A State-by-State Guide to Giving Tuesday in New England

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—so much of our time (and money) around Thanksgiving is spent trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and families that it’s easy to lose sight of the organizations working to make our communities better. In recent years, the idea of Giving Tuesday has become popular, reminding us to support the organizations protecting our crags, keeping our waters clean, advocating for open spaces, and exposing the next generation of outdoor lovers to our favorite sports. If you’re in the giving mood, here are some New England outdoor non-profits that could use your support.

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Rhode Island

It makes sense that the state nicknamed the Ocean State is home to awesome water-based organizations. One of the most notable is Save the Bay. Turning 50 years old in 2020, Save the Bay is a 20,000-member-strong group dedicated to protecting one of Rhode Island’s most valuable natural resources, recognizable landmarks, and playgrounds for paddlers and surfers: Narragansett Bay.

Another ocean-inspired Rhode Island organization that will be amped if you hang ten (or more) dollars on them this holiday season is Spread the Swell, which is working to share the stoke by offering free, non-profit surf camps to underprivileged Rhode Island kids.

While the Ocean State is best known for its surf, it’s also home to some of the best bouldering in New England. Spot the Southeast New England Climbers Coalition a donation and assist them in their work to help protect and establish access to crags, along with maintaining popular destinations like Lincoln Woods.

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Massachusetts 

The Pan-Mass Challenge is synonymous with summer in the Bay State, as cyclists push their limits on a variety of rides, raising money for a cause everyone is on board with: defeating cancer. Go the extra mile this year by donating, fundraising, or committing to volunteer at the August event.

Helping keep cyclists safe as they train to tackle the Pan-Mass Challenge’s 187 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing is the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike). Help MassBike keep the wheels in motion toward creating a more bicycle-friendly state with a donation or by volunteering your time.

Investing in the sports we love is about more than merely maintenance and access. Chill Boston introduces underserved youth in the Greater Boston Area to board sports such as snowboarding, SUPing, and surfing. Drop in and hook them up with a donation to keep our board-based sports healthy and diverse, while also teaching young people valuable life skills.

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Connecticut

Connecticut is home to outdoor activities as diverse as its landscape, ranging from hiking to rock climbing to cycling. A donation to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) can put a spring in the step of the Nutmeg State’s hikers. The organization is committed to connecting people to the land to protect Connecticut’s forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces for future generations.

Enthusiasts of Connecticut’s high and wild places will want to tick a donation to the Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF) off their list. The RMF currently owns 56 acres of land in Southington, Connecticut—including Ragged Mountain—and is focused on stewardship, protection, and public access to the state’s cliffs and crags.

The Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP) provides the state’s youth with an organized state-wide cycling league, allowing them to grow within the sport and develop values and skills that transfer to other parts of their life. Ride into the holidays feeling good with a donation to this great group.

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Vermont

Locally grown food, amazing craft beer, and outstanding outdoor experiences are commonly associated with Vermont. One of the orgs aiding Vermont in sustaining this reputation is CRAG Vermont, which is dedicated to preserving access to and maintaining the state’s climbing resources, along with giving hungry and thirsty climbers a place to play. Help CRAG Vermont over the crux with a donation this year.

Vermont is a destination for mountain bikers from across the US and Canada. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) consists of 26 unified chapters dedicated to advocating, educating, and promoting mountain biking in the Green Mountain State. Your donation will facilitate the trails remaining fast, flowy, and flush.

If you think of Vermont’s mountains as more white than green, check out the Vermont Backcountry Alliance (VTBC) this Giving Tuesday. Cutting a check to the VTBC helps keep the state’s legendary tree skiing properly maintained, while also protecting and advancing access for human-powered skiing.

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New Hampshire 

It’s no surprise that the Granite State is a mecca for New England climbers. Friends of the Ledges is an org focusing on stewardship and access to the climbing found in the eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. Keep this awesome group sending in the future—they secured nine-acres of land critical for access to Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge in 2019—with a donation this year.

Accidents happen in the mountains to even the most experienced hikers, climbers, and skiers. If you happen to have a mishap in the White Mountains, you’ll be glad you came to the aid of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue (AVSAR) with a donation this year, as they assist various agencies with search and rescues in the region.

If you pedal your bike in central or southern New Hampshire, you’ve likely spent time on the techy trails built and maintained by the Friends of Massabesic Bicycling Association (FOMBA). A donation to this awesome org helps keep their relationship with Manchester Water Works rolling, and access to these terrific trails open.

