Off The Clock: AMC programs put fun into winter

To many, winter in New Hampshire means curling up next to the fire with a good book or the television remote. For others, the frosty weather and snow-covered landscape are an invitation to get outside and take advantage of every minute of surviving daylight during off hours. The Appalachian Mountain Club has introduced a program tailor-made for those who fall into the latter category.

The AMC – which has been promoting, through education and hands-on experience, the enjoyment and protection of our mountains, rivers and forests since 1876 – offers guided trips, short and long, near and far, on foot and by water. It also provides affordable and comfortable lodging in campgrounds, huts and lodges and cares for more than 1,500 miles of trails in the Northeast, including 350 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Visitors this winter to the AMC’s Highland Center at Crawford Notch or the Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch will be among the first who can take advantage of a new “walk-on” program.

“AMC Outdoor Explorations” was introduced by the organization to give guests at the two lodges the opportunity to get outdoors with AMC naturalists for hour-long outdoor skills clinics or multi-day introductory adventures. Everything from snowshoeing to tracking will be presented this winter. Most of the adventures are free to lodge guests and needed gear is supplied, courtesy of L.L. Bean.

“Just today we’ve had a tracking walk where guests have learned to read and interpret animal tracks. We’ve hiked to Centennial Pool and had a Saco Lake walk,” said Rob Burbank, the AMC’s public affairs director.

Developed in response to guest requests and in keeping with the AMC philosophy, the Outdoor Explorations program focuses on the natural history of the White Mountains.

Did you know there is one point in the region – right at the highest point of the divide of two watersheds — where visiting schoolchildren, or anyone else for that matter, can spill their bottled water and know that water running to one side will eventually end up in Long Island Sound, while water running in the other direction will flow to the Gulf of Maine?

That information is just a sample of the great stuff discussed by the enthusiastic team of AMC staffers. It’s enough to get even the most die-hard hibernator out into the winter air.

There are plenty of other programs offered at the two AMC lodges.

Daily “Green Tours” are offered to guests and anyone else who happens by. These tours take visitors through the three-year-old Highland Center, where they will be told about and see first-hand the countless adaptations made – many during construction – to lessen the facility’s environmental footprint.

“This facility was built to sit lightly on the land,” Burbank said. “It’s all about reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Visitors to the Highland Lodge also will find two self-guided trails, one focusing on natural history and the other on trail stewardship and each with its own recorded narrative.

Thayer Hall – also located at the Highland Lodge – boasts a photo exhibit showcasing the black and white work of celebrated cartographer and mountain photographer Brad Washburn. Recorded narration by Washburn and his wife Barbara accompanies each photo. (People hoping to visit the photo exhibit at Thayer Hall are encouraged to call 466-2727 first to make sure there is no function scheduled which may cause the hall to be closed to the public.)

In addition to the natural beauty surrounding Pinkham Notch’s Joe Dodge Lodge, AMC naturalists regularly host “Table Talks” (on weekends, and weekdays during school vacation during the winter months and daily during the warmer seasons) and share with visitors information and tales about the natural history of the region and its inhabitants.

“Skins and Skulls,” for example, utilizes the skeletons and pelts of local animals to educate visitors on the adaptations necessary to survive in the area.

“People get the chance to touch, see and learn about these animals,” Burbank said. “How many people have actually been able to get up close to a porcupine pelt?”

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