Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting to Know the Merrimack

Today's guest post is by Patrice, a faithful contributor and enthusiastic fellow kayaker. You can follow her adventures on Life Less Ordinary.

The Merrimack River flows 60-plus miles through New Hampshire, offering everything from flatwater to Class III rapids. The Merrimack has a little bit of a bad rep because of years of pollution, but it's improved a lot during the past 30 years. Justin and I explored about 15 miles from Franklin to Penacook in two different trips this month.

The first trip was from Boscawen to Penacook, offered as a guided trip by the Merrimack River Watershed Council (MRWC). Have you heard of them? If not, and you like kayaking or canoeing, you need to go check them out now. The Concord Monitor recently did a story on them, so I think they are getting more exposure.

The organization offers free guided trips on many rivers and other waterways around the state from April through October. You don't have to be a member to join the trips, but of course, they would welcome your membership. This year, they are sponsoring 36 trips!

Paddling from Boscowen to Penacook
Our first trip with MRWC on the Merrimack was supposed to be an overnighter. However, it turned out to be the one weekend all summer that we got much-needed rain in the form of scattered thunderstorms. Since we live close by, Justin and I opted to make it a day trip. The trip leader, Nancy Gero, camped on a beach where a local farmer allows camping.

Despite the rain, the paddle was close to perfect. Quiet. Scenic. There are a few sandy beaches along the way (including the one where many people camp). We only saw two houses and the rest of the scenery was mostly untouched forest and farmland. We even saw some beavers, herons, and cranes, which is always a nice treat!

The next MRWC-sponsored trip for this section of the Merrimack River is September 27th, led again by Nancy Gero.

Things to Know Before You Go: The put-in for this section is the public boat launch in Boscawen. Heading north on Route 3, the launch is just past the county jail. The take-out is in the Rivco Boat Ramp in Penacook at the corner of Merrimack and Penacook Streets. No restrooms at either site, but ample parking.

Paddling From Franklin to Boscawen
The next weekend, Justin and I kayaked a six-plus mile section of the river from Franklin to Boscawen. I think the MRWC offers a guided trip, but we decided to tackle it on our own, following Nancy's advice about what to expect.

This section is completely different in that it offers a little more Class I-III excitement. There were at least five sections where we had to navigate rocks and fast-moving water. The first 3.5 miles is really quick-moving and shallow. In fact, in two spots we had to get out of our boats and carry them a little bit because the water was too low. (I'm sure that would change with some RAIN!)

The last three miles was deeper and slower-moving. While the shoreline on this section was scenic with few houses and more herons, cranes and beavers, we could hear road noise for most of the trip, making it less desirable for us. I think we passed one or two sandy beaches where you could stop for a picnic lunch.

Things to Know Before You Go: The put-in for this section is the public boat launch in Franklin, off Route 3 behind the high school. The take-out is the public boat launch in Boscawen (the same one we used for the put-in for the first trip). Again, there are no restrooms, but there's ample parking.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sportsmans Pond is a Hidden Gem

Today we welcome a guest post by Andrea, who lives in Ashby, MA. Andrea started kayaking last year and has managed to get out on the water at least once a week (I'm jealous!). She and her mom enjoy exploring southwestern New Hampshire. "It's convenient and there's an abundance of quiet water," she says.

Kayaking Sportsmans Pond in Fitzwilliam
by Andrea
This is a 152-acre pond that really invites exploration. From the launch, we paddled a 50-foot wide swamp channel that opened up to a small island. Little did we know that the island was blocking our view of a beautiful pond. There are only about 5-6 houses on the entire pond. We headed right and followed the shoreline to an outlet brook with a dam and a small bridge. Continuing along the shore, we encountered a pair of loons near the swamp inlet.

The swamp had channels coming out of it and looked like it had possibilities for exploration (maybe next time). Most of Sportsmans Pond is beautiful and completely wild, keeping you out of sight of the road and houses as the shore weaves in and out. We saw stone walls, boulders, and a pair of mallards. Around the last corner before returning to the launch, we came across my favorite feature.

We paddled to the end of the last inlet, thinking about turning around because of the tree stumps. Then we encountered two boulders, but when we paddled around them...it was like entering a different world: We found a beautiful boulder-filled brook and started weaving in and out, sometimes losing sight of each other. I don't know if a kayak much longer than our little nine-and-a-half footers would be able to navigate the boulders in this brook. We paddled this section until we came to a snowmobile bridge. There are spots that would allow portage and it looked like more paddling ahead, but we decided to call it a day.

We paddled Sportsmans Pond early in the season, so I'm unsure about weed growth as the season progresses. We're hoping to get back there to explore further!

Things to Know Before You Go: Parking is roadside and only has room for about two cars. The launch is small and gravel. We drove past twice before we decided "this was the place."

