Location, Location, Location

On September 15, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

The history of Waterville Valley is a microcosm of the history of real estate in the North Country of New Hampshire in general.  Early settlers straggled in during the early 19th Century, trying their hand at farming but finding the climate and soil best suited for bumper crops of granite boulders.  A few farmers eked out an existence, between raising animals and crops, trapping and hunting, lumbering, and — very soon — taking in guests.  This last development — hospitality — proved to be the most durable use of real estate in the White Mountains.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

By the late 19th century, another, entirely more rapacious use of the land had come to the fore, and huge tracts of forest were bought up by a few cagey and rock-ribbed lumber barons.  Their hearty crews spent long, intensely cold winter months slashing down vast stands of virgin timber.  In the spring, the trimmed logs were floated down the flood-swollen rivers to mills in Campton and Lincoln and a dozen other northern towns, to be cut into dimensional lumber for the burgeoning cities to the south.  Unfortunately, the scars left by this cutting were dramatic — even now, if you look carefully at the flanks of Noon Peak, Green Peak, and the Tripyramids, you can see the lines where clear-cutting stopped some hundred years ago.  The logging crews were relentlessly efficient as they cleared the land, and the mess they left behind was an ecological disaster of soil erosion and forest-fire potential.

The fortunes of the land shifted dramatically in the early 20th Century, thanks to the efforts of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which mounted a PR campaign that would make Al Gore envious.  The tide of public opinion turned in favor of forest protection, culminating in the Weeks Act and the creation of the White Mountain National Forest one hundred years ago this summer.  The land — stripped of virgin timber and left denuded — suddenly had value again, and the Federal government bought up vast holdings from the lumber barons, rolling them together to form the 770,000 acre White Mountain National Forest.

All through the years, the hospitality industry in the White Mountains grew steadily.  Each summer, trains brought ever larger crowds north to the grand hotels.  Guests in Waterville took the train to Campton, then transferred to a stage for the last 10 miles’ journey up the valley, alongside the Mad River.  In the early days, the first guests stayed in the home of early settlers — who quickly caught on to the business opportunity, and built a series of ever-larger hotels, until the Waterville Valley Inn was constructed at the base of Snows Mountain, where the modern-day Tennis Center stands today.  Every summer, guests came, through rich years and lean, to play golf and tennis, hike the trails, and fish in the river.  Waterville’s unique “island in the forest” location was a powerful attraction — so powerful, guests started building their own satellite “cottages” on the hillside near the Inn.  These cottages were Waterville Valley’s first “weekend homes”, a theme that has echoed throughout modern times.  By the early 20th Century, summer guests started staying later in the year, then coming back on “snow trains” to ski on the trails on Snows Mountain and the CCC-cut race trail on Tecumseh (portions of which now run the course of Upper Whitecaps and Old Tecumseh), and the Inn and cottages were occupied all year.

The modern history of Waterville Valley is also a story of location.  Olympic athlete Tom Corcoran did his homework thoroughly, looking for a unique place that brought together the right topography, weather conditions, and space to grow a village.  He found the right combination in Waterville, and in 1965, purchased the Waterville Inn and surrounding land, and started building a modern ski resort on Mount Tecumseh (unfortunately, the old Waterville Inn burned down the very first season, during a blizzard in the winter of 1966).

The Waterville Company masterfully planned a self-contained village, with careful attention to the important details of infrastructure and design.  Tom Corcoran’s vision lives on in many ways through out the resort and town today.  Corcoran was decades ahead of his time in his approach, combining the development of a world-class ski resort and desirable real estate.  He also recognized the importance of building a real town, as opposed to a base village with no anchoring community.

It’s a testament to Tom Corcoran — and to Waterville Valley’s unique location — that 45 years later, a whole new generation of visitors and residents continue to find the place irresistible.

