything from asparagus to tomatoes and rainbow chard to arugula. The garden supplies raspberries, currants and other fruit for jams, plus strawberry rhubarb butter. Basil and garlic scapes become pesto. Jalapeños and cayenne peppers mix with carrots for a hot sauce. The greenhouse provides summer melons, then produces greens through Christmas. Sap from Bark Eater’s own sugar bush yields the annual supply of maple syrup.

Nichols maintains the trails that meander through wildflower meadows and hardwood forests split by rocky streams and a ridgeline that overlooks the Au-sable River. He stewards the land with both the Bark Eater’s guests and wild visitors in mind, carefully mowing in a pattern that always leaves tall grasses where small mammals can live.

Last winter, a great gray owl took up residence at the Bark Eater and stayed to hunt for several weeks. “When the owl showed up,” Nichols says, “it felt like a compliment on a job well done.”

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