Mushing at Historic Rocks Estate in Bethlehem
Looking for a unique winter outdoor activity during the winter holiday season? How about dog sledding through scenic fields of Christmas trees?
This winter, Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel located in Jefferson will partner with the Forest Society’s Rocks Estate to offer dog sled rides at the scenic and popular North Country Education Center and Christmas Tree Farm in Bethlehem. In addition to a full slate of education activities throughout the winter, dog sled rides will provide a fun new winter adventure for visitors.
“Sled dog tours are a great way to see the trail system at The Rocks, which meanders above an apple orchard, skirts a beaver pond, and runs past several of the estate’s historic buildings,” said Nigel Manley, manager of The Rocks. “The Muddy Paw staff has taken the time to learn some of the rich history of The Rocks and the land conservation mission of the Forest Society.”
Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel comprises 86 dogs, ranging from Alaskan Huskies to more traditional sled dog breeds including Siberians and Malamutes. The dogs are friendly “canine athletes” who need to run. The touring kennel began as an idea to pay for food and veterinary care for dogs kennel founder, Neil Beaulieu rescued and brought back from Alaska. The kennel gives rescue dogs a job and a new home among other sled dogs. Many dogs have unique back-stories – from those that have run the famous Iditarod race to those who undertook more arduous journeys before reaching their new home.
Kennel manager and musher, Karen Tolin shares poignant dog rescue stories. “Salem,” a female Alaskan husky was found roaming downtown Anchorage, AK with a broken ankle. Picked up by a rescue, they learned that she had climbed an 8 foot chain link fence to escape a kennel that had many sick dogs. Salem's foot still shows an odd angle, but it has never impaired her enthusiasm as a lead dog. “Hoonah,” and her sister “Ahpoon” were Beaulieu’s first sled dogs. The rare “McKenzie River Huskies” were taken by village elders from an owner who was mistreating them. At the time, Beaulieu was teaching in a remote Alaskan village. He had no idea how to doglsed, but he soon learned and found himself rescuing dogs as he went.
Beaulieu received a call from a competitive Iditarod musher from Alaska who was down on her luck and her husband's health was failing. Neil was able to take two of her dogs. “Sasha” was just six months old with no experience in a harness. “Ely” was originally an “angry dog” but after working with him over time, he became the most loving dog in the dogyard. Many dogs have run major races like the Iditarod and the Quest. “Austin,” now age 14, who retired from active touring this year has run the Iditarod six times! Tolin offers: “Imagine what he's seen in his lifetime!”
“These dogs love to run, the moment they see a harness come out, a cart or sled,the whole dog kennel erupts in excited howling and singing. Imagine standing in the middle of 90 sled dogs and playing the ‘choose me’ game! When they get harnessed, the dogs scream and slam into their harnesses in their excitement to get going” says Tolin.
When training in the fall with a team of 16 dogs, the mushers anchor their cart to an 800 pound ATV and they often the dogs try to take off with both. Tolin describes how once the dogs’ adrenaline calms down, they adopt a steady pace, trotting along trails where they often encounter wildlife: bear cubs, grouse, moose, turkeys, beavers. “On a full moon night, we switch off our headlamps to see the forest lit up with an amazing glow to the sound of the dog paws crunching on snow with the sled just gliding.”
Each tour is designed to be as “hands-on” as passengers wish and may include the opportunity to drive the dogsled at the musher’s discretion. Guests interact with the dogs and learn the history and culture of dog sledding that few people ever experience.
Beaulieu is excited to offer rides at The Rocks this winter. “We’re very excited about being at the historic property of New Hampshire’s leading conservation organization. The trails are well maintained and we have great information to share about the history of the property.”
During November and December, special 35-minute dogsled tours will be offered through the Christmas Tree plantation at The Rocks beginning on November 21. Tours continue each weekend to Christmas Day. Weekday tours will be available between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Reservations are required for the tours which will be offered Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. To reserve a holiday season dog sled tour at The Rocks visit www.therocks.org or call 603-444-6228.
Longer 1.5 hour dog sled excursion accommodate up to two people with a maximum 325 pound weight limit on a traditional 8-dog hitch. Tours are scheduled to continue through the winter as long as trail conditions permit. The dog sled experience includes hands-on interaction with the dogs, involvement in harnessing and hook-up, learning basic commands and hearing stories about each unique dog and their history. If passengers prefer, the experience can be a simple dog sled ride, a truly unique way to experience incredible North Country scenery. For more information about Muddy Paw Dog Sled Kennel visit www.dogslednh.com.
The landmark 1,400-acre Rocks Estate owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests includes numerous buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, extensive walking paths, and 45 acres planted with tens of thousands of Christmas trees. The Rocks sells 6,500 Christmas trees and 2,500 wreaths each year through mail order and on-site sales. A “Trees for Troops” program helps to provide Christmas trees to American soldiers throughout the country and the world.