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Maine 

Maine is home to the only national park in New England: Acadia. The first U.S. national park originally created by private land donations, you can join in the park’s philanthropic tradition by becoming a member, making a donation, or volunteering with Friends of Acadia—a group helping to preserve, protect, and promote the region’s only national park.

Another incredible private land donation (and the Northeast’s best hope for a second national park) is the 80,000+ acres donated by the co-founder of Burt’s Bees known as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. While you probably can’t match enormous donations such as this, you can help preserve and protect this parcel by joining or donating to the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, taking part in the tradition of selflessness and generosity that birthed this area’s creation

If you’ve ever climbed Mount Katahdin and marveled at the wildness of Baxter State Park, you owe a debt of gratitude to Maine’s 53rd governor, Percival Baxter, who gave the park to the people of Maine with the mandate that it remain forever wild. Get in the giving spirit of the former governor with a gift to the Friends of Baxter State Park, who are working to preserve, support, and enhance the wilderness character of the park.

Do you know of another nonprofit that could use some support this year? If so, leave it in the comments so our readers can check it out.


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Bikes and Brews: Franklin Falls and Kettlehead Brewery

Discover two of New Hampshire’s hidden gems in one fun-filled day trip when you combine mountain biking at Franklin Falls with brews at Kettlehead Brewery. The riding is fantastic, the beer is stellar, and the food is mouthwatering. We wouldn’t steer you wrong!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Biking

Locally referred to as a “mini Kingdom Trails,” Franklin Falls is known for its rake-and-ride trails, quick-drying soil, and fast and flowy riding. Featuring diverse trails that offer something for everyone, Franklin Falls has enough interesting terrain to occupy seasoned riders while the absence of rocks makes it a popular spot for newer riders—allowing them to refine their skills on the bike without the added obstacle, and the threat of falling normally presented by New England’s notoriously boulder-strewn terrain.

The riding begins from a small parking lot near the Franklin Falls Dam administrative offices off of Highway 127 in Franklin. The trails are well signed and use a unique method of signage that makes it easy for new-to-the-area riders to navigate: White trail signs are employed on the trails closest to the parking lot, orange signs are used for trails moderately far from the parking lot, and red trail signs are used on the trails farthest from the parking lot. While this marking system makes navigating the trail system easier, visiting cyclists should still download a map or take a photo of the big map at the trailhead.

For first-time visitors, the Sniper Trail is a great introduction to the area, delivering a smooth ribbon of dirt, with minimal elevation gain, that winds through Franklin’s quiet pine forest. Consider combining it with the Pine Snake Trail for even more speedy, slithering singletrack. A short pedal away is Rusty Bucket, which is similar to the fast, flowy character of Sniper and Pine Snake but mostly downhill—enjoy the ride as gravity sucks you through the trail’s tight turns and pulls you over the occasional techy section.

Advanced riders should aim for Mighty Chicken, the best known of the area’s trails, featuring giant S-turns up and down the sides of a ravine—if that’s too tame, riders can challenge themselves on the optional jumps and kickers integrated into the trail. For those seeking a real challenge, don’t miss the double-black diamond Salmon Brook Trail, which delivers tight switchbacks, spicy bridges, and classic technical northeast rock gardens.

The only downside to riding at Franklin Falls is that there are only 10ish miles of trails; However, they ride equally well in both directions, which effectively doubles the mileage. Moreover, if you finish a little early that means there’s more time for beer. Who doesn’t love that?

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Credit: Tim Peck

The Brews

After your ride, Kettlehead Brewing in nearby Tilton, New Hampshire, is a must visit. Although plain looking on the outside, with drab concrete construction and a moderately sized parking lot, Kettlehead’s building hides the greatness that lies within.

Like Franklin Falls, Kettlehead offers something for everyone. Beers like their Agent, Quest DIPA, and aptly named Trailside cover IPA lovers, while dark beers such as their Java the Nut Porter satisfy drinkers looking for something a little more robust. You’ll even find summer sippers, like the You’re Hefen Crazy Hefeweizen, at Kettlehead. And, just as Franklin Falls will throw you a curveball with the super-techy Salmon Brook Trail, Kettlehead isn’t afraid to get you out of your comfort zone with offerings like their Margarita Gose Sour.

Much like the spotlight-stealing Mighty Chicken, the quality of Kettlehead’s brews belies just how good the brewery’s food is. Truly delivering a taste of the local flavor, Kettlehead works with local farms and distributors to ensure their food is cooked with fresh ingredients and New England-raised meats. You can never go wrong with a burger or pizza, but another favorite order is tacos made with BBQ braised beef and a Trailside IPA.