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In my 30 years of so-called adulthood, I’ve been involved in my own fair share of real estate transactions:  apartment rentals, condo purchases, buying and selling homes, deciding on the perfect weekend getaway, finding a piece of land, and finally building a house.  I’d have to say that my experience with the real estate industry at large earns mixed reviews at best.  You find a pretty broad spectrum of humanity in the real estate game, but you’re not often left scratching your head about why someone became an agent.

To that end, I have to tell you that my experience with the real estate establishment in Waterville Valley has been entirely different since we first started looking at property here in the mid-2000s.  I’ve been treated fairly, offered good advice, and invariably greeted as a friend rather than a customer.  I’ve worked with both Waterville Valley Realty and Roper Real Estate a number of times over the years, and I have always been very satisfied with the experience.  This isn’t intended to be an endorsement, but rather a segue — but if you asked me personally, I would tell you that my own experience with both agencies has been overwhelmingly positive.

One of the signal differences I see with both Roper Real Estate and Waterville Valley Realty is that both agencies are truly local and absolutely invested in the community.  I am not sure it’s even possible to find a local event, charity or cause that both companies don’t ardently and generously support.  And that brings me to two final thoughts:

I want to publicly thank and praise Roper Real Estate for their pledge over the summer to donate $100 to the Waterville Valley Foundation for each real estate closing they complete.  This week, we received our first check from Roper.  I can’t thank you enough, Terry, Chip, and team — you guys rock!

I also want to recognize Bill Cantlin, Jan Stearns, and Waterville Valley Realty for their extraordinary support and patronage.  Waterville Valley Realty is a consistent and generous donor to the Waterville Valley Foundation — and we really appreciate that.

In this case, though, I am reflecting on Bill and Jan’s unflagging support of one of the things that truly make the Valley unique: our very own Shakespeare in the Valley troupe.  In recent weeks, Donna Devlin and Will Hammond have been working with Waterville Valley Realty to find a new home for their summer stage.  Bill and Jan have been great, and with just a little luck and a lot of hard work, Shakespeare in the Valley will have a new and better home on the east side of Town Square next summer.

The land and the streams and the mountains are a big part of what make Waterville Valley special.  Having not one but two local real estate agencies who are truly of the land and are so willing to reach out to make the community a better place is a real stroke of luck.

 

Extraordinary People, Extraordinary Effort

On September 12, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

One of the things that struck me very soon after moving to Waterville Valley was that I was suddenly surrounded by some extraordinary people. Frankly, the list is long and daunting enough to give even a pretty secure middle-aged guy an inferiority complex. Think about it:

Tom Barbeau, who is the J3 race program head and director of athletics for BBTS, is obviously an extraordinary skier — but he also a stunningly good athlete who played professional football in the the Canadian Football League.

Christopher Devlin-Young, a mainstay of Shakespeare in the Valley (where he is charged with all set construction and manages the front of the house on show nights) is also a world-class member of the US Disabled Ski Team. In January, Chris took the 2011 Disabled Alpine World Championship Super Giant Slalom. He posted the fastest time of the day among the sitting class and the fastest time of the day over all of the disability categories, beating out standing skier by more than 2 seconds.

Hannah Kearny, 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist in Freestyle skiing, cut her teeth and refined her technique on the steeps of Sunnyside and trained with BBTS coaches including Nick Preston (a legend in his own right). It’s not at all uncommon to see Hannah scooting through the lift lines when she’s home for a visit.

Kris Freeman, Olympic and World Cup Nordic Ski Champion, grew up skiing the cross country trails of Waterville’s nordic center and still considers Waterville Valley to be his home resort.

There are literally dozens of other standout, world-class athletes around our little town summer and winter. Clearly, Waterville Valley is a place that attracts and retains extraordinary people. If you’re not careful, you could easily be lulled into thinking all the world is like this — or into overlooking the extraordinary efforts of those around you on a daily basis.

I’d like to call your attention to a couple of events that have happened in the past few weeks that remind us how fortunate we are to have some of the hard-working men and women who keep us safe and keep things running around the Valley.

