Piscataquog River Park, Manchester NH

Going over: The west side of the river bank in the Piscataquog River Park is reached by an old footbridge.

On Sunday, with Meena running errands and the weather a boiling 50 degrees in mid-December, I was desperate for some woods walking, but didn’t have enough time to haul myself out to the Whites, or even Monadnock.

So, I stuffed a bunch of trail mix and a thermos of hot tea in my pack, grabbed Janelle and Aaron and headed to Piscataquag River Park in Manchester (my home town) for a couple hours of urban exploration. Piscataquag is Abnaki for “place where the river divides.”

There are two sides to this little used West Side get-away that abuts Goffstown. There is the part of the park with the baseball diamond and paved bike trail that everyone uses. But our interest was in the darker, deeper side of the park, the side with crisscrossing trails near the rushing river. That’s where we’d find adventure.

And the hike did not disappoint. After parking near the West Side Ice Arena, and heading toward the river, we immediately came to a giant fire pit with such an enormous mound of beer cans in the middle, we briefly considered scraping our hike and hauling the trash to the recycling center for some cash. But cooler heads prevailed and we moved on.

Some sort of skeletal remains of something was sighted along the opposite bank, so we headed over a rusty hulk of a footbridge to the west side of the river, bush-whacked our way down to the shore and came upon the burned remains of a pull-out couch. Much discussion ensued about how the couch ended up on a river bank, miles from the nearest house. Did teenagers carry it all the way out here, only to set it on fire? Perhaps it was washed down stream during Irene and ended up on this bank. We thoroughly explored the remains before moving on.

Happiness is…: A fallen tree, a warm Sunday and a rushing river for Janelle.

Next up, the kids discovered a platform, built over two fallen trees near the river bank. The end of the platform, which was nailed to the trees, dangled over the water, which pleased the kids to no end. I hovered nearby, ready to grab one of them should they decide to go for a swim, but there was never any real danger.

They did decide to roll an enormous rock into the river from the edge of the platform, a task neither could complete individually. They pleaded for my help, but I declined, explaining that they would (heaven forbid!) have to work together to accomplish this task. Thus, the great Rock Roll Project of 2012 began.

The platform was about 4 feet off the ground. They first attempted a straight up double lift, which failed. Then, they rolled the boulder onto a tree branch and attempted to lift the branch up. That was an epic failed. At that point I asked them to think about what supplies we brought with us. That did the trick.

They emptied Aaron’s pack, rolled the boulder into it, then struggled for about ten minutes to get the pack up onto the platform. They did it though, and as that boulder rolled into the river and created a mighty KER-PLUNK, we all cheered at a job well done!

Finally, on our way out, we spied some dirt mounds deep in the woods. Upon further exploration, we discovered that someone (more likely a large group of people)  had built an enormous dirt bike obstacle course. Based on the size and scale of the jumps, this is not something the city would look too highly upon, but the engineering is amazing. Whatever teenager built this thing should be working for the city.

Again, we thoroughly explored the area, found some golf balls and finished off our tea before heading home.

Lazy day: Aaron enjoys some river time on an old platform the kids found nailed to a couple fallen trees.

If one were to do an up and back loop of the trails down by the river, the total miles might come to about two miles. The trails have no names and there are a lot of herd paths going every which way, but you’re rarely out of sight of the river so following trails is easy. The trailhead is at a sign near the end of the drive to the ice arena.

Piscataquog River Park is not for everyone, and we wouldn’t suggest that kind of woodsy exploration at night. If you’re looking for woods with no trace of humans, keep away. But for a city park, and for curious kids who aren’t afraid of getting dirty, the park is a real gem. We look forward to going back in the winter to see if any snowmobilers will be tackling those jumps!

I have a link to some pictures of our hike, including a couple of the bike course: http://danandmeenakshi.phanfare.com/5379059

Here’s a link that gives you the city’s Google map of the park: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=100953374630712389472.00045b5c3872a1b95ba12&ll=43.020714,-71.442032&spn=0.123746,0.267448&z=12

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