First-time visitors to Kettlehead will also find it welcoming to newbies to the brewery. The brewery serves flights that allow visitors to sample a wide variety of their beers in one visit and patrons can buy cans of beer to take home. (Too bad you can’t do the same with the Mighty Chicken!)

Once you’ve visited these two hidden gems, you’re sure to come back for more. Got another bike and brews destination that our readers should know about? If so, leave it in the comments with your favorite post-ride order!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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Kitted Out: Summer Mountain Biking

Whether you’re tackling uber-classic singletrack in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom or simply sneaking in one of these great early season rides, having the right gear can not only make mountain biking more enjoyable, it can also make it safer. From all-day epics to post-work training rides, this kit will get you on the trail, railing turns, and sending it through summer.

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Helmet: Bell 4Forty MIPS

Between rock gardens and roots, mountain biking in the Northeast is so perilous that even the best riders are bound to hit the dirt (not in a good way) every once and awhile. To protect one of your most vulnerable and valuable parts, wearing a helmet is a must. The Bell 4Forty MIPS features the added protection of MIPS technology, offers deep rear coverage for extra security, and has enough ventilation for humid summer rides.

Helmets with MIPS technology add an extra level of protection over traditional bike helmets, as MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system) is designed to reduce rotational forces and lessen the transfer of that energy to the brain. In short, choose a helmet with MIPS.

Sunglasses: Julbo Shield

The growing popularity of fatter tires and the ability to run them at lower air pressures (thanks to tubeless tire setups) has led to more debris being kicked up than ever before. Protect your eyes from tire-flung debris as well as branches and bugs with a good pair of sunglasses. You can’t go wrong with shades from Julbo—their aptly named Shield sunglasses provide the ideal blend of protection, breathability, and good looks.

Hydration Pack: Camelbak M.U.L.E./L.U.X.E.

Despite increased competition from waist packs and the people preaching “no pack,” hydration bags remain a staple for most mountain bikers. There is simply no better way to carry all the gear needed for a day on the trail than a bag—just ask backpackers, hikers, climbers, and backcountry skiers. Released in 1996, the Camelbak M.U.L.E. (men’s) and the L.U.X.E. (women’s) have been reliable performers for over 20 years.

Pro tip: Buy the hydration pack with the largest possible bladder; A large bladder works equally well for short trips (simply don’t fill it all the way) and long trips (by filling it to capacity).

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Jersey: Louis Garneau H2O Jersey

Save the tight-fitting spandex jerseys for road rides. The Louis Garneau H2O Jersey (men’s/women’s) features a relaxed yet performance-oriented fit, is lightweight and wicking for the hottest summer days, features highly breathable fabric where a rider’s hydration pack sits, and has a single zippered back pocket for stashing your keys or phone. Try one out the next time you ride at Maine’s Carrabassett Valley.

Shorts: Louis Garneau Leeway/Latitude Shorts

Leave your spandex shorts at home, too. The Louis Garneau Leeway Shorts (men’s) and Latitude Shorts (women’s) come with comfortable padded liners, feature stretchy-but-tough baggy outers, and have zippered pockets for securely stashing small essentials. Best of all, they allow riders to hang out and have a post-ride beer without making everyone around them uncomfortable.

Gloves: Giro Rivet II/Riv’ette

Full-finger gloves increase grip, add comfort, and provide some insulation on crisp morning and evenings. Additionally, gloves provide protection from thorns, thickets, and in the event of a crash. The Giro Rivet II (men’s) and Riv’ette (women’s) provide the protection mountain bikers crave while delivering a barely there feel.

Shoes: Giro Privateer/Manta

There’s a lot of debate over the best type of pedal for mountain biking—flat or clipless. The primary benefit of flat pedals is that they offer a rider more confidence and less fear when tackling tough terrain. The notable advantage of clipless pedals is that they allow a rider to both pull and push the pedal, providing a more efficient and powerful stroke. No matter what type of pedal you use, invest in a good, comfortable pair of bike shoes. For those riding in Greater Boston and beyond, a clipless shoe like the Giro Privateer (men’s) and Manta (women’s) is a solid choice.

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Socks: Smartwool PhD Cycle Ultra Light Crew 

Nothing says newbie more than a rider on the latest bike and kitted out in the nicest new gear sporting white cotton socks. Socks like the Smartwool PhD Cycle Ultra Light Crew Socks (men’s/women’s) will not only complement your kit but also add a bit of comfort to all your rides.

