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Summer Guide: Connect With Area Waterways Through New Valley Quests

  • Kelly Burch and her four-year-old daughter Harriet show off their tattoos after completing a Valley Quest adventure at Boston Lot in West Lebanon, N.H. (Courtesy of Kelly Burch)

  • Harriet and Kelly Burch examine ferns during a Valley Quest at Boston Lot in West Lebanon. (Courtesy of Kelly Burch)

  • Harriet and Kelly Burch examine ferns during a Valley Quest at Boston Lot in West Lebanon. (Courtesy of Kelly Burch)

  • Harriet Burch, age 4, stops at a brook at Boston Lot while on a Valley Quest in West Lebanon. (Courtesy of Kelly Burch)



Valley News Correspondent
Friday, June 29, 2018

West Lebanon — “Is this where our treasure hunt is?” my 4-year-old daughter Harriet asks as we pull into the Boston Lot picnic area off Route 10 in West Lebanon. 

I’ve been talking up our Valley Quest adventure for the past day and I worry I may have set her expectations a bit high as she wonders aloud whether the “treasure” at the end will be a new tiara or perhaps a net for catching frogs (luckily, she’s brought a back-up net along just in case one isn’t provided). 

“I think the treasure is probably more like a stamp,” I say, hoping to temper her expectations. 

We hop out of our car and I look at my phone to read the first clue for The Energy Quest at Boston Lot, part of Vital Communities’ Super Quest 2018: Aquatic Adventures. The set of 10 quests encourages residents to learn about the rivers, ponds and streams that drain into the Connecticut River, making up a watershed that covers 40 percent of Vermont and 30 percent of New Hampshire, including most of the Upper Valley. 

I read the first couplets of the quest’s rhyme, which tell us about the history of the Wilder Dam across the road, which turns the flow of the Connecticut River into hydroelectric power.

I hadn’t known the dam was built on the site of Olcott Falls, natural waterfalls that stretched for more than 650 feet along the river. 

Although I’m fascinated by the history and the science of the dam, Harriet is ready for a more active adventure, so I read her our next clue: “Scan for a tree with an old fence scar. Opposite can you find the embedded metal bar?”

She looks intently around as we start up the old logging road. Suddenly she shouts, running toward a tree on the right of the path. 

“I found our clue!” Sure enough, the tree’s bark is wrapped around an old metal bar. “What’s next?” Harriet demands, excited now that she’s proven her sleuthing abilities.  

For 25 years Vital Communities, a nonprofit organization based in White River Junction, has run Valley Quests — treasure hunts that aim to educate people of all ages about the history, community, natural resources and cultural significance of special sites throughout the Upper Valley.

“It might be a place you have walked by every single day of your life and you never knew the story about that building, or maybe there’s an old tree in your town or a great waterfall,” Sarah Cottingham, Valley Quest coordinator at the time, told me last year. “Valley Quest gives you an excuse to slow down and look at the world in a way that we don’t often do anymore, and it really is a gem in that way.”

In the three years that I’ve lived in the Upper Valley, I like to think that I’ve come to know the area fairly well. Harriet and I have tackled many of the most popular area attractions: We’ve summited Mount Ascutney, picnicked at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and paddled along many rivers, ponds and streams in our kayak.

Now we’re often looking for a less well-known area when we need a new adventure, which led me to choose the Boston Lot quest. We’ve driven by the area many times (most recently on pregnancy-induced treks to our favorite Thai restaurant in Hanover), but I haven’t paid much attention to the lots on the east side of the road.

Without the Valley Quest, I never would have stopped here or realized that the area contains seven miles of trails on 439 acres surrounding the clear waters of Boston Lot Lake.

“There are so many fascinating stories behind our towns, forests and waterways, and a Quest is one fun way to find them,” current Valley Quest Coordinator Lauren Griswold said. “We wanted to highlight the value of our region’s watershed — the way it connects us, and the diverse ecology, geography, and history it holds in its basin.”

Each of the 10 quests highlighted as part of the Super Quest features some water formation: either a river, stream or lake. Some quest-takers will find swimming holes or waterfalls on their adventures. As we start up the old logging road that slopes uphill toward the lake, Harriet’s attention turns to the brook that runs along the right of the trail.

As a family, we walk in the woods at least a few times each week. Usually we chat about our days, run races or play pretend games that Harriet invents. The quest, however, gives our walk a purpose that we don’t usually have. When a clue mentions spores, we flip over ferns and talk about how plants reproduce. Another clue discusses the power lines, leading to a lesson about how electricity travels. By the time we reach the top of the hill (and the gorgeous reservoir where you can splash around), Harriet and I have both learned something.

When she sees the lake she rushes to the edge, scanning for fish and tadpoles. However, it only takes a minute for her to realize that she’s forgotten to solve her last clue — and find the treasure.

“Find a rock den, where in winter a bear might reside… For that’s where your Valley Quest box does hide!” I read again. Harriet looks at a few small rocks, which I point out could never shelter a bear. After a moment she find a rocky outcrop and crawls beneath it, retrieving a small Tupperware box.

“We found it!” she yells triumphantly, before signing the guestbook and giving herself many stamps on her arms and legs, tattoos to celebrate her victory.

By the time we’re driving south on Route 10, Harriet is already dozing off, but she uses the last of her energy for one more proclamation: “I think we should go on more treasure hunts,” she says.

I can’t help but agree.