Staying in a motel on Route 3 in New Hampshire was always an adventure for Mark Okrant when he was younger. He got to spend time with his family and, even though he and his brother would spend most of their trip beating the “heck” out of one another, he has only fond memories from those vacations — the ones where they would drive down the state highway in search of a “no vacancy” sign, where the owner of the motel would greet you at the front desk and where you would make friends that you thought would last a lifetime.
Okrant, a tourism management professor at Plymouth State University, worked with the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism to recreate those moments of nostalgia and help preserve the motels and local attractions he grew up with along the 133-mile stretch from Tilton to Pittsburg, through the development of the Route 3 Retro Tour, one of 35 tours and itineraries put together by the division and posted on visitnh.gov.
“It’s been seen nationwide that people react to itineraries and events quite positively,” Okrant said. “It’s been responsible for increasing tourism throughout the United States. It was a great move on the division’s part to do this.”
Where do they come up with this stuff?
Many itineraries had already been put together before Tai Freligh, communications manager at the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism, was hired four years ago, but there were not as many itineraries and tours created through partnerships, he said. Freligh said a basic template for itineraries has since been developed by the division, which focuses on partnering with other organizations and state departments. The division of travel and tourism paired with the department of agriculture, markets and food on the Wine and Cheese Brochure; with Arts Alive and the Monadnock Travel Council on a Visual Arts Tour of the Monadnock Region; with the New Hampshire Film and Television Office on the Filmed in New Hampshire itinerary; with New Hampshire Fish & Game on the Wildlife Tour, and with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail group on a variety of river tours.
“We get ideas all the time, pretty much, whether from people in the industry itself, whether ones we come up with based on knowledge of the state,” Freligh said. “We get suggestions from residents and visitors. We’ll get ideas tossed out there all the time.”
The division limits itself to releasing only a couple of tours and itineraries a year.
“It’s pretty labor-intensive to put them together,” Freligh noted. The division must plan to cover all regions of the state while also representing different niches. Though it would be impossible to list every location in the state that could fall under the tour categories, Freligh said the division tries to be as inclusive as it can and do as much outreach as possible.
The longest part of the tour-building process is gathering and verifying the information. Freligh and his staff check with businesses and other locations that are being considered as itinerary go-to spots to make sure they want to be a part of it and that they are still open and visitor-friendly.
“Amazingly enough, there are places that don’t want tourists to come in,” Freligh said. “That’s their prerogative and we make sure we don’t include them.”
The itineraries are not only a guide for tourists but are often used by New Hampshire residents taking in-state vacations.
“People are looking for experiences kind of different than what they’ve had,” Freligh said. “Some people live on the seacoast and are used to the ocean and things like that but maybe they want to visit the northern part of the state to go canoeing. Or maybe they’re like, ‘There’s canoeing here?’ Yes, there’s canoeing. ... If you say ‘New Hampshire’ and ‘rapids,’ people don’t connect them, but we have it.”
The tours serve as trip planners for visitors to the state.
“You have the itinerary, print this out … these are things to do; different parts of the states, restaurants and lodging suggestions,” Freligh said. “You’re able to get that experience, go home and say, ‘I went whitewater rafting in New Hampshire.’”
How long do they take?
Each of the tours and itineraries is designed to fit not only your budget but also your schedule; you can spend as much time exploring them as you wish.
Because the state is so small, Freligh said most tours can be completed in less than two days.
“We … have the advantage that you can just fill up the tank and drive all over the place,” he said. “It’s not a huge drain on your trip budget.”
Matt Newton, director of the New Hampshire Film Office, said while it would be possible to visit all the sites listed on the New Hampshire Film Tour, some of them are a little bit of a hike from each other — Claremont, Manchester, Portsmouth and Salem are only a few of the stops on the map.
Blast from the past
Okrant remains nostalgic about the 1950s and 1960s.
“What we have along Route 3, particularly between the Weirs and Pittsburg, a living laboratory of the history of what I call visitors’…accommodations in this part of the United States,” Okrant said of the 20 owner-operated motels lining the state highway. “I would like to see them saved,” he said. “The only way that could possibly happen is if they have a place in the visitors’ travel mentality.”
The downfall of the motel age came around the same time the interstate was developed, as it gave drivers a more direct route to their destinations and no longer found themselves winding through the state.
“People suddenly decided they didn’t want to go on touring vacations where they stopped for one day in a place and went on to another place,” Okrant said.
The Route 3 Retro Tour was designed as a guide to bring people back to the days of driving in search of a no-vacancy sign. The tour highlights such Granite State attractions as Funspot and Kellerhaus in Laconia, Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, and Chutters in Littleton (home of the world’s longest candy counter).
“The roadside attractions that were around in those days were fantastic, and some still exist in New Hampshire,” Okrant said. “Clark’s, Santa’s Village, places like that unfortunately disappeared in many parts of the country for places like Disney World. That’s why it’s so neat.”
