Valley Parents: Valley Quest; George and Nancy Smith Get the Facts Straight
George and Nancy Smith, of Hartland, have fact-checked Valley Quests for more than 10 years. In recognition of their efforts, Vital Communities honored the Smiths with the nonprofit’s first-ever Volunteer of the Year Award. The two accepted the award at a festive open house in December. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
The contents of George and Nancy Smith’s “quest kit” include a compass, a personalized rubber stamp, an ink pad, a solid surface on which to stamp things, pens, pencils and paper towels. Look inside any quest treasure box, and you will see an imprint of the Smiths’ stamp, which bears their last name and shows two hikers walking in profile. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartland — When George and Nancy Smith eased into their retirement years, they didn’t approach the sunset of their lives by sitting around the house.
As far as they were concerned, having more time and fewer responsibilities provided them with a perfect opportunity to become enthusiastic recreational hikers. They started by exploring all the trails they could find close to their home on Sleeper Road in Hartland. But as they became more adventurous, not to mention physically stronger, they began branching out and looking for trails beyond their comfort zone.
“It’s a very long story,” George said, describing the journey from scanning articles in the Valley News for possible hiking sites to becoming volunteer fact checkers for around 200 Valley Quests, the local educational treasure hunts that Vital Communities has been creating and publishing since the early 1990s.
It all began, the Smiths said, with a place called “Pinnacle” in Lyme. The name alone piqued their interest and, after making a few telephone calls, they found themselves talking to people at the elementary school in Lyme. A teacher there told them she would give them directions to the top of Pinnacle Hill. She just hoped that when the Smiths reached their destination, they would take the time to locate a treasure box and sign the small booklet they would find inside.
“So that’s what we did,” George said. “We found Lyme Pinnacle and we hiked up there. We found their treasure box hidden in a certain secret place on top of the peak with a great view. We opened the box up and signed it.”
That was the Smiths’ introduction to Valley Quest, though at the time neither of them fully understood what they had stumbled upon. They became increasingly curious, however, when, on subsequent hikes, they came across even more Tupperware-type plastic boxes containing rubber stamps and stamp pads and notebooks, all having to do with Valley Quest. When they found a treasure box at a former Shaker ceremonial site in the hills near the Shaker Museum in Enfield, they made a side trip to the Enfield town offices to see if anybody there might be able to explain what these things were. But nobody there, the Smiths said, had a clue.
Then one day, they learned that Vital Communities had published a new collection of quests, and George went to the nonprofit’s offices to pick up a copy. There, he was introduced to Steven Glazer, the man who, at that time, was responsible for creating and maintaining all the quests. The two men got to talking and, before he knew it, George had agreed to Glazer’s request that he replace a treasure box that had been stolen out of the cemetery on School Street in Lebanon. Glazer, it turned out, was quite a salesman, the Smiths said. After they had done virtually all of the quests that were available at the time, it was Glazer who persuaded them to take on the task of following the clues for quests that had yet to be verified for publication.
The assignment suited them, George said with a smile. “We like to find fault.”
Be that as it may, no one at Vital Communities is finding fault with the Smiths. In fact, in December 2012, the Smiths were honored as the organization’s first-ever volunteers of the year. Plainfield resident Laura Dintino, who took over quest maintenance from Glazer, described the couple as “seasoned questers who are always looking for a new adventure.” Their contributions to the program, she said, “have been invaluable.”
What can go wrong on a quest? It’s all in the details.
“They want to make sure the quest moves smoothly,” Nancy said. “They want to make sure the quest has everything that is necessary, like how to get to the site and what you need. Is it in a bog? Do you need boots? That kind of thing.”
“One of the biggest problems they could have is compass directions, turning directions, right or left, and identification and landmarks,” George said. “A house could be used as a landmark and a week later it could be repainted or torn down. So there’s all kinds of little things that people don’t think of that can happen.”
On those rare occasions when they find themselves lost on a fact-checking mission, Nancy said the only thing to do is to backtrack a little bit and start again, taking notes on an evaluation form as they work through the clues.
Having embarked on literally hundreds of quests, the Smiths know better than most the hidden value that lies at the heart of each and every quest: local knowledge.
“It’s a great education for young people or even out-of-towners,” George said. “If they got the book and started going out, looking for different places, they would be in every town in the Upper Valley.”
“Each quest has something to learn,” Nancy said. “Some things, even though we’ve lived in the area, we didn’t know what was there. Charlestown, for instance, has a very educational quest. It takes you through the town and we didn’t know before that the Fort No. 4 was in the town of Charlestown and not where it is now. It was up in the town itself.”
Getting disoriented on a Valley Quest isn’t the only mishap that can befall a volunteer quest fact checker or the treasure boxes themselves that questers hope to find at the end of every journey. Some boxes, the Smiths said, get stolen. Others fall victim to the whims of nature. A box that was hidden in a spot at the bottom of Quechee Gorge had to be relocated to higher ground when it washed away with the flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene. And the Smiths still laugh about the time they opened up a treasure box only to discover a litter of field mice had taken up residence among the ink pads and the papers.
For questers, stories are par for the course, the Smiths said, but they couldn’t put their finger on just one story that might top all the others.
“Every quest we’ve been on would have a story,” George said, “because every place you go has some kind of story.”
Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-727-3221 or email@example.com.
Where to Find Valley Quests
Vital Communities makes Valley Quests available in book form and online.
What: Best of Valley Quest. This book offers a collection of 70 of the best Upper Valley treasure hunts, including a hike to the summit of Pinnacle Hill in Lyme, George and Nancy Smith’s first unofficial Valley Quest.
Where: Available at local bookstores, or you can order it online at www.enfielddistribution.net or by telephone at 603-632-7377.
What: Valley Quest II: 75 More Treasure Hunts in the Upper Valley. This book picks up where the original Valley Quest publication (no longer in print) left off.
Where: Available online at www.enfielddistribution.net or by telephone at 603-632-7377.
What: Online Valley Quests. A virtual warehouse of both indoor and outdoor educational adventures appropriate for all ages. You can search for quests by town, features, level of hiking difficulty, season and terrain.