He’s Ready To Help Out

Former Rec Head Joins National Nonprofit

For years, Chad Denning has been helping to enrich lives in Hanover and New London. Now, his skills will have an even broader reach.

Denning, 37, recently became the director of high school crews for the Student Conservation Association, a national nonprofit headquartered in Charlestown. Denning had been the recreation director in New London for six years following a two-year stint as Hank Tenney’s assistant with Hanover Parks & Recreation.

With branch offices in Seattle, Chicago, Oakland, Calif., and Washington, SCA provides month-long conservation service opportunities for high school and college students. SCA program initiatives, which are charged primarily with restoration projects inside national parks, may include wildlife habitat replenishment, erosion prevention or bridge construction.

“It’s a way to get kids from diverse backgrounds into national parks. It gets them into the back country doing important work,” said Denning, a San Antonio native and Springfield, N.H., resident. “For a lot of these kids, it’s a life-changing experience.”

While most of the SCA programs are centered in national public lands such as Acadia National Park in Maine and Montana’s Glacier National Park, Denning hopes to help create more community-based initiatives in the Upper Valley. Two years ago, an SCA crew performed trail work at Moody Park, Claremont’s largest public park.

“They built bridges and filled in some surfaces that were wearing down,” Denning said. “There are a lot of great places locally that are so popular, they’re getting what I call, ‘loved to death.’

“(Lebanon’s) Boston Lot is another one of those areas. A lot of mountain bikers and runners use the trails, but most people don’t really think about the need to preserve and the wear and tear (that heavy use creates).”

Denning wore many hats while serving as recreation director in New London. He kick-started popular programs such as the Western New Hampshire Trail Running Series, the Winter Wild Uphill Running Series and the XTerra Stoaked off-road triathlon. He plans to continue directing the WNHTRS and Winter Wild, but will relinquish his duties for Xterra, which takes place at Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn at all, but I’m happy that those entities caught on and have helped people get outside, doing things that are healthy,” Denning said. “I’m psyched that the Xterra race is still going to go on without me.”

In New London, Denning helped facilitate summer-adventure programs geared toward survivalist and navigation training. The outings involved projects such as shelter construction, fire building and cooking.

“My approach was always sort of getting back to basics,” Denning said. “The kids loved it because they could do all this really cool stuff and it would be training for lifelong skills.”

Denning also introduced an array of non-team sport athletic programs such as archery, sailing and cross country skiing, also with the hope that participants would learn lasting skills.

“Sports like soccer, baseball and basketball are great and important to have, but they’re sports you need a team for and those options are limited for most people after high school,” Denning said.

Scott Blewitt is succeeding Denning on an interim basis as New London’s recreation director.

Blewitt, 40, spent 18 years as recreation supervisor in his hometown of Newport. He’s also currently the recreation director in Sunapee, a part-time position.

Selected by the New London Recreation Committee to replace Denning, Blewitt started the new post this week and hopes to build off many of the programs his successor implemented.

“I had a wonderful 18 years in Newport, but I was looking for a new challenge,” said Blewitt, a 1991 Newport graduate who was a two-way lineman for the Tigers’ football team, winning state championships as a junior and senior and playing in the ’91 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. “I look forward to creating new programs for this community while continuing many of the programs that have been successful here.”

Blewitt’s agenda includes summer staffing for town beaches at Little Lake Sunapee and Pleasant Lake, plus preparing for the town’s summer day camp program.

A meet-and-greet with Blewitt is scheduled for March 8 from 4-6 p.m. at Whipple Memorial Hall in New London.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.