While many of the attractions have not changed much over the years, instead aiming to maintain their nostalgic charm, only motel properties that have kept their facilities up were included on the tour. The listed motels provide an experience such as one might have had during the motel era; there are no computers in guests’ rooms and, in most cases, access to the Internet is limited or nonexistent.
“We like them to maintain the flavor of the period,” Okrant said.
A river runs through it
Most of the state’s adventure itineraries are based around the Northern Forest Canoe Trails, many of which loop through the northern part of the state. Each trail has its own recommended skill level.
“If people don’t have to be up in the far northern part of the state, they might not know we have that,” Freligh said.
Three canoe-friendly itineraries in the Adventure Tours category on the division of travel and tourism website bring attention to what is unique about a few rivers. Wildlife and scenery are what often draw people to push their boats out into New Hampshire waterways, but history has also emerged as component of many of the tours.
The division worked with Kate Williams, executive director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trails, to create the canoe-friendly tours. The idea was to not only provide visitors with the adventure they seek but also address some of the frequently asked questions related to the activity, such as “How do I get back to my car if I paddle the Connecticut River?” and “What’s the best place for birding?”
Northern Forest Canoe Trail, based in Waitsfield, Vt., (www.northernforestcanoetrail.org) promotes the use of rivers in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New York and some parts of Canada.
Williams noted that following a free itinerary or tour map to navigate state waters will help visitors avoid paying a fee for a “packaged experience.”
“There are all these cool things you can do in the area,” Williams said. “You can pick and choose and piece it together.” Visitors can make the entire experience their own by fishing or hiking instead of paddling, Williams said.
It was a goal of the NFCT to make all three New Hampshire itineraries — the Androscoggin River Adventure, Connecticut River Valley Meander and Upper Ammonoosuc Cultural Heritage Tour — as family-friendly as possible. Williams noted that while paddling is a great activity for families with children of all ages, whitewater rafting is for the older crowd. “For kids and adults to have access to a recreation is important,” Williams said.
The amount of time needed to spend on the river trails is directly related to the point on the river at which the boat is first pushed in.
“Plan on a full day so you’re not rushed,” Williams said.
The Upper Ammonoosuc Cultural Heritage trail is the New Hampshire aquatic tour that packs the most history: “The trip starts before you get out of the car,” Williams said. “It’s more than just a drive.” Highlighted on the tour are the Northumberland Historical Society Museum, Stark Village Inn and Yesterday’s Country Store, where the trip begins.
“We have a commitment to rural development through recreation,” Williams said. “Itineraries are one of the ways to help local businesses right on the trail.”
A perfect pair
Some itineraries, such as the Wine and Cheese Trail, are ever-evolving.
The Wine and Cheese Trail was created in 2009 in response to interest from the state’s growing wine industry. Granite State cheese-makers were invited to be featured on the map to help shine light on their trade and the cheeses being produced. (The New Hampshire Cheesemakers Guild was developed during the creation of the trail.)
“The combination of wine and cheese together makes it a nice trail for people to follow around the state,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the division of agricultural development at the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food. The current version of the trail is the third released since the trail was created, and new wineries are often added to the online version of the map until a new edition is ready to be printed. Copies of the brochure are available at rest stops across the state, as well as at participating farms.
“We give them away in droves,” McWilliam Jellie said.
The wineries and cheese producers were broken down by region and put into three trails, but McWilliam Jellie noted that anyone could create their own itinerary.
“You can spend a week or a weekend doing this,” she said. “Some people come from far away … they look for these kinds of things.”
Local winemakers are thankful for the support given to them by the state through their inclusion in the travel and tourism itinerary arsenal.
“Any exposure we get is wonderful,” said Amy Labelle, owner of Labelle Winery in Amherst. “Especially for folks visiting the state from other places — it gives them a really nice place to start.”
Labelle said that while the winery holds only one open house a month, she does often meet people who stop in as they travel the Wine and Cheese Trail. She said she expects to see more trail traffic when her new winery opens in September: “Hopefully in the peak tourist season with the leaf peepers, they’ll pick up the Wine and Cheese Trail so they can visit all of the New Hampshire wineries and ours, too.”
Where the wild things are
Judy Silverburg, wildlife viewing coordinator for the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, looked at existing trails in the state when creating the Wildlife Viewing & Birding Trails itinerary and highlighted the diverse stops along each of them. She opted to highlight spots that are best for spotting wildlife, that have historical components to them and that are also easy for visitors to access.
“Some [trails] only have one or two parking spots … you want to make sure the site can accommodate,” Silverburg said.
In addition to animal and bird sightings, the trails give visitors recreational opportunities as most are walking- and biking-friendly. Crotched Mountain in Greenfield is perhaps the most accessible park on the list, as it is designed to accommodate even those with limited or impaired mobility: “It can provide you with a feeling that you’re away from it all but you’re on a trail that can be accessed easily by wheelchairs or children in strollers,” Silverburg said.
Although visitors aren’t guaranteed to see “charismatic wildlife” at some of the parks’ viewing stations, they might spot a variety of birds and, in the wetlands, beavers and otters.
