Last weekend Brad White, the owner of International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway, guided a rock climbing client on Mount Forist, perhaps the first use of city’s resource in such a way. They climbed three routes, and it was the first time the client had ever been to Berlin. Mr. White told me she loved the entire experience.
Mr. White went to Mount Forist after hearing from an employee how good the climbing was up there, and that employee heard about it from me.
Mr. White approached me on Friday to ask if I knew who owned Mount Forist and whether there would be a problem if he put new routes on the cliff. I told him I thought it would be fine, since several city councils have expressed interest in making the cliff a climbing destination, and since I’d climbed up there with out any problems. If anything arose, I said, he’d at least have some supporters in his corner. He said good, because he’d like to go up there to establish more climbs.
It’s a good story, right? Something positive for the city? Climbing as a tool for opening up Berlin to new blood, a new industry inline with 21/21.
Maybe, but I see it as something more: it is a call to action for the city. It’s time to stop relying on random outsiders (me) to talk up Berlin, and it’s time for the city to take its future into its own hands.
Berlin has changed in the decade since the mill closed. I was never here to see it before, but lots of people were. Those people are still perpetuating an image of the city from that time.
Mr. White has been climbing in the area for 20 years, and he has owned IMCS for 10. He said he thinks Mount Forist will make a perfect beginner cliff, something that’s lacking around New England. He wants to develop it, guide on it, expose new people to the area. He wants to do what 21/21 wants to do, and he’s a guy with the connections to do it. Why did it take this long to get him up to Berlin? Because there is no indication in North Conway, just an hour away, that Berlin is any different than it was a decade ago. And if it takes 10 years to change opinions an hour away, I hate to think how long it’ll take to change people’s minds in Boston.
What about a bunch of posters at rest stops that say, Berlin, New Hampshire: It’s not what you think, with a photo of the river south of East Mason Street at sunrise? Or a view of the snow-covered mountains? Or of a climber on Mount Forist? Or a canoe on the Androscoggin? Would it really be so hard to make people question what they think they know about the city? Isn’t it obvious those opinions keep people away?
I’ve heard enough griping about how WMUR and other statewide media portray Berlin. “They don’t cover us unless we have a fire,” someone told me the other day. So? Is the city really a slave to some ABC affiliate? Is there really no other way to reach people?
What does it take to change a mind? I don’t know, but it will never happen unless someone challenging the inaccurate assumption.
There is a documentary project about Berlin in the works, and a few movies being aired in different places about the city, but the city lacks a concerted effort to change people’s minds. Who is going to trumpet the good in the city? Who will make it their full-time job? Changing those opinions takes work, but for 21/21 to work it has to happen.
The local outdoor communities are the next low-hanging fruit. There are hundreds of climbers every weekend who come to North Conway. Many are beginners who stand in line for the same crowded routes they climbed last weekend. Every one of them could be exposed to the new Berlin, but it will take an effort the city isn’t accustomed to.
First, you need the climbs to be there. That takes the New Hampshire climbing community shedding its bias against Berlin, and coming up to develop new routes. Will they shed that bias without a push from the city? Maybe. But I’ve heard Berlin is trying to be more proactive, instead of waiting for things to happen to it as it did in the past. Here is a great opportunity to prove it — figure out how to get those people up there putting in more routes. (Want suggestions? Just ask.)
Then, once the cliff is developed, go on neclimbs.com and start posting pictures of people on the rock, the routes and the beautiful view of Success and the Mahoosucs from the cliff. Appeal to the climbing community with a new, well-developed cliff and they will come.
And then wait for the season to change. I can’t tell you now if Mount Forist is worth ice climbing, but I can come January. Then do the same thing on neice.com.
I don’t have a solution for Berlin’s troubles, but that’s because there isn’t one. One solution was the 20th century model for doing things in Berlin, with one employer supporting the entire economy. Now the city is looking for strength in diversity. ATVs seem to be taking off. I am offering a lead on how to revitalize the area through outdoor recreation. These are the makings of the broad-based economy Berlin has been looking for. Who is going to follow up on this lead? Who is going to make it happen? Change some minds. Remake Berlin.
Berlin, New Hampshire: It’s not what you think.