NH's Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon—Fabulous Course, Terrific Food, Excellent Organization
This event crosses four historic bridges, and the course is beautiful. Share the excitement! If you missed the first one, you definitely don’t want to miss the second.
Posted Tuesday, 29 August, 2006
This will be a very special event. If you ran the first edition last year, you will definitely want to return. Remember the scenic, rolling course, and the impressive post race food, including the corn roast? Its all back again, and will be just as good, if not better. Everyone was impressed that this first-time event was so well organized right out of the gate in 2005. It was good planning. And they have thought of a few things to make it even better. There will be plenty of volunteers on the course, and you will not want to miss the post race food and music.
These folks think of every detail, and they treat every runner is a guest—a guest of the race, a guest of the community and the region.
The Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon will run on Sunday, September 3, starting at 8:30 a.m. It is a unique race in just the right place, Swanzey, in the Monadnock Region of Southwestern New Hampshire.
The Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon has a course that is a showpiece for rural, historic New England. And in spite of the rural ambiance and quiet byways, Swanzey is only 60 miles from Manchester, New Hampshire, and 95 miles from Boston. This event will be memorable, convenient, and exceptionally enjoyable. It is distance running as it should be.
Showers, lockers, and changing facilities are available, (and plenty of food) so runners can continue to enjoy their day and tour this beautiful area.
There will be an after-race Bar-b-Q and Corn Roast—very popular and well received last year—put on by the Swanzey Fire Department. Fresh picked corn on the cob and other vegetables (from Barrett’s Greenhouse), along with hamburgers and hot dogs (and more vegetarian options this year). In addition, the standard race fare of bagels, bananas, drinks, and more will be provided. Extra meal tickets will be on sale for spectators, relatives, and friends.
There is a 750-runner field limit, registration is on-line only at Active.com, and there will be no race-day registration, so please sign up as soon as possible.
Impressive, Scenic Course
The 13.11-mile course will run entirely within the town limits of Swanzey, a counter-clockwise loop through several villages. It traverses mostly rural byways and a section of a rail trail, crossing six bridges in all—four of them historic covered bridges that give the event its name. Although the Monadnock region is known for hills, this course is mostly flat with some rolling areas. The “rolls” are less than 100 feet in elevation.
Runners will tour farms and forests, zip past historic homes and mills, and cross the beautiful Ashuelot River several times. The course is well planned, and relaxingly scenic. Just to view these famous picturesque bridges is a real treat, and running through them will be a special thrill.
The start is in Center Swanzey on State Route 32, in front of the Town Hall and adjacent to the Monadnock Regional High School. Just after the start, runners will turn left on Eaton Road, run 4/10ths mile to a right turn on Sawyers Crossing Road.
The first covered bridge comes only one mile into the race. It is the Cresson Bridge, also called the Sawyer’s Crossing Bridge. It is the longest of the four at 158 feet, five inches, with two clear spans. It is one of the most photographed in New Hampshire.
Just beyond the bridge, runners will turn left or southwest on the rail trail, the only unpaved section of the race. The field will race down this enjoyable trail for 1.2 miles. It includes a railroad bridge that re-crosses the Ashuelot, and carries runners to Railroad Street. After 3/10ths of a mile on Railroad Street, runners will turn right on Main Street in West Swanzey. They will pass some very interesting buildings on Main Street, including Whitcomb Hall and the Stratton Free Library. There are many historic homes in this village. Shortly thereafter, the course crosses the Thompson Bridge, three miles into the race.
Just beyond Thompson Bridge the course will make two quick left turns, first on Swanzey Street, and then on West Street. Then runners will then turn right on Winchester Street, a straight, flat road with an interesting mix of old mill buildings and residences. After running 7/10ths on Winchester, participants will merge onto State Route 10, turning left or south. There will be a 6/10 stint along Route 10 before turning left on Westport Road. On Westport Road, 4.9 miles into the race, runners will cross Slate Bridge.
Just beyond Slate Bridge, the course will turn left on Westport Village Road, and, at 5.8 miles, turn right on
Swanzey Lake Road.
