Valley Quests Open May 1—including a Guided Event to a Vernal Pool!

Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 1: It’s a big one for Valley Quests!

Not only is May 1 Opening Day for Quests—”treasure hunts” that share the natural and cultural history of 160+ special areas in the Upper Valley—but it’s also the date of our first “Guided Quest” of the season.

In Guided Quests, an expert leads a group on a particular Quest, offering special details about its wonders. For this event, Valley Quest Coordinator Sandy Gmur and Kevin Tolan, Vermont Center for Ecostudies‘ Vernal Pool Monitor Coordinator, lead an exploration of a vernal pool in the Hurricane Forest of Hartford. The pool is part of the “Sally’s Salamander Meander” Quest, and like all vernal pools is a great place to observe amphibian life this time of year. (Why are vernal pools so good for frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians? Because they dry up as the summer progresses and thus don’t support fish, which tend to gobble up the amphibian eggs.) This event involves a moderate hike and is appropriate for families and adults. Registration is required; space is limited. Register at Hartford Parks and Recreation.

What’s more, the Sally Salamander Meander is one of the 12 Quests that are part of this season’s Super Quest, on the topic of “Climate Connections.”

The Climate Connections Super Quest examines the ways climate change is affecting the Upper Valley—from plants, insects, and other animals moving here from the south due to warming temperatures; to more frequent and more powerful storms; to people migrating from other places experiencing even greater climate-induced changes. The Super Quest also looks at ways we’re preventing or adapting to climate change, including flood control through land preservation; green energy technologies; and regenerative agricultural practices. From May 1 to November 1, follow any five of those 12 Super Quests to find their hidden treasure boxes and collect the stamp impressions from their treasure box, and you’ll receive a special Super Quest patch and be entered to win a grand prize. The 12 Quests can be variously done as walks, hikes, or by canoe or kayak.

Where the Climate Connections Super Quest Can Take You

Cedar Circle Farm Quest, Thetford, VT: Focus on regenerative agriculture while touring a certified organic farm and nonprofit education center.

Chaffee Sanctuary Quest, Lyme, NH: Get to know an “alder swamp”—a common Upper Valley wetland that provides great habitat for animals and natural flood protection for humans.

Cook Quest, New London, NH: Learn about how plants and soil sequester carbon while observing the forest, streams, and wetlands of the Mt. Kearsarge/Lake Sunapee region.

Donella Meadows Quest, Hartland, VT: Hear about a pioneering system thinker, author, and climate change activist while visiting the Cobb Hill cohousing community she founded 20 years ago.

Flowing to the River Quest, Norwich, VT: Hike along this Connecticut River tributary while learning how plants along the stream help keep its water clean.

Lebanon Energy Quest, Lebanon, NH: Starting at the former Mascoma Flannel Company (now the Rivermill Complex), a look at generations of power, from water to propane to green sources.

Loon Quest, Enfield, NH: A water quest on Lake Mascoma in search of a fabulous bird who needs clean waters. Begin and end at a the new Mascoma Lakeside Park, for launching non-motorized boats!

Lower Slade Brook, Hanover, NH: Hike along the brook crossing this 36-acre conserved parcel, observing waterfalls while reflecting on the role forests play in cleaning the air.

Sally’s Salamander Meander, Hartford, VT: Discover a vernal pool and learn about its critical role for salamanders and their wet, wiggley rites of spring.

Sunapee Harbor Quest, Sunapee, NH: This gentle stroll highlights the lake’s natural and historic features and the stewardship and educational work of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association.

Sustainability Quests, Woodstock, VT: (For Elementary Students) Learn about what goes on above the mansion area at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, including tree management, a solar kiln, and gardens!! (For High Schoolers and older) Observe the sustainability program and climate-aware forest management of this park—which is named after an Upper Valley native considered to be America’s first environmentalist.

Free Webinar on Writing Waterway Quests, April 8

Valley Quests are treasure hunts set in special locations around the Upper Valley. Each Quest follows a unique set of clues that teach you about a place’s ecology, wildlife, and history while leading to a “treasure box” with a special stamp and log book for you to sign. But they’re not restricted to dry land! Wetlands, streams, and lakes are also among the special 160+ Upper Valley places that Quests explore.

Learn how to make your own waterway-based Quest in a webinar with Vital Communities’ Sandy Gmur on Thursday, April 8, 7 to 8 pm, sponsored by the Springfield (VT) Town Library and the Black River Action Team. Register here.

Come with ideas and questions for a waterway Quest of your own and work with Sandy and other participants to turn your idea into a Quest that could be added to Vital Communities’ Quest directory!

Having moved to the Upper Valley two years ago, Sandy has found Quests invaluable activities to help her get to know her new communities. With so many beautiful bodies of water throughout the Connecticut River Watershed using a canoe or kayak is a great way to introduce people to these special places.