Directions: Take Rte. 119 to Royalston Road. Stay on Royalston Road past Pierce Road. Cartop roadside launch is on the left side of Royalston Road. If you see the Sportsman Club, you've gone too far.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kayaks/Canoes: Try Before You Buy

Test Paddle at Silver Lake State Park
Are you looking to buy your first kayak or maybe upgrade your current one? You're in luck -- There are two upcoming events in New Hampshire to help you with your decision. Tomorrow (Saturday, May 15), Eastern Mountain Sports will hold an on-water test paddle at Silver Lake State Park in Hollis, NH from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

You'll be able to demo kayaks from Hurricane, Neckey, Ocean Kayak, Old Town, Perception, Wilderness Systems and more. You'll also have a chance to learn from EMS staff how to choose the kayak, paddle, and accessories that are right for you. And yes, you can save money on same-day purchases. Since we're thinking about buying new kayaks in the near future, Doug and I are hoping to get to Hollis to check it out!

Contoocook River Canoe Company Demo Day
Mark your calendar for next Sunday, May 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. That's when Contoocook River Canoe Company in Concord holds its 11th annual on water Demo Day. They bill it as New Hampshire's largest kayak and canoe on water demo -- and I believe that's true!

Here's your chance to try out as many kayaks and canoes and accessories as you want and talk to the company reps. Over 200 boats will be available from more than 20 manufacturers. This is the event where Doug and I bought our Werner paddles last year. It's well worth the trip to Concord if you're in the market for a boat or accessories.

On a personal note: I've been neglecting the blog lately, but not for lack of interest. Believe me when I say I'd love to be out on my bike or paddling around one of our state's beautiful ponds! The good news is our lives are filled with many blessings right now: Our oldest daughter is getting married four weeks from tomorrow AND Doug and I are in the midst of having a new house built and preparing to put our home on the market. In between times, our soon-to-be son-in-law is running a marathon in Burlington, Vermont and graduating with his MBA. So we are busy, busy!

If you're lucky enough to be out enjoying the outdoors, please consider writing a guest post for New Hampshire...Love it or Leaf It. You don't need to be a polished writer, I'm glad to edit your notes. Just drop me a line at lbryar1154@hotmail.com. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Check Out NH's Northern Rail Trail

Thanks to Patrice of Life Less Ordinary for sharing this post. The Northern Rail Trail has been on my wish list for a while. Glad to hear it's worth the trip! If you're biking in the Granite State this spring, be sure to let us know all about it.

Just Keep Pedaling (and You Won't be Bothered by Black Flies)
J and I hit the Northern Rail Trail Saturday and it did not disappoint. Right now, there’s about 10 miles completed through Andover and just over the Franklin line, and supposedly another 25 miles between Lebanon and Danbury (but we can’t attest to that). Plus, in 2010, they are planning to connect the Andover line to Danbury and Boscawen. That would make for nearly 60 miles of rail trail!

The 10-mile section we did was just great! You ride on crushed gravel through wooded areas, passing a few lakes, ponds, streams and lots of signs of the old railway. For a spring day, I was surprised that it wasn’t that crowded, but it could have been the black flies. If you just don’t take any breaks from riding, they won’t bother you!

The trail is open all four seasons for multiple uses and I imagine it’s gorgeous in the fall with the colors. The rail line ran from White River Junction, Vt., to Concord from the 1840s to the 1960s. At the northern end of the 10-mile section we did, there’s an old train depot, Potter’s Place, which in itself, is pretty cool.

Directions and Parking: There are 3 parking areas along this 10-mile section. We parked at the Highland Lake Inn, which is on the SE side of the trail and serves as a welcome center for the trail (has toilet facilities). There is also parking at Blackwater Park and Potter Place. Those areas actually seemed more crowded than where we parked. All of the parking areas are off Route 11 in Andover. Check out http://www.fnrt.org/ for maps and more information.

What You Need to Know: The bike path is wide in most sections, but it’s used for multiple purposes, so be conscious of bikers, walkers, runners, strollers and horses and yield-to/passing rules. The path is not paved, but the crushed stone was still smooth enough. It was not too crowded when we went on a Saturday, but I imagine it does get crowded. When you park at Highland Lake Inn, you are not at the SE terminus of the trail. It goes another 2 miles or so over the Franklin town line. Potter Place is the NW terminus of the trail.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hiking and Biking Suggestions

It's springtime in New Hampshire! Yes, that means lots of mud. But if you hurry, at least you'll get in some good outdoor time before black fly season. Not sure where to go and what to do? Today I'm posting links to an article on hiking and a news item about a new rail trail. Enjoy!

Take a Hike
Cliff Calderwood posted this great article, Popular Walks in the New Hampshire Lakes Region on http://www.visitingnewengland.com/. I'm intrigued by the West Rattlesnake Trail on Squam Lakes (little effort and great views, according to Cliff.) Also, the Mud Pond Trail in Fox State Park (Hillborough, NH) sounds interesting. All the trails (there are six) seem do-able for the average hiker interested in exploring nature. Some of them are suitable for children, too.
Thanks, Cliff!

Ride a New Rail Trail
I just read about a grand opening celebration for a new rail trail in Newburyport (MA) and Salisbury NH. I can't find specifics other than the date (May 23) and time (noon to 4:00 p.m.). Also, the trail includes a water shuttle across the Merrimack River. I'll try to do more research to find out exactly where this is; in the meantime, if you have details, please write in. Kudos to the many people from Coastal Trails Coalition who likely worked years to make this happen!