Finally, the frost heaves are in bloom

By Ray Carbone

There’s a tender coldness to the air today.

It’s spring in New Hampshire – the New Hampshire that’s on calendars, not the one that’s got lighthouses or the one that looks likes the suburbs of Boston. New Hampshire’s spring has some wonderfully charming days like this one.

The only thing that it compares to it is in the fall, when the leaves stand posed at the end of branches showing off their red and gold colors, as they prepare to launch out into the cool blue sky and onto the green-brown ground.

These spring days are pregnant with warmth.

Not real warmth…

There’s a poignancy to these days too, a real sense that they’re here only to leave, like your first love or seeing your favorite car just as it disappears around a corner. These spring days are pregnant with warmth. Not real warmth yet – that’s still ten or fifteen more degrees away before we’re casting off our coats and sweaters. But, a warmth still the same, something that bespeaks of light ahead.

In this New Hampshire, that hint is mostly seen in the heavy water. Somewhere, deep down, below that drift of snow leaning against the barn, beneath the plowed piles clinging to the sides of your driveway, is the water, melting down as the depth of the snow sinks.

It’s known as mud season here, starting sometime in March and heading into April, May, even June some years. It’s messy and annoying, but it’s also a promise.

Spring is here. Summer is coming.

© 2019, Carbone Productions, LLC

 

 

 

 

 

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The first ski trains in New England were launched in Warner, N.H.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Looking at this small picturesque New England town today, it’s hard to imagine the significant role it once played in the development of the region’s winter tourism industry.

But it was about 85 years ago when a local businessman made the biggest deal of his life, drawing more than 200 people to town in America’s first “ski train.”

‘They left Boston’s North Station and arrived in a town with a little over 1,000 people… Word spread, and Warner was soon known as the winter sports capital of central New Hampshire.’

Rebecca Courser, the executive director of the Warner Historical Society, talked about the event, and the subsequent impact of impact on the town, as a special “Snow Train Dinner & Talk” in the town hall recently. The society’s fundraising event drew more than 200 people.

Buck Whitford introduced skiing to the town in 1909, Courser explained. He’d picked it up when visiting family members in Minnesota, and initiated friends and neighbors into the sport. It wasn’t long before locals in Warner – and in other northeastern communities – were making their own wooden skis, swooping down their hills and mountains.

But it was John “Happy Jack” Chandler who initiated the ski trains, according to Courser. In the early 1930s, Chandler took a trip to Boston. He visited several large businesses where he promoted Warner as a great place for a wintertime company trip. Some of the organizations sent representatives to the town and, after seeing the local hotels, restaurants and skiing facilities, some – including the John Hancock Insurance company – decided to take Chandler up on his invitation.

“They left Boston’s North Station and arrived in a town with a little over 1,000 citizens,” Courser said of the early ski trains. “The Boston folks grew to have a great appreciation for Warner as a winter playground. Word spread, and Warner was soon known as the winter sports capital of central New Hampshire.”

Of course the operations were relatively primitive. With no snowmaking equipment, business was completely dependent on natural snowfall. So when one winter brought a dearth of good cover, Armdam Doucette, the town barber, challenged the other men in town to join him in a pledge, “not to shave until we get some skiable snow,” Courser said.

In 1950, the Boston-Warner ski train brought 1,200 people to town, making the largest corporate outing America had ever seen.

Almost 30 men participated and, although there’s no proof that it impacted any wintry precipitation, it did bring the town some unexpected publicity. “Permanent five o’clock shadow hovers over Warner,” was a headline seen as far away as California, Courser said. And when the snow finally arrived after Christmas, the ski train people returned.

When the country entered the prosperous post-World War II years, things really took off. At that time, there were 14 inns and hotels operating in Warner during the winter months.

One weekend, approximately 900 Hancock employees got off the ski trains, virtually doubling the town’s population. In 1950, the Boston-Warner ski train brought 1,200 people to town, making the trip the largest corporate outing America had ever seen.

But by 1956, poor skiing conditions and increased competition from places like the state-owned Sunapee resort began the decline of the local tourism industry.

“Many of the inns shut down abruptly,” Courser noted.

War.SkiRR-statn
Main Depot receiving snow train visitors. Dr. Put’s cadillac, Henry Wachsmuth Buick, James Hardy truck. 1953

 

The local ski operations were eventually turned over to the schools. When construction of Interstate 89 divided the primary ski area, the operations were later moved to the Mink Hills area. By the 1980s, the ski businesses were gone.

But the ski trains had a major economic impact on the town for more than 25 years. It brought new people to Warner, some who returned during the summer, and some eventually settling here. And the winter population hike forced local residents, businesses and civic organizations to work cooperatively, Courser concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, Tuesday, February 19, 2019. All images are courtesy of the Warner (N.H.) Historical Society.

