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  • Courtesy photo
    A scene from a summer 2011 paddling trip on the Merrimack River.
  • Courtesy photo
    A watershed association paddling trip on the Merrimack River, heading downstream toward Nashua, in the summer of 2011.
  • Courtesy photo
    Local kayakers resting on a beach during a 2011 trip to York River in Maine.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

    Joan Lavoie lights a candle before Holy Friday service April 13, 2012, at St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church in Nashua.
Saturday, April 14, 2012

Souhegan Watershed Association takes over regional paddling trips

Although water levels in local rivers aren’t cooperating and the overseeing organization has changed, plenty of low-cost paddling trips have been scheduled this year for fans of canoes and kayaks, just as they have for many years.

“I believe this is the 26th year, and I would say I’ve been organizing for about 20 years,” said Gwen Whitbeck of Mason. “We have 35 of them scheduled this year.”

The trips, which cover various skill levels and are led by experienced volunteers, have long been organized through the largely volunteer Merrimack River Watershed Association, but Whitbeck switched this year to the entirely volunteer Souhegan Watershed Association.

“It was just time to move on,” she said.

One advantage of the shift, Whitbeck said, is that the MRWA, based in Haverhill, Mass., has taken to focusing more on the downstream portion of the river in Massachusetts, making things a little harder for New Hampshire-oriented trips.

“Many of the trip leaders are from this area, so if we’re up here, having meetings here, it’s easier for people,” Whitbeck said.

Trips cover rivers in southern New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts and occasionally Maine. They range from April trips during high-water time after snowmelt (in other years, anyway) to October foliage-viewing paddles.

Skill levels range from easy flatwater trips to mid-level whitewater, which can reach Class III at times, especially when large dams are doing water releases.

This year’s near-record low levels for rivers has taken a toll. The first trip of the season, last weekend’s jaunt through upper Souhegan River from Greenville to Wilton, had to be moved to the Merrimack River in Manchester because of a lack of water in the smaller river.

Trips are free, although people are encouraged to join the Souhegan Watershed Association ($15 annual cost per person, $25 for families). Money will help support the group, which among other things oversees annual water quality monitoring throughout the Souhegan and upper Merrimack rivers.

Participants must provide all equipment, including boats, paddles and mandatory life vests, or personal flotation devices, in official terminology. Pets are forbidden, and small children are strongly discouraged.

The biggest advantage of going on a group paddle is having more people to participate in the shuttle. Usually participants drop their boats at the starting point, drive to the end and leave their cars, and are shuttled back.

“We usually start 9-9:30 in morning, arrange the shuttle. It’s a pretty leisurely trip with lunch, done about 2 or 3,” Whitbeck said.

“I just enjoy being out on the river and I like getting other people out there. Once you’ve been on the river, you have more respect for it, you’re caring for it,” she said.

For more information check the Souhegan Watershed Association site on Facebook, or email Karen Mattor, SWA volunteer coordinator,

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or