November 13, 2013LANCASTER — Fourteen men and women, some singletons, others as couples, met at the invitation of convener Michael Brunson of Jackson, who works as a Mountain Classroom teacher at AMC Pinkham Notch, to explore their reasons for remaining in or moving to the North Country.
Only a few already knew one another and so introductions were first on the agenda. They live in Colebrook, Berlin-Gorham, Bethlehem, Randolph, and Lancaster. Their numbers include bankers, teachers, web development, designers, artists and employees of nonprofit organizations. Some have traveled extensively and lived in several places; others have spent most of their time in and around their hometowns after attending an out-of-state college.
Nearly all revel in the out-of-doors, including tele-mark skiing, Nordic skiing, rock-climbing, hiking, distance running, bicycling, horseback riding, skating, ice hockey, trail-building, kayaking, canoeing and coaching.
Only one person said that they enjoyed being inside more than outside. Many noted that their favorite outdoor activities were ones they enjoyed alone.
The North Country's rural lifestyle and a sense of community were mentioned as draws, and for those who grew up here closeness to family and for many who moved here the availability of family in southern New Hampshire or in Mass.
Casual gathering places in which to socialize, such as the Saalt Pub and the White Mountain Café in Gorham or the Schilling Beer Co. in Littleton, are important, and the scarcity of such congenial and affordable places was described as one of the region's downside.
Those in the Colebrook area sorely miss the sociability of The Balsams, which included skiing, golf, and ground-floor pub.
One participant looked around the room and exclaimed, "This is the most young people I've seen in one place!" Many activities are geared to those nearing or over age 65, several pointed out.
Those who live in dormitory-style communities, such as AMC Pinkham Notch and the White Mountain School, said that it's like living in a bubble, with little way — or need — to get to know those in the local community.
"The Tillotson Center does not cater to people our age and most concerts are quite similar to one another," one person said.
The Colonial Theatre and the Rialto are both assets.
One participant said he'd only bought a house in Berlin because it was what he could afford. "But, Berlin had its own story and community, and I'm really psyched to live there," he said.
Everyone seemed to agree that the size of the region — its geography – meant that its sub-regions — essentially watersheds – make it difficult to make friends or go to activities that require crossing sub-regional boundaries.
When asked what's missing, one participant said, "A grocery store that I like!" There was almost universal agreement from those who live far from the Littleton Food Co-op explained that food shopping is a problem. Others agreed that they are disappointed by both a lack of civic pride among many young people and the lack of diversity in who decides to move here, despite the availability of federal Border Patrol, Customs, and BCI-Berlin jobs.
Some said, however, that the speed with which Berlin and Gorham had opened up some its highways to ATVs was an encouraging sign. "It's pretty darn unique to live in an area where you can get away with that," said one participant happily.
Another worried that "a jillion ATVs" could ruin the North Country's peace and quiet even though they bring in needed dollars to local restaurants, motels, and campgrounds.
One participant said that the organizers of new activities designed to lure tourists to the area, such endurance racing, should also advertise these event for locals.
Another concluded, "Community building may be as important as economic development."