First off, we have to consider the ravages of Irene, the remnants of the hurricane that passed through Waterville Valley at the end of August. You’ve no doubt seen pictures of the washouts along Route 49, or maybe caught a glimpse of the Tyler Spring bridge on the Mad River Trail, which had migrated a surprising distance downstream toward the Tripoli Road. Damage was widespread and significant — from undermined bridges to badly eroded trails. By Labor Day Weekend, very reasonable people were shaking their heads and wondering how we’d get back to normal any time soon.

The answer is, of course, by extraordinary efforts from extraordinary people. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you their names — but I can tell you that crews from the Waterville Valley Resort, Town of Waterville Valley, the State of New Hampshire, and the National Forest Service have done an amazing job already with repairs. Route 49 is improving every day. The Tripoli Road is open end to end and in good shape. Crews and contractors have begun restoring the damaged cross-country network and are making great progress.

Today, I drove up to the mountain and stopped on the bridge above the town offices to stare in wonder at two excavators working together to lift the Mad River Trail bridge and nudge it toward the shore. By the time I came back down the hill 30 minutes later, they had already gotten it up on shore and were preparing to move it. Will everything be “back to normal” before snow flies? Maybe not — but I have to tell you, I am incredibly impressed with the progress so far… and I am happy to say we’re more than ready to receive the hordes of leaf peepers headed north in a few weeks.

I’d also like to call your attention to Waterville Valley Director of Public Safety and Fire Chief Chris Hodges. You’ve probably met Chris around town at one time or another. He’s exactly what you’d hope for in a small town public safety leader: smart, friendly, easy-going, but also incredibly strong and focused. If you needed any proof of just how strong, and how focused, Chris is, consider this: On Sunday, September 11th, Chris left the border between Canada and New Hampshire in the cold and dark pre-dawn. He rode the entire length of the state of New Hampshire in 12 hours and 37 minutes, setting a new overall record for the feat. Chris rode in part to raise money for Hoops for Heroes, an organization which seeks to honor veterans and which in turn supports the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Chris also rode in honor of his friend, Marc Paul Decoteau, a local resident and WV Elementary School graduate, who was killed in Afghanistan in January 2010.

By any measure, Chris’ ride was an extraordinary feat by an extraordinary man, and we’re honored by Chris’ service and dedication to our town. The Waterville Valley Foundation was happy to make a donation in support of Chris Hodges’ record-setting ride and the charities it supported. You make us proud, Chris!

If you’d like to contribute to this worthy cause, I am sure that Chris would still welcome your support.  You can make your check payable to ‘Hoops for Heroes’ and drop off at the Waterville Valley Town Office or mail to Chris’ home address: PO Box 1078, Campton N.H. 03223.

 

Sweeping Changes

On September 6, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

Given my fascination with weather, you can imagine my mixed feelings at being away on vacation when Irene unleashed her deluge in Waterville Valley (ironically, we were in the Caribbean, which one generally avoids at the height of hurricane season; the weather was lovely, thanks).  We left the day before the storm hit, knowing that big rains were on the docket; my good friend (and Waterville Valley Foundation treasurer) Mike Furgal sent me a text message late on Monday: “Apocalypse hit WV.  It will take years to recover.”   Mike also very kindly made his way out in the aftermath of the storm to check on our home, which was thankfully fine.

Mike is occasionally given to “Furgalizations” — enthusiastic interpretations of otherwise carefully observed details — but this time he stuck to the bare facts.  Bridges were gone.  Large portions of roads washed away.  The Mad River had literally changed courses in several places.

