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Polar Caves Park – New Adventures Await

Christine Randall - July 11, 2011





You’d think that a natural attraction which has been open to the public continuously for almost 90 years would offer visitors few surprises – but you’d be mistaken! Polar Caves Park in Rumney, which originally featured six natural caves for visitors to explore, added two more caves to the Cave Walk in 2005 and 2006, and now five years later another new cave is currently being excavated with the goal of being added to the popular walk by the end of this summer.

Polar Caves General Manager Rob Arey says that the cave will be located right at the start of the Cave Walk, so visitors can watch the excavation in progress if they are interested. “ The cave will be an easy one to navigate, and we plan to have a naming contest later this summer,” Rob says.

It’s not surprising that new caves are continually being discovered at Polar Caves, as geological history tells us that Polar Caves came about as the result of glacial activity during the last ice age.  The force of the glacial retreat loosened great slabs of rock from Hawk’s Cliff and deposited them at the base of Mt. Haycock between about 14,000 and 20,000 years ago, forming numerous caves and tunnels. The original caves and tunnels were discovered by a group of local teenagers in 1900, and twenty-two years later a man named Edwin Collishaw opened the area to the public and named it Polar Caves, due to the cold air currents which originate and rise up from the glacial ice preserved beneath the boulders.

The addition of the new cave will bring the total number of caves on the Cave Walk to nine, all connected by passages of varying degrees of difficulty. The person in charge of the new cave’s excavation and prep work (railings, steps, and any lighting) is Deane Berg, Head of Maintenance.  Deane has been with Polar Caves for about 40 years and, since he worked as a guide when he first started out, he knows the park inside and out. A few years back, I asked Deane what the criteria was for selecting a site for a new cave.

“In order for a cave or passage to become part of the Cave Walk,” explained Deane, “there has to be both an entrance and an exit, the cave or passage has to be stable and navigable for most people, and it has to fit into the current Cave Walk network logically.”

The entire Cave Walk is about a quarter of a mile long, self-guided, and usually takes about 45 minutes to complete, probably a little less if you don’t climb the 87 steps to the Raven’s Roost Platform, but then you’d miss some exceptional views of the surrounding Baker River Valley.  The caves and passages have colorful names and histories, some being fairly descriptive (“Fat Man’s Misery,” “Orange Crush,” “The Lemon Squeeze,” and “The Ice Cave”), and some based on local legends (“Smuggler’s Cave,” “The Indian Council Chamber,’ and “The King’s Wine Cellar”).  All caves, except for one, named “The Cave of Cool Off and Rest,” which is an exceptionally large and easily navigated cave, can be bypassed.

In addition to the caves and passageways, the Cave Walk features some interesting rock formations, including “The Pharaoh’s Profile,” “The Watchdogs of the Caves,” and the “Giant Pyramid,” as well as the world’s largest glacially deposited boulder (which is 100 feet long, 50 feet high, and 75 feet thick, and weighs about 50 million pounds) and the “Mysterious Hanging Boulder,” an 80-ton boulder which rests on three contact points in the back. If you stand under it, about 75% of the boulder’s weight is over your head. It’s not a place that many people linger!

Although the Cave Walk is one of the main attractions at Polar Caves, there are a wide variety of other activities at the park, including nature trails, a maple sugar house museum, a glacial rock garden, an animal park, a kissing bridge, and two “mining” operations, as well as two well-stocked gift shops and a cafeteria.

The nature trails and the glacial rock garden are located near the Cave Walk.  The Rock Garden is an area full of giant erratic boulders left by the receding glacier, with a connecting boardwalk leading visitors from boulder to boulder in a maze-like pattern. There were many trails, all of which connected eventually, with interesting names such as “Tranquility Way,” “Boulder Way,” “The Winding Way,” “The Outback,” and “Roundabout Way.” Nearby, the Maple Sugar House Museum houses a display of old maple sugaring equipment and tools, as well as a gift shop and refreshments.

The animal park is home to European fallow deer, ducks, geese, and exotic peacocks and pheasants. The geese and ducks are friendly and wander around the pond area freely, and dispensers give you an opportunity to buy handfuls of feed for them.

Just beyond the Animal Park is a “Kissing Bridge,” a replica of a traditional New England covered bridge built by former General Manager Dave Conboy in 1987. All throughout the Park, you can enjoy the numerous informational signs which detail the geological and human history of the region, as well as helping to identify birds, plants, trees, and mammals common to New Hampshire.

The two mining operations are probably some of the most appealing activities at the Park for kids. At the Polar Sluice, located adjacent to the Admission Building and Gift Shop, kids of all ages enjoy panning for hidden gems, fossils and minerals. At the Klondike Mines, near the Animal Park, there are three “mineshafts” that kids can explore with hardhats and flashlights, in hopes of discovering hidden minerals, “gemstones,” and crystals.

The mineshafts in the Klondike Mines are small, comfortably accommodating only about 2 or 3 kids at a time.  Although the hardhats and flashlights have to be returned, the explorers can keep any and all “treasures” that they find.  The small building also features a gift shop with a variety of minerals, geodes, jewelry, T-shirts and other gifts for sale, as well as a museum area with mining displays and décor (including a replica of a mining cart). There is an additional fee per person (in addition to the Park admission fee) to go “mining” at both the Klondike Mines and the Polar Sluice.

The Admissions Building where you start and end your park visit features an interesting display of old postcards and memorabilia concerning Polar Caves, as well as a cafeteria, restrooms, and a large gift shop full of rocks, minerals, and other souvenirs. There is also a fudge shop, with homemade fudge made right on the premises, which should appeal to those who have a sweet tooth.

Polar Caves Park is located on Route 25 in Rumney, about five miles west of Plymouth. The Park is open from mid-May to mid-October every day, rain or shine, from 9a.m. until 5p.m. (closing at 4:30pm September 5 – Columbus Day).  Tickets cost $15.00 per adult and $11.00 for children between the ages of 4 and 10. You can also purchase a season pass for $30.00 for adults and $22.00 for children. Group rates are also available. For more information, call 536-1888 or log on to www.polarcaves.com

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