Merrimack River  -  New Hampshire

This trip had little hiking and no camping involved, but I include it because of its outdoor “adventure” theme. I visited Mom In New Hampshire in June of 1998 and we decided to go canoeing on the Upper Merrimack. The Merrimack River begins in Franklin, NH, at about mid-state, then parallels I-93 to Lowell, MA, where it takes an abrupt left turn to the sea, flowing through the great 19th century textile mill region, including Lawrence, where Malden Mills (the manufacturer of PolarTec Fleece) is located, before it empties into the North Atlantic near Newburyport. Both of us are amateur paddlers, at best, but since the Upper Merrimac is generally a slow moving river, we figured we’d have no problem. We somehow found out about a place called Hannah’s Paddles that rented canoes outside of Concord, so we found our way there from Mom's place in Manchester and rented a canoe for a five-hour trip downstream. They sat us down and gave us the safety talk and the canoe steering talk before we helped load up the canoe on a van and shuttled upriver. Very few things are quite as exciting as the shuttle ride to a river trip. Lots of anticipation. Business was slow, so we were the only group going. Not having grown up in the Northeast, I don’t know much about the history of the Merrimack beyond what the van driver told us during the drive and what I've learned from internet surfing. The segment from its origin at the confluence of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers to the backwater impoundment at Hooksett Dam is a state-designated "Wild and Scenic River", although we have seen from the Cache la Poudre River in Colorado that this does little to curtail development along its shores or protect it from dam-building legislation that targets parts of the river immedietly adjacent to the wild and scenic desgnated areas. Apparently it used to be one of the most polluted rivers in the Northeast as it ran through southern New Hampshire and Massachussettes, but stricter environmental control through the Clean Water Act has set a trend for increasingly higher water quality. Shockingly, the city of Manchester, NH only ceased dumping raw sewage into the river in 1992! Here is evidence contrary to the conservative notion that economics will drive responsible land stewardship, as Bush the younger would have everyone believe. The economy of New England has been going fairly strong for over 200 years, but it wasn't until the EPA began water-quality enforcement that the river became anything but a health hazard. Despite stricter control on river dumping, the river remains fairly polluted from non-point source fertilizer runoff, urban runoff and poorly mantained septic systems. We were sure not to drink the water while we rowed. 

Clouds blocked out most direct sunlight, taking the edge off the heat a little bit. The water was cool, and the river was wide and slow. Mom sat in front, and I in the rear. We foundered about a little trying to get our system down, thankful that seasoned paddlers weren’t around to witness the embarrassing spectacle. We nearly spilled ourselves into the river multiple times. It was for this precise reason that I had left my SLR camera at home, and brought with me only a cheap single-use model that I got for about $4 at the corner drugstore. Soon we were cruising sleekly down the river, streaking ahead of the lethargic current. Large white pines and an explosion of maples, birches and oaks lined both banks beyond thin white sand beaches. I could well imagine a fine time to be had simply laying in the sand, or the green grass beyond, all day and occasionally taking a quick dip in the river, or tending a trout line from the shade of an oak. We paddled hard in places, then slow in others, sometimes not at all. I enjoyed that rythmic slosh-slosh one hears as the paddle strikes the water, then pulls slowly back and is then removed from the water, dripping, ready to be thrust in again toward the front. We saw nobody else on or near the river, and the afternoon passed very quietly. In fact, I don’t recall seeing so much as a tool shed or dirt road. That IS wild and scenic. We stopped the canoe once about halfway through the trip to get out and stretch our legs on a sandbar. We took this opportunity to switch seats and I sat in the front for the front for the second half. We passed under two bridges, and the third bridge we came to signalled the take out point. I suddenly felt like we had rowed much too quickly. I've never been on a river trip that didn't end too soon. We pulled the canoe up on shore and carried it under the trees where a worker motioned for us to leave it. Apparently we paddled harder than most since we made the trip in far less than five hours. I want to say it took somewhere around 4.  All around a fun, relaxing trip. You can’t ever go wrong with a river trip.

Banks of the Merrimac
Since I couldn't turn around in the canoe, I simly pointed the camera backwards to take this one.
Merrimac River
Mom paddling away in the front while I sit back and take pictures.
Merrimac River
Candidate for my book jacket photo.
             Merrimack River Links
         Lowell National Historical Park - A National Park Service information page
         Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee - Lots of news and information

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