Bringing It In

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.

3 thoughts on “Bringing It In

  1. Erik, I hope you're asking a rhetorical question for the sake of provoking thought and conversation. I think you know what the goal of the 21/21 Initiative is and who is going to head the effort. At the moment I'm working-out the workings of the 21/21 Task Force who will shape and direct the project. Thank you for the information you're providing and in due time you'll see where the answers and the project itself will be driven by people such as yourself. I want this to be a community project and you and I need to sit down and discuss how I see this going forward. In my opinion there's a role for everybody.

  2. Erik, welcome to my world. I've been up here for 3 years saying the exact same thing. I go south for the weekend, and talk to dozens of people who I KNOW would love to come up here and hike, or kayak, or just hang out, and they all say "I haven't been there in years, does it still stink?" and the reason they say that is that other than people like us, there's no one "official" changing anyone's mind. I'm no fan of our former mayor, but you can say one thing for him. he got lots of PR for Berlin — all of it bad — but he knew how to get the city in the headlines. We need the anti-Bob — an official ambassador who is a great spokesperson that can represent the city to the rest of the state. At the moment it looks like you're it 🙂

  3. Thanks for the comments, Norm and Katie.I do feel like I've taken on that role, but when there is another fire (like this weekend) I also publicize that. My job is truth, which paints a complex picture of the city. Someone out there needs to be painting an image with a positive bias to combat the negative view so prevalent around the state. And they need to be doing it on a wider platform than the local paper.I understand you are working to do such things, Norm, but I don't think if you are the man for this specific job. Berlin needs a young, attractive, energetic face of the city to attract young, energetic, entrepreneurial people. My wife does a similar job for non-profits, and her youth and her enthusiasm are terrific assets in that roll. Who will do that for Berlin? Councilor Cayer does a good job of it for the OHRV industries because he is one of them and speaks their language. Berlin needs to start speaking the language of the other industries it hopes to attract.I'm not criticizing your efforts, but it takes more than a committee to attract a Tim Cayer. Stodgy city fathers will have a tough time appealing to rock climbers, mountain bikers and kayakers. I'd like to see that official mind-changer Katie mentioned, and hopefully it'd be a young person with a passion for the outdoors. That's the kind of face Berlin should strive to be associated with. That's the kind of image that could change some minds.

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