Swanzey Lake Road is a very scenic, quiet, meandering rural road, with hay fields and forests. It is mostly flat and tree-lined, peaceful and pleasant. It is lined with Hemlock and White Pine, as well as Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Ash, Yellow Birch, White Birch. This wooded region makes for some really enjoyable miles. Roads such as Cram Hill, Rabbit Hill, and Honey Hill intersect at quiet corners. At 7.6 miles, runners will pass Swanzey Lake, a terrific town recreation location with picnic areas and a public beach.
At 9.6 miles the course will return to Route 32 for a brief half mile heading north. Runners then will turn right on Carlton Road, and at 10.4 miles, runners will cross Carlton Bridge. Carlton Bridge is the smallest of the four, spanning the South Branch of the Ashuelot 10.4 miles into the race.
Just beyond Carlton Bridge (3/10ths), the course will turn left or north on Whitcomb Road, and at 12.4 runners will intersect Oliver Hill Road. A left on Oliver Hill will take runners back to Route 32, where they will turn south (left) at the post office for the last 4/10ths of a mile. Then it will be a sprint to the high school and the finish. When runners cross the new bridge on Route 32, Old Homestead Highway, they will pass 13 miles. The finish will be in the parking lot adjacent to the high school.
Running this beautiful course with the spectacular scenery of the Monadnock Region and the quiet roads of Swanzey will be ideal for Labor Day weekend.
Awards and Rewards
There will be cash awards for the first three women and first three men--$100, $75, and $50. And there will be miscellaneous prizes for the top three in each age group: for 19-and-under, 20-29, 30-39, and five-year increments from 40 to 80+.
Mark Miller of Keene, New Hampshire was the winner in the inaugural event (1:09:50), as was Heidi Westerling of Acworth, New Hampshire (1:19:57). Pattie Dalconzo of Lancaster, Massachusetts was the masters champ (1:30:45), and Sidney Letendre of Florence, Massachusetts won the women’s senior crown.
Three men form the Gate City Striders won age divisions. Steve Wolfe of Merrimack, New Hampshire won the masters 40-44 (1:24:57), while Nashua, New Hampshire teammates Jim Hansen (1:25:35) and Jim Belanger (1:25:36) won the 45-49 and 50-54 groups respectively.
“It was a great race and really well organized for a first-time race, and I would definitely do it again,” said Belanger. He went on to say he liked how the awards for age groups were given, offering a choice of items and gift certificates.
“It was a good scenic course, and a good challenge,” said Hansen. “They planned well, and took good care of the runners.” Both were very impressed with the post race food.
All runners will be rewarded with great food at the post race party. “The Swanzey Fire Department will be cooking from 9:30 a.m. until everyone has been satisfied,” said Race Director Elijah Barrett.
And the greatest reward of all will be the excitement, enjoyment, and sense of accomplishment--the thrill of participating in this unique event in a beautiful rural region.
The scenic bridges of Swanzey make this race unique. They are picture-post-card beautiful and historic. The first three cross the Ashuelot River, while the fourth, the Carlton Bridge, crosses the South Branch before the confluence with the Ashuelot. The building-like structures allowed bridges to last longer, although in winter locals had to carry and pack snow inside for sleighs and sleds.
The Cresson Bridge, also called the Sawyer’s Crossing Bridge, is one mile from route 32 on Sawyers Crossing Road in Swanzey Center. It is the longest in the race at 158 feet, five inches, with two clear spans (61’ 6” and 77’ 3”), and is 21 feet wide overall, with a 17-foot, 2-inch roadway. This bridge is the “Town Lattice” truss design, as are each of the others on the course except the Carlton Bridge. The Cresson Bridge crosses just south of the confluence of the Ashuelot (from the north) and South Branch, which meanders from the southeast to northwest. It was built in 1859 at a cost of $1,735.64 just prior to the Civil War. It was originally built in 1771, prior to the Revolution, and then replaced in 1812.
The Thompson Bridge three miles into the race, located just east of Route 10 on Main Street in West Swanzey. It is older than the first, originally built in 1832 at a cost of $523.27. It is 136 feet, 10 inches long with two clear spans (64’ 0” and 63’ 6”). The bridge is wide at 25 feet, 6 inches—the roadway width is 16’ 7”. It is very unusual in that it had pedestrian walkways built on both sides. The upstream walkway was removed, but the downstream one remains.