I finally caught a glimpse of the damage when we returned home late on Sunday night of Labor Day Weekend.  Even a week after Irene stomped her way through northern New England, dumping over seven inches of rain in the Valley in a few short hours, the evidence of nature’s fury was everywhere.  There were no fewer than four major washouts and diversions on Route 49.  Portions of the main artery into town had eroded and collapsed right up to the center yellow line.  The mountain access road and the Tripoli Road both suffered severe washouts and erosion in places, and were down to a lane and a half in spots.  The metal span bridges along the Mad River Trail at Tyler Spring were both washed away — the second bridge having been carried nearly down to town offices on Tripoli Road.  The West Branch Road bridge below the Osceola Library is still closed due to structural concerns — the water crested and ran over the road surface, and may have undermined the structure.  All in all, it was an amazing, and frightening, scene.

All that said, I am also impressed with how quickly our town and state have responded.  The Department of Public Safety used their Nixle alert system brilliantly to keep residents abreast of developments — including closures and eventual detours on Route 49 and information about the inevitable (and fortunately relatively short lived) power outages, and as always, worked to keep residents and guests safe throughout the storm.  The town and state road crews (at the urging of Governor Lynch) have worked tirelessly to restore some degree of normalcy to the washed out roads.  You might still have a couple moments’ wait at the narrowed sections this week, but you get in and out of town safely and easily, which is pretty amazing when you see the damage the storm wrought.

Those of us who love Waterville Valley know that it’s nature that has shaped the place, from the glaciers that cut the peaks surrounding us, to the slides that tore down Tripyramid in two places a hundred years ago, to Irene this summer.  We are surrounded by the splendor of nature, but from time to time, she still reminds us of her power to change the status quo.

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Not all the sweeping changes in the Valley this month are scary: after careful consideration, a consortium including the Waterville Valley Resort, several active volunteers, program founder Kathy Chandler, and representatives from the Waterville Valley Foundation have decided to reshape the Waterville Valley adaptive skiing program, bringing it home and refocusing on needs of our local community.

In August, we informed the board of directors of Ability Plus that we would be going our own way.  Ability Plus is a fine organization, and we wish them the very best as they continue to provide quality programs to disabled skiers and riders at mountains all across New England.  However, as we looked hard at what is best for Waterville Valley, we felt strongly that a locally administered and managed program would be best able to serve the needs of the community.

The Waterville Valley Foundation and Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports have a long history together.  The two were virtually entwined in the early days and remained so until the mid-2000s.  Waterville Valley Adaptive has continued to be one of the largest recipients of the Foundation’s support ever since.  We are happy to be able to help out during WV Adaptive’s transition away from Ability Plus by offering them a fundraising “umbrella” — until WV Adaptive has established their own 501c3 non-profit organization, all donations will be managed through the Waterville Valley Foundation, but will be handled with separate accounts and accounting.  During this transition, Mike Furgal and Andy Knight will also be serving on the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports board of directors.  We’re excited to be able to help out during a time of great and positive change.

If you would like to help out — WV Adaptive is essentially starting from scratch in many ways, though you’ll see all the same friendly faces — please make your check payable to Waterville Valley Foundation (with Adaptive in the memo) and send to:

Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports
PO Box 505
Waterville Valley, NH 03215

But you know what?  That’s all details.  Here’s some really exciting news:

On Saturday, September 24th, Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports will be hosting a special fundraiser, “Dinner with Franz”.  Valley favorite and chef emeritus of the William Tell, Franz Dubach, has kindly offered to serve as celebrity chef, joined by the ever-talented Sean Stout of the Wild Coyote Grill.  Entertainment will be provided by long-time favorite Smitty, returning for the first time in many years.  The menu includes:

  • Cocktails & appetizers
  • Tell Salad
  • Steak Maison, Chicken Lugano or Salmon with capers
  • Franz’s famous Tobler Cake

It promises to be a fun, and delicious, night out!

Please mark your calendar and join us at T-Bars for this very special evening. The festivities begin at 6:00 PM with a cash bar.  At 7:00 PM, dinner will be served. It will be $50 per person and all proceeds will benefit the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports program.  You can make your reservations by calling the Mountain at 603-236-8311.