Active Outdoors: Uncovering some hidden gems

  • A day of adventure rafting is just part of the fun you can have exploring the underutilized Winnipesaukee River. Courtesy of OutdoorNewEngland.com

  • Chances are you won’t have any competition for a seat at the picnic table at any of the rest stops along the Northern Rail Trail. TIM JONES / Easternslopes.com

  • The author would’ve loved to have a picture of someone cycling on this beautiful stretch of the Northern Rail Trail, but the trail is often completely empty. TIM JONES / Easternslopes.com

For the Monitor
Saturday, August 05, 2017

“If you build it they will come.”

That phrase has become part of our popular culture, but it’s not always true. I can give you a several examples of really wonderful outdoor recreational opportunities that people have put a lot of time and work and money into building, that are sadly underutilized. Perhaps just not enough people have discovered them ... yet.

There’s something of a crowd mentality, even in outdoor sports where people are looking to “get away from it all.” I’m not sure I understand it, but the thinking must go something like: “If all these other people are doing it, it must be great.” There’s also pure laziness – it can be tough to motivate yourself to go look for new adventures when it’s so much easier to go someplace you’ve already been and know you like.

Below, I’ve listed a couple of underutilized resources I’ve encountered recently. If you can get away this summer, try to discover someplace like these, someplace new and different. Eventually, these undiscovered gems will reach “critical mass ” and you’ll have to share them. But for now, they are all yours. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Northern Rail Trail

My vote for the most underutilized recreational resource in New England goes to the 57.6-mile Northern Rail Trail between Lebanon and Boscawen, which was completed in its present form in 2014. We were traveling last week on a perfect summer day, drove a road that parallels a long section of the trail, and saw not a single cyclist. That’s a shame.

Make no mistake, this is one of the great recreational trails in all of New England. The grade is gentle and it’s a nice smooth ride on a mountain bike, hybrid, commuter or cross bike – I’m not sure how the stone-dust surface would ride on a road bike with skinny, high pressure tires designed for speed.

Speed isn’t the point on a rail trail like this – enjoying the ride is ...

If you live close, the Northern Rail Trail is perfect for section riding. There are road crossings with convenient parking at many points along the trail, which makes it easy to ride as much as you want in a day and no more. Start at one end, ride as far as you want, eat a snack, then ride back to your car. The next time, start where you left off and do the next section of the trail. When we lived closer, we did the entire trail several times by section riding.

Now that we live a distance away, riding over 100 miles in one day on a stone-dust surface is more than we want to do, but it’ll make for a great multi-day ride.

There are several places to stay either on or right near the trail. You can get some ideas here. Shaker Farm B&B on Mascoma Lake in Enfield is close to the Lebanon end of the trail and the lovely Highand Lake Inn is sort of mid-way which makes it really convenient. The Maria Atwood Inn is in Franklin near the southern end of the trail. We haven’t stayed at any of these properties (though we have stopped at the Highland Inn several times), but they look like the kind of places we enjoy.

Winnipesaukee River

In the same neighborhood as the lower end of the Northern Rail Trail is the Winnipesaukee River. Winnipesaukee and the rest of New Hampshire’s big lakes are the exact opposite of an underutilized resource. So are the ledges and sandbars along much of the Pemigewasset River. But the Winnipesaukee River gets largely ignored, and is therefore well worth exploring.

A new business called Outdoor New England is trying hard to change that, opening up opportunities both on the river and nearby.

If you’ve never tried whitewater rafting, they are now running trips down the river whenever there’s enough water. They also reach whitewater kayaking clinics and offer stand-up paddleboard lessons, rentals and yoga classes.

This is another great example of someone building something in hopes that “they will come.”

Fall Doe Camp

I’m a big fan of the VOGA Fall and Winter Doe camps. The Fall Doe Camp this year is scheduled for Sept. 15-17 at Jackson’s Lodge on a corner of a beautiful little lake. The lawn ends at the Canadian border.

Ladies, this one’s for you. You get to spend three days with a bunch of friendly, like-minded women and have a ball while learning new skills and perspectives. Grab your daughters and a bunch of your friends and go!

Guys, you are out of luck on this one (unless you get invited to teach!).

Here’s this year’s schedule.

Feel free to sign up for one of the three classes. My sweetheart Em and I are helping to teach. I’d love to see you there.

Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com