Slate Bridge is on Westport Road just east of Route 10, 4.9 miles into the race in the village of Westport. Slate Bridge was named for a farmer who owned the adjacent fields along the river north of the crossing. As with the previous two bridges, it spans the Ashuelot River near the sites of several mills. It is 142 feet, three inches, but has one clear span of just over 123 feet, and is 20 feet, nine inches wide (roadway 17’ 1”). Slate Bridge was originally built in 1842, replacing the previous bridge of 1800. However, the 1842 structure was destroyed by fire, and rebuilt.
Carlton Bridge is just east of Route 32 on Carlton Road. It is the smallest of the four, spanning the South Branch of the Ashuelot in Swanzey Center. But in several ways it is one of the most interesting. It is of the “queenpost” design, the only one in the region, and is just 67 feet, three inches long. It is 16 feet, 6 inches wide, but the roadway width is only 12’ 4”. Its trusses are similar to those of a barn. Barn builders originally constructed it in 1869; it was reconstructed and reopened in 1997. It sees far less traffic than the other three. The Carlton Bridge is 10.4 miles into the race.
The Town of Swanzey
The town of Swanzey is immediately south of Keene, a cultural and educational center and the seat of the Cheshire County. Also bordering Swanzey are Marlboro, Troy, Richmond, Winchester, and Chesterfield. Swanzey encompasses 45.3 square miles, including the villages of Westport, West Swanzey, East Swanzey, and North Swanzey, in addition to Swanzey Center. The population is 7,043.
Adjacent to the town hall, where the race begins, sits the Mount Caesar Union Library, an historic structure built in 1835. From 1835 to 1885 it was the Mount Caesar Seminary for Boys, a resident academy. The owner and headmaster, Mr. Carpenter, sold it to the Mount Caesar Trustees on condition that a community library be established. It was, and it is.
Across the street is the Golden Rod Grange Hall, #114. And just beyond the start line is a large sign marking a unique facility, the Potash Bowl. The Potash Bowl is an outdoor entertainment center, a natural amphitheater, which seats hundreds and has room for hundreds more on the grassy slopes with lawn chairs and blankets. Performances there are highly regarded. It was, as the name implies, once large potash works, producing thousands of tons of this commodity for New England and beyond.
Swanzey is famous for its bridges, and is referred to as the “Covered Bridge Capital of New Hampshire”. The four bridges in Swanzey, as well as two in neighboring Winchester, the Ashuelot and Coombs Bridges, are six of the remaining 54 in New Hampshire. Once there were over 300.
Founded as Lower Ashuelot in 1733, the name was changed to Swanzey when it was chartered in 1753, having been rebuilt following a raid. Settlers came from the east over the mountains, but also from the south, traversing the Pioneer Valley of the Connecticut River.
The Ashuelot River Watershed
The Ashuelot River and tributaries once powered many mills, and made life possible in this area for natives and later settlers. Bridges were required to improve transportation and communication, and the bridges of the 1700’s and 1800’s were often covered in New England.
The Ashuelot Watershed system drains 268,000 acres, including parts of 25 New Hampshire towns and two of Massachusetts. It is the largest watershed in southwestern New Hampshire, and a major tributary of the Connecticut. This watershed area begins well north in the towns of Alstead, Lempster, Marlow, and Washington, as well as rising from the flanks of Grand Monadnock in the east. It flows generally southwest and joins the Connecticut River at a wide sweeping bend a few miles north of the Massachusetts border. It is a remarkably diverse and ecologically significant river system. And the region it encompasses is a beautifully delightful location for running.
Don’t miss this run. It is more than a half marathon. This is a race bridging past and present, running in a region of exceptional natural beauty. The second annual Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon is an event that will be memorable, as was the first. It is sponsored and administered by Endurance MultiSport, 122 Key Road, Keene, New Hampshire, and directed by Elijah Barrett, an experienced endurance athlete. Check with them at (603) 357-3232, or e-mail Info@gotEndurance.com.