Pro Tip: High socks in lighter colors make it easier to spot ticks after a ride!

Lightweight Jacket: Louis Garneau Modesto 3

Weather in the Northeast is variable to put it kindly. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to tuck a lightweight jacket into your pack. A jacket like the Louis Garneau Modesto 3 (men’s/women’s) weighs next to nothing and adds valuable weather protection and warmth when needed.

Floor Pump: Blackburn Chamber HV

As mentioned earlier, mountain bike tires are getting larger by the day. Because trying to fill fat tires with a mini pump will exhaust you before even getting on the bike, we suggest owning a floor pump. The Blackburn Chamber HV is built specifically for mountain bikers with rugged construction and an easy-to-read dial for setting tires at the perfect pressure.

CO2 Inflator: Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Inflator

While adding air to your tires at the trailhead is hard enough with a mini pump, it’s even worse when you pop a tube on the trail and need to pump up a new tube. Here’s a solution—stash a CO2 inflator and a CO2 cartridge or two in your hydration pack in case of a flat. The Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Inflator is a nice choice and comes with two cartridges.

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Tubes

It’s been our experience that the worst things happen when you’re as far as possible from the car. Packing a spare tube in your hydration pack, even if you’re running a tubeless setup, is a good way to avoid doing the long walk of shame out of your favorite trail system.

Tire Levers: Muddy Fox Tire Levers

Sometimes you get lucky and mountain bike tires just pop off when changing a tire: other times, it’s a struggle. Muddy Fox tire levers weigh practically nothing and you’ll be glad you snuck them into your hydration bag if you need them.

Multi-Tool: Blackburn Bike Tradesman

Any number of things can go wrong on a mountain bike and it’s best to plan for the eventuality of a mechanical failure. The Blackburn Bike Tradesman is equipped with all of the hex and torque keys you’ll need to make on-trail adjustments. We love that it includes a quick-link tool and are extremely appreciative of the integrated quick-link storage (make sure to use it and always carry a backup quick-link).

Après: Yeti Rambler Colster

Just because ski season is over doesn’t mean après beverages have to end. The Yeti Rambler Colster is perfect for keeping your beverage cold and covert when you’re winding down post-ride.

 

Lastly, before hitting the trail, give your mountain bike a good once over as detailed in our article Tuned Up: Your Spring Mountain Bike Walk-around—issues are much easier to resolve at home than on the trail.

Did we forget an essential piece of your kit or miss a critical item you never leave home without? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your must-have item in the comments below.

 


5 Top Spots to Paddle and Bike Along the Erie Canalway Trail

New York’s Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is an adventure-seekers dream. With more than 500 miles of interconnected canals, rivers, and lakes, and 365-miles of Canalway Trail, you can paddle or cycle your way across the entire Empire State.

You’ll find beautiful scenery, fascinating history, and truly unique cycling and paddling along the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this living waterway adds distinctive flavor in the form of canal structures like locks and lift bridges, working tugs and other vessels, friendly vacationers in boats of all stripes, and canal communities that are intriguing and fun destinations.

And with more than 140 paddling access sites, as well as several boater-biker-hiker facilities that allow overnight camping at canal parks, it’s easier than ever to enjoy the waterway and trail. For cyclists, more than three-quarters of the Canalway Trail is off-road and relatively flat. On-road segments are well marked, making it easy to ride longer distances. For paddlers, it’s all about the experience of being on the oldest, continuously operating canal system in America. You’ll navigate century old locks, pass stunning stone aqueducts, paddle alongside tugboats and cruisers, and experience narrow flatwater stretches and wider river segments. You can also expect to see a diversity of birds and wildlife, unique geology, and varying terrain.

Pro tip: When you come, be sure to participate in the Canalway Challenge. Choose a personal mileage goal—15, 90, 180, or 360 miles—and track your progress on the water or trail to earn rewards, including discounts from EMS! Here are several best bet trips for cycling and paddling (listed west to east), guaranteed to take you on an unforgettable journey along the Erie Canal.

Picturesque Lockport. | Credit: Robert Dunn
Picturesque Lockport. | Credit: Robert Dunn

Buffalo to Rochester

Distance: 90 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: Cycling

This 90-mile stretch in western New York boasts some of the best cycling along the Erie Canal. Plan a long weekend, so you have time to poke around the many canal villages along this route, each with their own unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. The trail is off-road and flat, so it’s great for families, as well as experienced cyclists. You can easily break the route into a series of day trips.