Quests can help people appreciate a precious natural asset, says Kelly Stettner, director of the Black River Action Team. “Our waterways are priceless treasures in and of themselves, as places to boat and fish, swim and splash.  They also provide incredible value to the healthy function of the entire ecosystem: everything alive relies on clean water.  From turtles to trout, salamanders to songbirds, and dragonflies to deer (and everything in-between!), wildlife depends on our rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, and even wetlands and bogs to flourish.  By writing your own water-based ValleyQuest for a public waterway in your area, you can help visitors as well as residents responsibly explore and come to appreciate these fascinating and sometimes overlooked gems. Awareness of a river or lake is a first step toward appreciation and a desire to help keep it clean and healthy, fully functional for humans as well as for wildlife.”

Go here to learn more about creating your own Quests, as well as books and stamps to go with them!

Quest to the Star!

Have you seen the star alight upon Mt. Tom in Woodstock?  Wouldn’t it be fun to see it up close?  You can if you follow the clues of the Mt. Tom Quest. The star traditionally was only lit over the holidays, but to be a symbol of hope during the pandemic it will light up the night until we get through this.

A gradual ascent from Faulkner Park in Woodstock to the summit of Mt. Tom provides amazing views of Woodstock Village and its surroundings. At this time of year you will want to take your microspikes with you in case the trail is a bit slippery.

Make sure to read the historical information sign in the park to learn about Mrs. Faulkner, a great benefactor for the Upper Valley.  And did you know folks used to downhill ski on Mt. Tom?  Read the story here.

Valley Quest Volunteer Monitors Needed

Do you enjoy being outdoors? Do you enjoy bringing others outdoors and making their experience something special?

Then you are a good candidate for monitoring one or more of our 160+ Valley Quests throughout the Upper Valley. Time commitment is primarily for a few hours in the spring and late fall with perhaps a visit to your Quest(s) once or twice over the summer. We would love to have you join us in keeping Questing alive and well! For more details contact Sandy at valleyquest@vitalcommunities.org.

That’s Snow Excuse!

Don’t be deterred by wet, cold or snow.  Good times can be had when a-questing you go!  Be sure to search our website Valley Quest page selecting for Season and Year Round to see what Quests are possible even through winter.  One special one is the Maple Quest at Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, VT.

Sugarbush Farm is a 550 acre hillside farm located in central Vermont. The Luces are the second, third and fourth generations to live on this land. Jack and Marion Ayres bought the farm in 1945 with a dream to make a go of country living. They were the first folks in Vermont to start packaging cheese in waxed bars so they would travel well without refrigeration. By 1975 the Boston Globe wrote about Sugarbush Farm “At the end of a scenic Vermont road lies a Cheese Lovers paradise.” In 1995 the American Cheese Society awarded Sugarbush Farm a Blue ribbon for the best smoked cheese in the country.

After you follow the clues of the Quest which take you on a learning trail through the sugarbush, you can visit the farm store for lots of local goodies and see how they package their cheese and you can take a look at the sugar house where the syrup is made.  A very fun outing with treats at the end!

Quest to Refresh Winners!

Congratulations to all the our participants in our Quest to Refresh Challenge!  28 teams took us up on the Challenge to get out and explore our Quests to beat the pandemic blues.

Malcolm and Joseph Marchesi pictured here made up one of the 28 teams that participated in the Quest to Refresh Challenge. 16 of these teams completed the Challenge and were entered in a grand prize drawing which was won by True North, consisting of Rachel North of Hartland and a young person she cared for over the summer. Said Rachel, “What drew us to questing was the thrill of the treasure hunt. My buddy loved the idea of finding treasure in the woods. What made questing different from geocaching or letterboxing was the riddles; they were fun and engaging and allowed us to learn while we had fun.” By the way, there are dozens of four-season Valley Quests, so keep your hiking shoes handy. Search on “Season” and “Year-round”!

Fall Guided Quest in Wilder, VT

Join Vital Communities’ Valley Quest Coordinator Sandy Gmur along with Roy Black, lifelong resident of Wilder and a member of the Hartford Historical Society, on a guided exploration of the historic village of Wilder.

Did you know Wilder used to be called Olcott Falls? On the Olcott Falls Quest you will learn about many of the old buildings from the 1890s and early 1900s that were built to house people who worked at the paper mill that used to exist on the Connecticut River here. Roy has many stories to share about the vibrant life of this old mill town. For some photos of the river, dams and the mill see this from the Northern New England Chapter Society for Industrial Archeology.

This Quest is appropriate for families and adults, all are welcome and just good walking shoes are needed. Might be a great addition to home learning!

Date: Friday, October 23, Rain or Shine
Time: 1 – 3 pm
Location: To get there: The Quest begins at the parking lot of Datamann in Wilder. Datamann is at 1994 Hartford Avenue (Route 5). From the south: head north for 1.8 miles on Route 5 from the traffic light at the intersection of Routes 5 and 14 in White River Junction. The parking lot is on the left before the left turn at the church. From the north: head south for 3 miles on Route 5 from the traffic light at the intersection of Routes 5 and 10A near I-91 in Norwich. The parking lot is on the right about a block after bearing right where Gillette Street T’s into Route 5 in Wilder.

This is a free event. Register through Hartford Parks and Recreation here.

