Formerly a hub of the wood and paper industry, the Great North Woods Region has put out the welcome mat to adventure tourists, from snowmobilers and snowshoers in the winter, to hikers and ATV riders in the summer.
Photo Credit : Arseniy Rogov/iStock
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Known for its deep forests and rugged terrain, New Hampshire’s Great North Woods Region, aka the North Country, is an adventurer’s dream. That’s especially true in winter, when bountiful snowfall combined with the state’s largest snowmobiling trail network brings outdoor enthusiasts from near and far to explore this remote and beautiful landscape. But while nature can provide the jaw-dropping scenery, the gear and guidance aren’t as easy to come by. That’s where the region’s outdoor-focused retailers and service providers come in.
One of the leaders in this sector is Pittsburg’s Bear Rock Adventures, founded as an ATV outfitter in 2013 by Corinne Rober with her husband, Steve Baillargeon. In the winter of 2018–2019 they began offering snowmobile rentals, and by the following winter business was up roughly “100 percent,” Rober says. “We had exponential growth compared to that first year.”
That upswing was cut short in March, when the pandemic forced Bear Rock to shut down its rental operation. The trail network, too, was closed in a coordinated move by the New Hampshire Trails Bureau and the area snowmobiling clubs that maintain local trails. “The [feeling] was, if we keep our trails open, we’re going to entice out-of-staters and non-locals to come in and ride,” Rober says. “The clubs, along with the trails bureau, make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone involved — whether that’s the riders, community members, or long-term relationships with landowners.”
The snowmobiling season typically runs into April, and “while one month lost doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s big,” Rober says. Fortunately, Bear Rock was able to tap into the Paycheck Protection Program and a disaster loan from the Small Business Association.
Even better, Bear Rock and other New Hampshire outfitters had a healthy opportunity to rebound after opening for the summer ATV season. New Hampshire’s travel restrictions weren’t as stringent as in neighboring states, and the wide-open spaces of the Great North Woods Region — where it’s been said there are more moose than people — promised the ultimate in social distancing.
“Our state did a really good job in balancing the considerations of economic impact and health concerns within the community,” says Rober. “We got a lot more visitors that maybe were going to go to those other places, as well as people who maybe typically go on bigger travel vacations.”
Roughly 40 percent of Bear Rock’s customers in the past year, in fact, have been newcomers, in part because people were looking for adventures without having to board a plane.
“I really believe what the pandemic did for us was it opened people’s eyes to this area,” Rober says. “People who come to the North Woods are enthralled by its beauty. Because of the pandemic, more people made the effort to come up beyond the notches.”
In addition to those much-needed customers, Bear Rock also got support from its equipment partner, Polaris. The snowmobile and ATV manufacturer was “very cognizant of the impact” of the pandemic on outfitters’ ability to meet their equipment lease obligations, Rober says, and worked with businesses to accommodate that hardship.
“That circumvented a potential financial disaster,” says Rober. “That partnership was a huge piece of our ability to just maintain financial stability.”
This past fall saw Bear Rock moving into a new space in Pittsburg and gearing up for another snowmobiling season, this time with well-established Covid protocols. Rentals are reserved beforehand, and customers are also strongly encouraged to complete all their paperwork in advance, to limit time spent indoors. In Bear Rock’s retail shop, masks and social distancing are required, hand sanitizer is provided, and “we definitely have increased sanitation of all our gear,” Rober says.
And despite a lack of snow that delayed the start of the season, Rober sees hope that the Great North Woods will continue to lure visitors to local businesses like hers this winter. The first three weeks alone have been busier than all of last winter, she says. “It’s been amazing.”
Thinking of planning an outdoor adventure in the Great North Woods Region? Here is a sampling of locally owned businesses that are open and ready to welcome you! Find links to travel resources at visitnh.gov/seasonal-trips/getting-here.Ducret’s Sporting Goods, ColebrookNorthern Outlet of New England, Colebrook
L.L. Cote, Errol
Dalton Mountain Motor Sports, Lancaster and BerlinTrailside Rentals, Pittsburg