Hundreds Explore Merrimack River Watershed Through the Merrimack Paddle Challenge
More than 300 people from across New Hampshire and Massachusetts signed up for the inaugural Merrimack Paddle Challenge that took place from June 15 to September 30.
The do-it-yourself challenge was presented by the Forest Society, Five Rivers Conservation Trust, Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, and Merrimack River Watershed Council.
Participants were provided with laminated paddling maps, interpretive information, safety tips, and educational resources including the Forest Society’s documentary film, “The Merrimack: River at Risk,” and a guide to indigenous history in the region from Indigenous NH Collaborative Collective. (Read more about indigenous efforts to restore the waterway in Forest Notes here.)
The paddles were:
- Concord River Paddle: Lowell & Billerica, MA
- Cross Border Merrimack Paddle: Nashua, NH to Tyngsborough, MA
- Contoocook River Paddle: Contoocook & Concord, NH
- Muchyedo Banks Paddle: Penacook, Boscawen & Canterbury, NH
- Silver Maple Floodplain Paddle: Concord, NH
Although the rivers were flowing high and fast this summer due to heavy rains, the paddlers reported a variety of wildlife sightings — from beavers to eagles — and thought-provoking experiences.
“I had never paddled on this river,” one participant wrote. “Doing so in August gave me an appreciation for its power and beauty. Our group stopped and observed the Hannah Duston statue from the water and talked about the history of the area, as well as the longstanding importance of the River to area commerce.
“We also marveled at the holes in the sandy river bank ‘walls’ and imagined the swallows that must live in there, though we didn't see any. We also spent some time quietly observing the current as it swirled past us while we rested on a sand bank upstream and ate our lunch. Total zen moment on a fantastic river.”
The Challenge was also a catalyst for safe socialization amid a worldwide pandemic: a MeetUp group of 10 kayakers tackled the Muchyedo Banks paddle and were already making plans for another trip. ANd, in July, the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust hosted The Environment Youth Task Force on the Concord River for a morning of kayaking.
The Challenge was open to paddlers at every level.
"The best part was enjoying these natural areas that have not been too impacted by development,” a different participant reported. “I saw lots of birds, beaver, and a bear.”
Whether participants paddled one or all of the waterways included in the Challenge, almost everyone found a renewed appreciation for the watershed.
"Driving over the river on bridges versus actually paddling and seeing the river up close and person is incredible,” another participant wrote at the conclusion of the Challenge. “I have a healthy respect for all of the beauty that NH provides, but added to the is a new appreciation for this beautiful river.
In July, the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust hosted The Environment Youth Task Force on the Concord River for a morning of kayaking. (Photo: Courtesy of Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust)Maryevelyn Monty, Neil Pilotte, and pup Tobey prepare for a paddle. (Photo: Maryevelyn Monty)