Coos County offers peace, opportunities

New Hampshire Union Leader
November 12. 2016 10:21PM
Chantel Carney, left, sales and marketing director for The Glen at Bear Tree, speaks with North Country Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kirsten Silfvenius. 

PITTSBURG ­- It was about a year ago when Carol Congelos and her family decided it was time to make a new start. She and her husband left Marshfield, Mass., with their young son Chase and moved to New Hampshire's northernmost town, a place they came to snowmobile in the winter. They fell in love with the way of life.

"We moved here for the quiet, the pace, the old way of life," the 43-year-old said. "I'm excited for (Chase) to grow up in this town."

There is one issue ­- Chase is the only 3-year-old in Pittsburg.

"There is no one his age," she said. "When it comes to school, we will cross that bridge when we come to it."

Coos County is the "silverest" in the state. The median age is estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau to be 47.9, and just keeps growing older as younger people leave the area in search of work. A report done at the urging of state Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, urges lawmakers to focus on population shift and how the state should prepare for the issues already being seen in Coos.

But Congelos is bucking the trend.

"The world is getting a little crazy," Congelos said. "Sometimes reverting back to the way things used to be is a good thing."

Reverting back means finding work. For Congelos, it was made easier when inexpensive and high-speed Internet was brought to Pittsburg three or four years ago.

In Marshfield, she worked remotely for an IT company and was able to bring her work to Pittsburg. Her husband is in construction.

"There are opportunities here if you're willing to take them," she said. "It's out there if you take a chance and go for it."

The move also allowed them to do something they could have never done in Massachusetts - start a business, she said. Last year, the family opened North Country Paddle where they rent paddleboards and take people out on tours of First Connecticut Lake.

"We could have never done this in Massachusetts. It's just too expensive. Here, we could do it," Congelos said.

Kirsten Silfvenius grew up in Wolfeboro, went to Smith College, and then travelled the world. Alaska, Mongolia, New Zealand were just a few of her stops before deciding to settle down in Pittsburg and help her uncle run his cabin-rental and campground. At 25, she's now the executive director for the North County Chamber of Commerce.

"I saw all these other places that I had to pay to see and realized I have it all here in northern New Hampshire," she said.

That's not to say it's easy being 25 in Coos. She started a young professionals network and plans events to bring those under 40 together. When Pittsburg isn't enough, Silfvenius says she can drive an hour to Sherbrooke, Quebec, for a taste of Francophone culture in the bustling college town. She can make Boston in four hours and Portland, Maine in three.

But she's hopeful Coos can bring in more people her age.

"Once we got the Internet, it made the area more livable. I think people are going to do more jobs remotely and that will be even more possible here in the near future," she said. "Tourism will keep us on the map, but we will see more growth and innovation."

Bridget Frevdenberger, 36, grew up in Colebrook, moved away for college, and decided to come back. She said she is one of the few in her class that did.

"I don't have a doubt," she said of her decision.

She works in commercial lending at Granite State Bank, where she first started working at in high school. She married a massage therapist from The Balsams. She said they are outdoorsy people and couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

She believes bringing back The Balsams will bring back some youth.

"It would be a game-changer, but if it doesn't happen, there will be other things to keep this area moving forward," she said.

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