By Noah Pollock, Vermont Field Coordinator
In 2006, as part of a graduate research project, I conducted a study examining the economic impacts of paddler tourism and recreation along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. As research projects go, this was a pretty sweet gig! Fellow classmates shook their heads when I described how my work required me to explore waterways stretching from the Adirondacks to northern Maine. Living out of my car, I traveled from region to region, surveying businesses and paddlers along the way.
One of my study regions was the Clyde River, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Here, the NFCT winds through a valley of farms, forests, and boreal wetlands. After assessing use levels and expenditures by paddlers, I concluded that paddlers had a fairly minimal impact on the local economy here. Unlike in the Adirondacks or along the Allagash, very few outfitters served this region, and most folks exploring the waterways were local fishermen and second home owners.
Now, wearing a hat as a NFCT Field Coordinator, my work takes me back to many of the same places I had surveyed as a student, including the Clyde River. What a difference a few years make! Soon after I graduated, Chris McFarland, a landscaper from New Hampshire, decided it was time for a career change. Purchasing a flotilla of colorful kayaks, Chris set out to provide boat rental and shuttling services near Pensioner Pond, in East Charleston. He located the business, named Clyde River Recreation, in a spot where the river meanders so much that following an eight minute shuttle paddlers can enjoy a two and a half hour paddle. This allows Chris to keep costs low and visitors happy. Now, on a typical summer day, dozens of groups set out on river journeys, returning with smiles on their faces.
I have come to realize that in order for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail to create meaningful economic impacts in area communities, successful local boat liveries are essential. They have a presence in area chamber of commerce meetings. And just like the trail medallions and kiosks, racks of kayaks alongside the road catch the eyes of visitors.
As an organization, the NFCT is keenly interested in seeing businesses like Clyde River Recreation thrive – and doing what we can to support them.
Supported by a grant from the USDA, my work has allowed me to spread the word about Chris’ business and to encourage collaboration with local lodging establishments. Now, tourists visiting the Wildflower Inn in East Burke often spend a day cycling the off-road network of mountain bike trails often take a trip north to explore the Clyde River, as part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail “Pedal and Paddle” package.
As interest in paddling the Clyde River increases, other entrepreneurs are taking notice. Bill Manning, who founded the NorthWoods Stewardship Center years ago, now rents a vacation home to paddlers. This beautiful getaway, situated along a wild and scenic stretch of the Clyde River rivals the offerings one finds in the Adirondacks and in Maine, but for a fraction of the price.
Following the Clyde River, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail flows through one of the most economically depressed regions in Vermont. Through our partnerships with area community members and entrepreneurs, it is satisfying to witness positive impacts in area communities. “The Trail is having more of an impact than you might think,” a local business owner told me recently. That statement, I suppose, is best verified by a future graduate student, with their own sweet research gig.