Quests Along the Cross Rivendell Trail

Do you hope to do a longer hike before the good weather ends?  Do you enjoy a challenge?  We have a way for you to attain these goals!  Two of our Quests incorporate sections of the Cross Rivendell Trail (CRT), a 36-mile trek connecting four towns of the Rivendell Interstate School District in Vermont and New Hampshire.  Eagle’s Bluff Quest, new this year, takes you to a beautiful view of Lake Morey in Fairlee, VT, along the CRT. Southworth Park Quest, with a lovely picnic area in West Fairlee, VT, was created by students of the Samuel Morey Elementary School.

For added fun these Quests can move you towards completing the Quest to Refresh Challenge we have going till November 1 which enters you in a prize drawing in December and earns you a beautiful Valley Quest Patch.  You can join the CRT COVID-19 Hike Challenge as well.  How is that for meeting your hiking challenge goals?  See you on the trails!

Quest to Refresh Challenge!

Do you need to press the reset/refresh button?  Have you spent too much time behind a screen these days? We have a solution! Take our challenge – Quest to Refresh! Complete five or more Quests by November 1 (extended to Nov. 15th) and receive a unique Quest to Refresh patch plus an entry into our grand prize drawing at the end of the year.

There are over 160 Quests to choose from. You can search for them on our website by location, features, difficulty, and terrain. Print out the clues or download them on your phone. Pack a picnic, grab your binoculars and maybe a swimsuit, and off you go! Have fun learning about local culture and natural history and reconnecting to this amazing place we call the Upper Valley!  

The first step is to register your team here.

And once you reach the end of each Quest? Sign the log book and put a stamp in your Quest record. If you are uncomfortable with handling the treasure boxes at this time, you could instead, take a photo of the box in its location (and of the view!), perhaps including yourself and any companions. Post photos on social media – we would love to see them! And add these tags: @vitalcommunities, #valleyquest, #uppervalley.  (Note: Not all of the boxes made it out this year.) 

The last step is to record your five Quests by filling out this form and submitting it to us so we can send you your patch(es) and enter you in our drawing. You can also print this Record Sheet to keep track of which Quests you have done. 

Enjoy your time Questing and taking on the Quest to Refresh Challenge.  See you on the trail (from a socially safe distance)!

Questions? Email Sandy Gmur at Sandy@vitalcommunities.org.

Family Project: Write a Quest for your House!

Over these past few weeks I have experienced waves of anxiety and sadness, and at the same time such gratitude. I can’t imagine going through this crisis in any other part of the world. The Upper Valley is an amazing place filled with amazing people and places. I have the ability to walk out my door and witness first-hand the coming of spring as the buds emerge and the mud slowly dries. We invite you to take this coming week as a chance to celebrate the Upper Valley and our bonds to it. As part of this celebration consider discovering a local Quest or creating a Quest on your own.

We may not be able to leave our property much and we may not be able to visit our favorite Quest, yet we can find our own special places on our property or in our neighborhoods. This past week my kids and I decided to create a Quest of all the places that are special to our family on our property. It took us a couple of hours and once we were done we sent my husband out to follow our newly formed Quest clues.

Developing the Quest was fairly easy. First, we each made a list of  our favorite spots on the property. We decided where the Quest would start and walked to each of our favorite spots, figuring out the best sequence to follow. Once we had the sequence, we headed back inside to write our clues. The clues made us practice lots of rhyming as well as decide if we wanted to teach a few things along the way. We also created a map with illustrations and directional arrows. Once it was pulled together, we sent my husband out to test it. The kids loved watching their dad read their Quest and discover their special places on our property. They are also excited for their cousins to try the Quest (when they are able to visit again).

Try this out with your own family. Even if you don’t have a few acres you can do the same thing around a neighborhood, or inside your apartment. We all have a spot or two that we find special and everyone loves a treasure hunt. Send along a picture of your maps, clues, or Questing, or tag @vitalcommunities. We would love to see how you are celebrating your special places.

Steps:

  1. List your special spots.
  2. Walk the route you would like to take.
  3. Write your rhyming clues. Try to add some teaching points along with directional clues.
  4. Draw a map of the area.
  5. Test out the Quest.
  6. Save your Quest to share with others who visit once social distancing is relaxed.

Also check out our website for step-by-step videos on how to create a Quest.

Collier Quest April 2020

Start your adventure on a seat that swings.
Don’t wait too long and head to a place that could sting.

Head out to the deck.
Hang a compass around your neck.

South you will head as you leave the house.
Cross a field that certainly has a mouse.

Stop at the place honey is made.
In the hive you could find workers and drones that she laid

With the bees at your back
Compass you should not lack.

Go 60 east till you come to a tree with trunks of six
This white pine has lots of sticks.

Go down the hill to the fourth apple in the row.
How many apples do you think it will grow?

Move 28 steps to walk on water.
Check in the pond. Do you see an otter?

With your back to the dock walk north to the water that runs.
Your kids visit here and come home with wet buns.

Move upstream till the house is near.
You are almost done. Do not shed a tear.

Stop at the newly fallen tree.
Up the hill to the compost you see.

Go up hill to the place where veggies are grown.
You are almost there, don’t start to moan.

Look for your treasure where the hose hangs.
End your quest with the Collier gang!

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