Along the way, be sure to make time to stop in Lockport. Here, you’ll find a staircase of five locks used in the 1800s alongside two towering locks that replaced them in 1918. Lockport’s canal historic district includes the Erie Canal Discovery Center, with fun canal exhibits for kids, as well boat tours, paddling rentals, a cave tour, and a zip line over the canal for the adventurous. There are good dining options nearby, including an urban winery and premium local ice cream.

Twilight on the Erie Canal in Fairport. | Credit: Keith Boas
Twilight on the Erie Canal in Fairport. | Credit: Keith Boas

Pittsford to Fairport (just east of Rochester)

Distance: 13 miles round-trip
Recommended Activity: Cycling

Here’s a short cycling trip that will give you a taste of all that the Erie Canal has to offer. It’s a 13-mile round trip that is entirely off road. Start at Schoen Place in Pittsford, a lively waterfront destination with numerous specialty shops and restaurants. Cycle east to Fairport, another popular summer spot for canal travelers. You’ll find lots of choices for food, ice cream, coffee, and craft beer on both ends, as well as in Bushnell’s Basin, which you’ll pass about 3 miles east from Pittsford. If you want to sample both cycling and paddling, cycle to Fairport and rent a kayak there to get out on the water for an hour or two.

Cycling over the Old Erie Canal in Dewitt. | Credit: Kristin Mosher
Cycling over the Old Erie Canal in Dewitt. | Credit: Kristin Mosher

Cycle the Old Erie Canal

Distance: 36 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: cycling

This cycling trip takes you along the section of the Erie Canal that was used throughout the 1800s, but was abandoned in 1918 when the canal was enlarged and the route moved north of Syracuse. The old canal still has water in it and will give you a firsthand sense of the scale and character of the canal that opened a continent. You’ll cycle east on the former towpath through the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, which runs for 36 miles from DeWitt to Rome.

You can cycle this route in one day, but making it a two-day trip will leave more time for you to enjoy all there is to do along the way without rushing. Just 5 miles from the start, take a hike or swim at Green Lakes State Park, which boasts two deep, aquamarine glacial lakes. At 11 miles, visit Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, where canal boats were once built and repaired. Further on in the Village of Canastota (mile 18), you’ll find everyone’s favorite cycling fuels: ice cream and craft beer. When you arrive at the endpoint in Rome, visit Fort Stanwix National Monument, and refuel again at one of several outstanding Italian restaurants.

The Erie Canal in Little Falls. |Credit: Bart Carrig
The Erie Canal in Little Falls. |Credit: Bart Carrig

Little Falls

Distance: 6.2 miles round-trip west or 10.6 miles one-way east
Recommended Activity: paddling

The town of Little Falls is a historic gem on the Erie Canal. It was once a hub for shipping local cheeses throughout the world. Now, it is home to antique and boutique shops and an arts center, and is known for its rock climbing, annual cheese festival, and boating and cycling opportunities.

You can rent a canoe or kayak at Little Falls Harbor or launch your own and paddle west to Lock E18 through a beautiful part of the Mohawk Valley. At Lock 18 you can paddle for some distance up the Mohawk River to get a sense of what the river looked like before it was canalized. You’ll travel with the current back to Little Falls for a 6.2 mile round trip.

You can also paddle east from Little Falls through the largest lock on the Erie Canal, Lock E17, stop at the home of Revolutionary War General Nicholas Herkimer, pass through Lock E16, and end at a place with warm showers at the Saint Johnsville Municipal Marina. This is a 10.62 mile one-way trip, best suited to experienced paddlers.

Paddlers in the Waterford Flight. | Credit: Stephanie Obkirchner
Paddlers in the Waterford Flight. | Credit: Stephanie Obkirchner

Waterford Flight

Distance: 2.7 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: paddling

Erie Canal Locks 2 through 6 make up the Waterford Flight, a set of five locks with a total lift of 169 feet in just over 1.5 miles. Until recently, these locks were the highest lift in the shortest span in the world. Paddling through the flight makes an outstanding half-day trip, with dramatic scenery, towering locks, and pleasant, easy paddling.

You can rent a kayak or launch your own at the Alcathy’s Boat Launch at the top of the Flight and take out at the Waterford Point Boat Ramp at the end. You’ll want to leave a vehicle or arrange for a ride at the take-out point to facilitate your return. This trip takes you through two guard gates, past the Waterford Canal Shops where canal boats are repaired, and through five locks. Each lock takes about 20 minutes. This is an excellent trip for beginner to experienced paddlers.

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