By Victoria Hall Smith
How often do we hear about organizations that start out small with a fairly narrow focus that, over time, morph to become much more, inviting greater participation and opportunities for residents to become more involved in their local communities? The Blue Mountain Snow Dusters Outdoor Recreation Club, which today includes walkers, hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, cross country skiers, snowmobilers and even folks just looking to work for the greater good, is a Grantham version of just such a phenomenon.
The BMSD was founded in November of 1974 at the suggestion of the Grantham selectmen, hoping to promote good relations between the local snowmobile enthusiasts and the Eastman cross country skiers who were sharing some of the same trails. Grantham’s Ambassador to the World, Merle Schotanus, former Eastman owner and Board member, was the founding president, stewarding the group to incorporate as a not-for-profit in 1975. It was—and remains—the only club in New Hampshire with a dual charter as a snowmobile and cross country ski club. Every Sunday, members would take either a snowmobile ride or go for a ski and then meet up at the warming hut near Grantham Four Corners for a picnic. In the early ‘80s, as mountain bikes and ATV s started becoming popular, the club decided to expand membership to include bicyclists. Clearly, this was no longer a club for snowmobilers only, so in the mid-‘80s changed the name to include Outdoor Recreation Club.
It was at about this same time that Bob and Judy McCarthy bought their vacation home in Eastman and cross country skied when they could make it up to Grantham on winter weekends.
“We mainly skied on old logging roads and the Croydon Turnpike when we were coming up part time,” explains Judy, “and when we discovered the Snow Dusters were the ones maintaining the trails, we figured we should join and start doing our part. Except for a brief time when we were living outside of the United States, we’ve been members since 1988.”
The well-maintained trails were also the impetus for Andy Eastman to join about eight years ago.
“The Eastman Cross Country Ski Center does a good job grooming the cart paths and trails for the cross country skiers,” according to Andy, “but the trails maintained by the club are better protected by the dense forests, so they stay better, longer.” Andy, who has skied the Craftsbury,VT halfmarathon for nine years, especially enjoys the cross country trails on the other side of Grantham Mountain. “Those trails wouldn’t be possible without the Snow Dusters,” he adds.
The all-volunteer BMSD ORC spends a lot of time in the summer months removing bushes and tree saplings, maintaining over 65 miles of trails and all at no cost to tax payers. They are also responsible for the huts at the aforementioned Grantham Four Corners and the new one in the Reney Forest, just south of the Dunbar Free Library on Route 10. Volunteers built and continue to maintain them, keeping them stocked with firewood in the winter months.
Philanthropy is another major tenet of the club’s charter and a shared value among members. To that end, they were largely responsible in the mid ‘70s for reviving Grantham’s Old Home Day celebration, using the money raised from raffles and selling grilled lunches to fund trail maintenance and help local families in need. They also participate in the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association’s annual ride-in to support Easter Seals; last year, the 115 member clubs raised nearly $100, 000 over the three-day event.
That charitable fervor is what led them to create a bicycling team in 2009 to participate in the annual Prouty fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Calling themselves the Grantham Mountaineers Division of the BMSD ORC, team members walked and biked around the Upper Valley, while others rowed on the Connecticut River.
Mary O’Rourke was co-captain of the team for the first two years, “and each year the team has grown. We organize a few fundraisers like yard and bake sales during the year to fund team T-shirts and support Prouty entry fees.” They also have social gatherings along with training rides and walks leading up to the July gala. For the 2011 Prouty, there were 36 Mountaineers, 17 from Eastman, and together they raised $16,000! Paula Keup, who has been a team member for two years, feared her unexpected houseguests would keep her from participating. Determined to keep her commitment, she was up that day shortly after first light, driving to Hanover and then walking her promised 15 kilometers hours before the gun went off to start the actual event.
Elaine Lascher, another walker, was new to the team last year but plans to do it again this year and continue as part of the BMSD ORC. “The club organized a hike in October up little Mt. Washington, which is up above Grantham Four Corners, and we had a great time,” she says. “We enjoyed it so much that we took some recent visitors on the same hike—there is a 180-degree view that includes Mt. Sunapee and Mt Kearsarge to the south and Mt. Cardigan and Mt. Cube to the north. We loved it!”
By the time you read this, the BMSD ORC and Mountaineers will be organizing and leading snowshoe hikes and cross country ski and snowmobile outings, not to mention starting to organize for the 2012 Prouty on July 14th. Susan Mattson and Merle Schotanus, co-captains of the team this year, encourage everyone to join the fun. Contact Susan at 863-0746 or by email at susancmattson at gmail.com or Merle at 863-2293 or by email at schot at comcast.net.