Summer Along the Androscoggin

Adventures in Bethel Maine

Halfway between Bangor and Montreal , on the eastern edge of the White Mountains and well away from the craziness of city life, you may be lucky enough to find Bethel Maine.    For a time, the town was a haven to the well-heeled and well educated escaping from the frenzy of city life, but over the last hundred years Bethel has become a getaway that welcomes anyone with a love of nature.

The White Mountains Presidential Range is south and west from Bethel.  Around these parts, the mountains are considered part of the Mahoosuc Range.  Sweeping glacier-sculpted valleys run between mountains that provide challenging climbs and amazing views for those who dare them.   Ice-cold, crystal streams feed the fast-flowing Androscoggin River, a waterway that has shaken off its paper mills and returned to its pastoral roots.

Local outfitters and guides can provide the equipment and expertise to spend the day on the river canoeing or kayaking.

Bethel’s 2400 residents maintain the town’s inns, restaurants, schools, and attractions for year-around enjoyment.  In the autumn, the town’s forests provide the scenery with displays of foliage, in winter visitors flock to the area for the Sunday River ski resort, and in the spring and summer the town hosts hikers, campers, and outdoorsmen of all stripes.

Hiking is the most popular summertime area activity, with hiking trails through the mountains and throughout the many parks and conservation lands.  It won’t take long into any of these hikes to spot distinctive Maine flora like the wintergreen and the trillium, to enjoy the scent of spruce needles, and to begin to notice the sound of the breeze in the trees.  One short hike, just 12 miles from  the center of Bethel, is the Step Falls Preserve, only 24 acres with a not-too-strenous climb to the top of a series of waterfalls cascading into chutes and pools along the exposed granite that makes the mountains.  More extensive hikes are just a little farther away in Grafton Notch State Park.

With a river like the Androscoggin, visitors can’t possibly ignore the chance to get out onto the water.  Local outfitters and guides can provide the equipment and expertise to spend the day on the river canoeing or kayaking. These trips are not the white-knuckle adrenaline-filled white water rafting associated with other Maine rivers, the trips are typically easy paddling with just enough rapids and fast water to add a little thrill to talk about back home.

Of course there are fish in the river, and a lot of visitors enjoy getting them out of the river. The same guides and outfitters who can provide canoes can also provide directions to promising stretches of the river for trout and smallmouth bass.  Most canoers can’t resist at least dropping a line into the river as they paddle slowly along, admiring the woodlands and birds along the river.

And for bird watchers, the ducks, loons, osprey, and eagles add a bit of excitement to an activity that normally focuses on sparrows, warblers, and thrushes.  The bald eagles in particular can be exciting, with many fishermen reporting that the eagles take special attention to the fish that they catch and release.

Bethel’s beauty is more than skin deep. In fact it goes deep into the earth.  The geologic processes that created the mountains left behind veins of feldspar, beryl crystals, mica, rose quartz, and semiprecious minerals too numerous to list. From the days of oxen-powered carts and hand-driven drill bits, hard working men have extracted these minerals, but today the minerals are for hobbyist “Rock Hounds”.   Rock hounds may scramble up and down the mountains or pan for treasure in the Androscoggin’s sand bars.

Recently, the historical Bumpas Mine has opened its doors to classes and groups interested in the history and geology of the area.  A tour of the mine includes a presentation on the history of the mine and the use of the minerals extracted, a look at some of the machinery used, and an opportunity do don a hard hat and go into some of the excavations.  Along the way, there is plenty of opportunity to pick up a chunk of mica or feldspar for the rock hound’s collection of mineral specimens.

The folks at the Maine Mineralogy Expeditions have taken much of the sweat and labor out of mineral hunting by bringing truckloads of mineral-laden gravel to the Bethel Outdoor Adventure & Campground.  From May to October, visitors can filter, wash, and pick through the gravel in search of minerals and interesting stones, all with the help of knowledgeable experts.  Lucky rock hounds who find treasures worth bragging about can have them put into jewelry as they dig into the rock piles for more mineral specimens.

The Bethel Outdoor Adventure & Campground is a pet-friendly campground for trailers and tents.  It’s one of over a dozen area campgrounds that can make home bases for a Bethel adventure.  That puts adventure right out the door.

For those who want a more civilized base camp, the Bethel Inn Resort has been offering a refuge from the stresses of daily life since 1913.  The resort offers both luxury suites and condos for guests who enjoy pampering.  The resort’s amenities include golf, health club, spa, and a lakeside cabin.  It also features both casual and fine dining in the Millbrook Tavern and Grille, with attentive and friendly service.

The Bethel Inn Resort is also an excellent home base for exploring the quaint town, from the brick buildings of the progressive Gould Academy prep school, through the historical downtown, and perhaps finishing up at the 1913 Dr. Moses Mason House maintained as a museum.  In an afternoon’s walk, visitors can enjoy art, history, and a little bit of souvenir shopping, rounding out a nice visit to a friendly town in the middle of the Mahoosuc Range.

 

For more information:

Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce www.bethelmaine.com

Mahoosuc Initiative www.mahoosuckinfo.org

Orion Outfitters and Guide Service www.orionoutfitters.net

Locke Mountain Guide Service LLGray_76@yahoo.com

Mahoosac Pathways www.mahoosucpathways.org

Bethel Historical Society www.bethelhistorical.org

Bethel Inn Resort www.bethelinn.com

Maine Mineral and Gem Museum www.mainemineralmuseum.org

Mahoosuc Land Trust www.mahoosuc.org

Maine Mineralogy Expeditions (MME) www.rocksme.biz

Bryant Pond 4H amp www.umaine.edu/bryantpond

Gould Academy www.gouldacademy.org

 

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