The Contoocook River is 71 miles long, and I canoed nine of those miles with my daughter, Carolyn Blasko, and her son, Jay, on May 26. We were shuttled up to the Contoocook Village with our rental canoe by the Contoocook River Canoe Co. of Concord, with Will Hastings as our van driver. Prior to leaving on the shuttle, Patrick Malfait, owner of the Contoocook River Canoe Co., demonstrated how to correctly wear a life jacket, gave out maps of the river and answered questions from those making the trip.
Beginning at Pool Pond and the Contoocook Lake in Rindge, near the Massachusetts border, the Contoocook River empties into the Merrimack River at Penacook. It is one of the few rivers in New Hampshire that flows in a northward direction. The stretch we canoed was rather calm compared to sections up-river that have some exciting, nationally-known white-water runs. The total drop from start to finish is about 100 feet.
The river was an important travel corridor in pre-colonial days, and was part of the Kon-wa-teg-ok Trail that connected the Native American villages along the shores. Contoocook is a Native American word meaning "Place of Many Crows."
The early European settlers took advantage of the river's water power by building dams and mills, evidence of which can be seen in several archaeological sites. There are presently 25 dams on the river with 15 being used to produce hydro-electric power. There are no dams on the section we canoed.
We had no sooner launched our canoe on the river than we were greeted by several spotted sandpipers. One would dart into the air ahead of us, rapidly beating its pointed wings, and land on the shore a brief way down-river. Then when we approached it again, it would burst into flight back up-river. The male spotted sandpipers have the unusual trait of incubating the eggs on the nest.
Once while canoeing close to shore, we saw many human-hand-like raccoon tracks firmly embedded in the mud. A mother raccoon was no doubt teaching her young to forage for food. These masked bandits of the animal kingdom are opportunists in their eating habits.
At times it seemed as if the wind changed direction, but it was actually the river that changed directions in its meandering course northward.
A poem written by Eleanor Vinton in 1974 includes the following lines:
"From Riverhill to Blackwater is longer by canoe; The river dallies all the way, the road goes briskly through.
But Riverhill to Blackwater, canoe's the way to go,
To hear a tree of finches or watch a flapping crow."
Vinton also described the Contoocook River as "A little rebel river flowing north, good company for prophet or poet, or for all who strike against the easy trend, this upstart of a river flowing north."
It took us four hours to canoe nine miles of this "little rebel river flowing north" with a half hour lunch break at Daisy Beach, where we saw teens swinging from a rope out into the river. When we returned to the Contoocook River Canoe Co., Malfait was there to congratulate us on a safe trip.