 

Mink Hills poll highlights ATV complaints

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – According to a new survey, the majority of residents in the Mink Hills section of town are concerned about the increased use of ATVs and OHRVs in the area.

“Too many off-road vehicles, especially four-wheelers,” complained one resident in a feedback section of the survey.

“These vehicles have destroyed these roads and trails,” wrote another. “They drive over at fast speeds, splashing out the dirt with the water and leaving great sinkholes on the roads.”

“The current activity (level) is excessive,” wrote another. “There are times when great hordes of these four-wheeled trucks, covered in mud, come blasting past my house. They have just trashed the place.”

“I believe OHRV/ATV riding destroys the natural environment,” commented another. “And the noise level is unacceptable.”

The survey was crafted by the Friends of Mink Hills, a local nonprofit organization that includes representatives from Warner, Bradford, Hopkinton and Hillsborough, as well as staff with the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission (CNHPC). The seven-question survey was mailed to 120 property owners that have land abutting a Class VI road in Warner; Class VI roads are typically dirt roads the town doesn’t maintain (i.e., pave, plow, etc.). Forty-seven respondents returned their surveys, according to Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner.

‘When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say (some non-club) riders don’t obey the rules…The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules.’

– Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner

Tufts said that in the summer of 2017, some local people approached the CNHPC about problems in the neighborhood. “The Mink Hills region was very important to them and they had concerns over who was managing the (recreational) use in those areas,” he said. The residents wanted the CNHPC involved because they considered the ATV/OHRV challenges a regional problem, he explained.“So, the idea is: four towns, one region.’ … We’re all alike. We should step back and look at what’s going on, and ask, what are the solutions?’”

Mink Hills, which includes the town-owned Chandler Reservation as well as the state’s Chandler-Harriman and Ashandon forests, is made up of more than 15,000 acres, a patchwork of private and public lands, located mostly in Warner (although it also includes land in Henniker and the three other communities).

The area has both environmental and historical importance. It includes a 4.9-mile trail loop near South Sutton, as well as numerous other trails that are utilized for a variety of recreational activities, including mountain-biking and horseback riding. According to the survey, most local landowners especially enjoy hiking, walking and snowshoeing in the Mink Hills.

Complaints about ATV/OHRV use in the area has risen in recent years after both Warner and Hopkinton ease restrictions on their Class VI roads, allowing for increased use by the recreational vehicles. Mink Hills residents say that the motorized machines create unacceptable noise levels, stir up dust, and seriously damage the trails; in addition, some riders disregard local rules and damage private property.

Nancy Martin is a member of the town’s conservation commission but got involved with the issue as a private citizen after hearing some local complaints. (The commission mailed out the recent survey, but it has decided not to get directly involved with the controversial issues.) She’s attended some meetings of the Friends of Mink Hills group, and reported that representatives of the NH fish and game department and local ATV clubs were also invited.

“When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say of riders who don’t obey the rules: ‘They upset us as much as they upset you,’” Tufts noted. “The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules. Some blatantly disregard them. They wander into (private owners) fields.”

But to Bill Dragon, president of the Bound Tree ATV Club of Warner and Hopkinton, the Friends of Mink Hills appear to be interested only in instituting more restrictions on ATV and OHRV activities. (The survey reports 67-percent of respondents favored restrictions on some roads, while 45-percent supported seasonal restrictions on ATV/OHRV use.)

“What’s not in (the survey) is what these (club) people do to keep those trails open,” Dragon said, explaining how clubs like his put in hours tending and clearing the recreational trails.

“We’ve tried to focus on the areas where there are these problems,” Dragon said, referring to conversation club members had at recent meetings with the Friends. “We had a map, and said, let’s look at where the majority of the complaints come from. We think we know where they are, but let’s look at it… We’ve (also) talked about trail relocations and other things,” he said.

Unfortunately, it’s been tough for the club members and the Friends of Mink Hills to agree on exactly how the issues can be resolved.

And that’s what Tufts, Martin and others are hoping to do. They want to create a strategic plan that outlines how ATV/OHRV use in the Mink Hills can be effectively maintained and policed – one that’s supported by most people living in and using the Mink Hills trails, and that can be used as a framework for town regulations.

But Dragon says that it’s difficult to get there when the local survey doesn’t even reflect the view of most people who live in and use the Mink Hills, simply because it was restricted to Warner landowners.

“We have about 50 members and many own property in the Mink Hills area,” Dragon said. “We’ve got members all the way up and down Bound Tree Road (in Hopkinton).

“I think if you asked the people that are using these public access roads – and that’s what they are, public roads – if you asked them (to participate), if they were added to the survey, they would far outnumber the number of people they now have on the survey,” the club president said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

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