A Bell Jet Ranger from JBI Helicopters of Pembroke on May 29 prepares to pick up a 750-pound beech tree that will be the focal point of a pavilion being built at Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves.
NORTH WOODSTOCK - Under an ambitious expansion that is nearing completion, the nonprofit that operates the Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves is hoping to bring visitors even closer to Mother Nature's exquisite handiwork and in the process, enhance its revenue in the North Country's increasingly competitive tourism economy.
With guidance by workers from New Earth Inc., a Bell Jet Ranger from JBI Helicopters of Pembroke on May 29 lowers a 750-pound beech tree that will be the focal point of a pavilion being built at Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves.
Created by the cumulative effects of water - particularly in the form of glaciers - as well as by wind, weather and time, Lost River Gorge features soaring granite walls, waterfalls and nearly a dozen caves that visitors can explore.
Kate Wetherell, general manager of Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, and Randy Farwell, owner of New Earth Inc., high-five after a helicopter moments earlier delivered a 750-pound beech tree to the pavilion under construction as part of the attraction's current expansion.
Discovered in 1852 by brothers Royal and Lyman Jackman after Lyman fell down a moss-covered hole and dropped into what is now known as Shadow Cave, Lost River Gorge in the early 20th century was threatened by the clear-cut logging that was taking place in the White Mountains.
In 1912, the then 11-year-old Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests bought 148 acres around Lost River Gorge and operated it as an attraction until the mid-1960s, when it entered into a long-term lease with the entity that later became the White Mountains Attractions Association.
About 30 years ago, the association, to improve access and the flow of visitors into the gorge, extended the boardwalk along the northern edge to include a southern loop. Last November, it began work on its second expansion, that, ideally will be completed early next month.
The expansion, designed by Farwell Engineering Services of Lee and is completed by Randy Farwell and his crew from New Earth Inc. of Brookline, includes the construction of a 60-foot suspension bridge spanning the upper gorge; a 1,000-foot forest adventure trail that winds around trees and has bypasses to large boulders that will have human-sized "bird houses" built atop them to offer views into Kinsman Notch; and a 25-by-27-foot tree-house pavilion.
The focal point of the pavilion is a 30-foot beech tree at its center. Because of the rugged topography, as well as the larger goal of leaving the gorge unscathed by the expansion, the 750-pound tree had to be picked up by a helicopter from near the Route 112 entrance to the gorge and lifted the approximately 600 feet to the pavilion.
Farwell, whose company has built zip-line attractions in Campton, Ky., Montego Bay, Jamaica, Hunter, N.Y. and at Alpine Adventures and Aerial Fun Park in nearby Lincoln - all of which entail elaborate woodworking such as that at Lost River Gorge - said this project has been in development for two years.
Also an owner of Alpine Adventures and Whale's Tale Water Park, both of which are members of the White Mountains Attractions Association, Farwell said the proximity of those businesses to the association's headquarters in Lincoln facilitated the conversations that led to his working at Lost River Gorge.
"This is unique," said Farwell, explaining that New Earth typically builds "tourist attractions that are more high adventure." He added that his team have had some adventures in Lost River Gorge, with the winter-time weather providing many of them.
Because there are no roads leading into the gorge, all equipment and material, such as the beech tree, had to be choppered in.
"I'm honored to be up here working on this project," Farwell said, adding that the gorge is "so cool already," that he immediately realized there was nothing that could be done to make it better, although improving access was possible.
Kate Wetherell, the general manager of Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, agreed that "It's definitely a cool spot" that soon will be even more inviting to visitors.
She hoped the expansion will allow Lost River Gorge to remain a viable attraction as well as a "solid financial contributor" to both the White Mountain Attractions Association and the forest society.
Jack Savage, who is the forest society's vice president of communications/outreach, said the Lost River Gorge effort has the society's full support.
"This is an incredible spot in New Hampshire," he said. "It's just remarkable, and that's why for a hundred years people have been going up there."
Savage said the expansion at Lost River Gorge makes a lot of sense.
Eco-tourism, said Savage, "is a very competitive business, and when you have so many great places to go in New Hampshire - whether it's a zip line or a simple hike or what have you - what White Mountains Attractions is doing is a very good job of staying competitive in that market and doing what they need to do to make that experience stand out from all of the options people have when they go up to that part of the state."