“Depending on the time of year, it may be a different experience,” Silverburg said. Miller State Park in Peterborough is a good place to observe migrating hawks in the fall, she said.
Silverburg noted April and May as the best months to get a glimpse of a moose at the viewing area at Dixville Notch and Pontook Reservoir. She also suggested keeping an eye out for Bald Eagles this time of year.
“Surveys tell us that when people see wildlife it very often enhances the experience on any site. It provides that awestruck moment,” Silverburg said. “People aren’t waiting to see [wildlife] in their backyard. They are actually traveling to see it.”
New Hampshire on the big (or small) screen
Many Granite Staters know that On Golden Pond was filmed in our state (on Squam Lake in Holderness nearly 30 years ago), but did you know that parts of the 1995 blockbuster Jumanji were filmed in Peterborough? The name of the shoe company where Robin Williams’ character worked in the flick is still scrawled on the outer wall of a brick building in the small town. Downtown Keene was used as the setting for the movie’s animal stampede scene.
Newton said working with the division of travel and tourism on the New Hampshire Film Tour came as a natural partnership.
“There is big business for film tourism, and folks who watch movies are very interested now in going to those locations,” Newton said. “Twilight, which wasn’t filmed here, is a perfect example. Everyone flocked to that location … to see where it was shot and put themselves in the movie, if you will.”
“I think this new sector of tourism is really starting to kick off and I think it’s great that we’re doing it,” he added.
Developing the New Hampshire Film Tour itinerary was no easy feat, as the state has not had as many large-studio motion pictures filmed here as some other states (we serve as the backdrop for mostly smaller, low-budget independent films), and because the New Hampshire Film Office had to sift through facts to clear up misinformation being passed around as to which movies have actually been filmed here. Often times if a movie is supposed to take place in New Hampshire, production companies will find another state to shoot it in, Newton said.
“We had to pull some films that were recognizable and maybe some that folks hadn’t heard of before, and point them in the right direction,” he said, adding that some visitors seek out the fictional town of Dartford, featured on an episode of The Sopranos. “I tell them it doesn’t exist but to come to New Hampshire anyway,” Newton said.
Fans of actor David Straitharn, of Goodnight and Good Luck fame, might take interest in knowing that Sensation of Sight was filmed in Peterborough, or a Pierce Brosnan fan might make the trip to Salem to see the field that made its big-screen debut in The Thomas Crown Affair.
“What it ultimately comes down to is people want to put themselves in the film — that character’s eyes — and see what they saw,” Newton said. Newton said he would like to eventually add sites recently shot in the new Joss Whedon movie In Your Eyes, which includes locations in Exeter, Bedford, Claremont and Windham, to the itinerary.
Film festivals and independent movie theaters in the state are also promoted on the tour itinerary to better allow visitors to plan their trips.
“There are a number of independent movie theaters and they’re so diverse — not just their location but their look and style. People like to check them out as they would an art gallery or museum,” Newton said. “You would never know there is actually a little theater in the town hall in Wilton.”
How do you measure success?
“We kind of keep things basic and really map-driven so that it makes it more useful for the people downloading the itineraries,” Freligh said. The division of travel and tourism cannot officially track how many people use the itineraries for their Granite State travels, but the department can track how many are downloaded each month. The top five itineraries downloaded in February were the New Hampshire Brewery Map (7,920), Wine and Cheese Brochure (6,728), Mountain Memories (6,412), Grand Winter Getaway (5,627) and the Route 3 Retro Tour (5,408).
Newton said he has measured the success of the New Hampshire Film Tour by the number of calls he has received about it.
“There has been huge interest,” he said. “It’s always great, regardless of whether something was filmed here or not, because I can have that conversation with them.”
Okrant said motels would be able to better measure the success of the Route 3 Retro Tour by asking their guests directly whether a visit to visitnh.gov brought them there. They could also ask visitors to take a survey as to how they discovered the motel.
It is hard to measure the success of most other itineraries because they either do not have associated costs or their locations are unmanned.
Where the tours will take you next
Freligh’s division recently received a suggestion to create a geocaching itinerary, an idea that he said has great potential. Freligh said a literary tour is also in the early development stages and will likely focus on the state’s independent bookshops and coffee shops to give visitors “the experience of browsing through a bookstore with a cup of coffee, hanging out, enjoying the scenery and reading.” The literary tour is slated to be released in the next few months.
A Summer Adventure in the Mountains itinerary is also being developed and will likely be posted by the end of the year. The tour will feature activities — ziplining, mountain biking — offered at the state’s ski resorts during the offseason.
“The ski resorts around the state have become a lot more year-round and are less dependent on just the winter season,” Freligh noted.
Freligh said he hopes to soon be able to make the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee Region a focus of a tour or itinerary.
McWilliam Jellie and Freligh are in talks to create a trail or brochure to highlight restaurants that earned the Certified Local distinction from the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Association, when there is a critical mass of eateries to feature (only four Granite State restaurants are certified so far). “We see that as something of interest to people,” McWilliam Jellie said.