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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
5 “Can’t Miss” Attractions in Bethel, Maine
By Marcia Passos Duffy

I recently traveled to Bethel, Maine, with my 21-year-old daughter during her
short break between college and an internship in New York City.

Bethel -- not to be confused with any seacoast Maine town -- is inland. And it
has more in common with the grandeur of the White Mountains of New
Hampshire than the bustling ocean front region of Maine.

My daughter and I have a fond (and sweet!) spot for the White Mountains …
our last mother/daughter sojourn was to the
Cookie Tour in New Hampshire
several years ago. And traveling to Bethel from our home is southwestern New
Hampshire had us meandering right through the heart of the White Mountains.

The town is on the northern edge of the White Mountain range, on the banks of
the Androscoggin River; but note that once you cross the New Hampshire
border into Maine the mountain ranges’ name morphs into the Mahoosuc
Range, which is home to Old Speck Mountain (the 4th highest peak in Maine)
and includes a part of the Appalachian Trail corridor.

Our destination was the
Bethel Inn and Resort, a grand inn that is celebrating its
100 year anniversary in a town-wide festival July 2013.  We spent 3 days, 2
nights at this rambling inn that is steeped in history (complete with a spooky
ghost story or two). The buffet breakfasts provided each morning were enough
to keep us going through mid-afternoon, and dinner (particularly its Thursday
Mexican Night) was delicious; our suite was roomy, comfortable and equipped
with a fireplace (which we did light the first rainy night).

If you are wondering what we did for fun in this tiny Maine town, read on.
There are (at least) five “can’t miss” attractions while staying in this
quintessential New England village.

1. Mining for Maine Gems

Do you picture mining for gems when you think
of Maine? Nope, me either. But in fact, Bethel and
surrounding towns are part of Maine’s “Mineral Belt.”
One of the world’s largest beryl crystals, now on
exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in
New York City, was found at the nearby
Bumpus Mine.

We not only paid a visit to the Bumpus Mine’s
tunnels, which are available for group tours (and
we gathered up a lot of shiny mica which
littered the pathways to the mines) but we also
did our own mineral sluicing at
Mineralogy Expeditions. For $10 you get
a bucket of rocks mined from the nearby
Mt. Mica … in hopes that you’ll find a gem worth
a few thousand dollars (it has happened, say
owners Jeff Parsons and Seabury Lyons).

No guarantees, of course, and most likely you’ll
find a gem or crystal that is worthy of displaying
on a pendant. These owners patiently guide you
through the gathering and sluicing process and
help you sort out the plain old ordinary rocks
from the beryl, tourmaline, quartz, rose quartz
and crystal. I found a beautiful green beryl
(worth only about $2 they told me, but the
owners were very enthusiastic about my find) that is now on my desk.

2. Stepping Up Steps Falls

There are plenty of challenging hikes
around the Bethel area, including trails
in the Grafton Notch State Park and Evans
Notch National Forest. But if you would
like an easy hike (about 20 minutes to the
top) with spectacular views and beautiful
cascading waterfalls, visit Step Falls in
the nearby town of Newry near Grafton
Notch just off Route 26. It has a drop of
more than 250 feet (one of the highest falls in Maine). The 24-acre park is owned
and maintained by the Mahoosuc Land Trust, and is a great place to rest and
picnic – with lots of flat granite slabs to sit and relax. If you go on a hot summer
day you’ll be refreshed by the many wading and swimming holes along the
way to the top, including the largest, a natural 40 foot by 12 foot clear pool. For
more information on Step Falls, and other Mahoosuc Land Trust hikes, visit:
Mahoosuc Land Trust Hikes.

3. A Walking Tour of Historical Bethel

Bethel, founded in 1768 has
plenty of beautiful architecture in the
center of this lovely and walkable little
town. Your first stop should be the
Bethel Historical Society on Broad Street,
overlooking the Bethel Hill Common
(at the head of the common is the Bethel
Inn and Resort). Folks there will be able
to give you a map and information on
a self-guided walking tour. You can also
download the map at:
Bethel Walking Tour.  There are 39 stops on this tour –
with excellent examples of Federal, Greek Revival, Queen Ann, Craftsman,
Colonial Revival and Italianate styles -- so give yourself plenty of time to stroll
to each home and take photos.

4. Canoeing

The single regret of this trip was that the
waters on the Androscoggin were too
feisty (because of all the late spring rains)
for a safe canoe trip on this river.  Instead,
we paddled around the placid Songo
Pond, an area of about one square mile
ringed with private homes and seasonal
cottages. The Bethel Inn maintains
a small cottage and tiny beach for its
guests on the pond. It was quite lovely,
relaxing and we did see loon up close.
For those interested in fishing, the pond is stocked with brook trout, chain
pickerel, common shiner, golden shiner, pumpkinseed, rainbow smelt,
smallmouth bass, white perch, white sucker and yellow perch. One benefit to
paddling around this quiet pond was the chance to chat with our guides, Ron
and Dee Fournier, owners of
Orion Outfitters who provided the canoes and
guided us on this trip. This fascinating young couple are true outdoorsy folks
who walk the talk and deeply care about self-sustaining practices such as
hunting. They have many entertaining tales to tell about their bear and moose-
hunting expeditions they operate in Maine (see their “
true stories” page). And,
apparently they have a wicked good recipe for bear meat stew (will be posting
that recipe in a later issue of The Heart of New England).

5. Dog Sledding

Okay, no dog sledding in the summer.
But we did stop by the
Mahoosuc Guide
Service in Newry because we heard that
one of their sled dogs had given birth to
puppies the night before.

The momma was understandably a bit
anxious (see photo, right) to have
strangers in her birthing
room, but the puppies were adorable.
And they will grow up to join the 40+
dogs this couple keeps for its winter dog sled operation. Stay tuned … we plan
to be back for a dog sled tour when the snow flies!

About the author: Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelance writer/editor and publisher of The
Heart of New England online magazine.
Step Falls, Newry, Maine
Ron and Dee Fournier of Orion Outfitters
Bumpus Mine, Maine