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Places for Respite

By Jeanné McCartin

Working your way up the Northeast Corridor from the Hamptons of New Hampshire to the Berwicks of Maine is a more interesting and restful trek if you know where the respite of a park can be found. The Seacoast counts many of them among its riches. The activities they offer range from swimming and horseback riding to peaceful picnicking, their views from rolling ocean waves to mountain summits.

The first stop, in Hampton proper, is the Hampton Beach State Park and Harbor on Route 1A. The shoreline setting offers two beaches, boat launches, a bathhouse and rest rooms, plus a first aid station and a public information booth. An amphitheater is the site of concerts in the summer. RV hook-up sites with water, sewer and electricity are available by reservation. Swimming, saltwater fishing, picnicking, a snack bar and a park store complete this state park package. An entry fee is charged.

Inland parks

Veering inland, a traveler will find Kingston State Park on Route 125. This 44-acre park along the edge of the freshwater Great Pond offers swimming and picnicking.

Moving north of Kingston you'll come upon Exeter, the quaint town that's home to Phillips Exeter Academy. Exeter Recreation Park on Route 27 holds particular interest for the outdoor-sports enthusiast, with its two basketball courts, three ball fields (two youth and one adult), eight tennis courts and outdoor pool. Nonresidents pay a fee to use the pool. There is also a concession stand and bathroom facilities.

The Swasey Parkway, situated along Exeter's Squanscott River, is a great place for walking and picnicking. During the summer, concerts are held there on Thursday nights.

Another riverside park is Exeter's 15-acre Oilman Park, located on Bell Avenue. On the edge of the Exeter River you can fish, picnic or walk. The park also offers two youth ball fields and playground equipment.

Staying inland and heading north on Route 33 will take you to the Stratham Hill Farm Park. The 100-acre site offers picnic tables with small grills, running water, rest rooms, three pavilions that may be reserved for private functions, basketball courts, a ball field, a playground and walking trails. Rockingham County's largest fair is held here July 24-26.

More coastal parks

Heading back to the ocean, once again pointed north on Route 1, you will find a series of parks in the town of Rye. First stop is Rye Harbor State Park, a rocky promontory site offering a picnic area, public dock, saltwater fishing, a boat ramp and commercial wharf. Up the road are two state parks, Wallis Sands and Jenness Beach. Both offer sandy beaches, lifeguards, a bathhouse and metered parking.

Odiorne Point State Park, the last of the Rye stops, is a 330-acre coastal site. Here the traveler will find man-made military bunkers amongst the remnants of formal gardens and wild flowers. Handicapped-accessible, it offers picnic and rest room facilities, paved recreational trails, wooded hiking, walking trails, tidal pools, interpretive panels, picnicking and a boat launch.

Odiorne Park is also the home of the Seacoast Science Center, with exhibits relating to the natural and cultural history of Odiorne and the Seacoast area. It features a touch-and-learn indoor tank.

The Town of New Castle, an island off the coast of Portsmouth, offers a lovely waterfront park, the Great Island Common, set in the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Once a part of Camp Langdon, a military base, the town purchased the property in the 1960s. Residents are admitted free; nonresidents pay a small fee.

The Common offers a wonderful newly constructed playground, paid for by the town's recreation commission with money raised from an annual road race. Scattered about the park are picnic tables, grills on stanchions, two volleyball courts and many benches. In addition to the lawn area, the park features a sandy beach and beach house, but there is no lifeguard.

Still in New Castle, just off Route 1A, is the site of Fort Constitution. Adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Station, the fort has dates back to 1600. It best reflects the Revolutionary and Civil War periods. From its shores one can see the Portsmouth Harbor and Whaleback lighthouses as well as the Isles of Shoals.

City parks

Portsmouth itself boasts a number of interesting parks. Its crown jewel is Prescott Park and the adjoining Four Tree Island Park, off Marcy Street. Once partially underwater and filled with bawdy houses and bars, the area is now a beautiful green lawn featuring a number of gardens including a formal garden with fountains, often used for weddings, and a trial garden.

Prescott Park proper offers three piers, four separate fountains, restrooms, a concession stand and a boat dock where you can reserve a slip space. It is also the home of an arts festival that presents some 100 events annually, most on summer evenings.

Also located in the park is the Sheafe Warehouse, a former fishing cabin that now houses boat-building demonstrations during the summer season. Close by, you can tour a gondola that docks at the park during the summer months.

The adjacent Four Tree Island Park offers fishing, picnic tables, barbecue grills and bathrooms. Both parks are handicapped accessible.

Entering Maine

Back to the sea and just over the bridge into Kittery, Maine, the traveler will find vestiges of the areas military past. Located on Route 103, Fort McClary, named for Revolutionary War hero Andrew McClary, still stands. Here you can picnic with the harbor and Whaleback Lighthouse as backdrop.

A bit further north, just off Route 103, is Port Poster, where remnants of the old structure remain. Here, for an admission fee, you may enjoy a sandy beach, picnic area with barbecue grills, a playground and walking/nature trails. It is also the site of Kittery's popular Summer Seaside Festival.

The next stop up the Maine coastline is York. Here you'll find the 3,000-acre Mount Agamenticus Park off Route 1 on Mountain Road. Prized by bird watchers, the park opens the last week of June. Unusual features include a horseback riding stable, with lessons and trail rides, and a lodge at the summit that can be rented for private functions. On a clear day one side of Mount Agamenticus offers an exceptional view of Mount Washington, while the other presents a view of the coastal harbors. Picnicking and rest room facilities are available. Both biking and hiking trails lead up the 692-foot mountain, and you can park at either the base or the peak.

Along York's shoreline is Ellis Park. Adjacent to Ocean Avenue and Short Sands Beach, it offers green lawns with an ocean view. Bill Burn-ham, chairman of the parks trustee committee, said the park, which sports a playground, is a wonderful respite for residents and travelers. It has a playground, a pavilion, a 2,000-foot boardwalk, a gazebo where band concerts are played, a basketball court, a picnic area and a public shower and rest rooms. Parking is metered.

In Wells you can linger at Wells Harbor Park at Lower Landing Road. It's a passive park, offering simply benches, a picnic area, parking and rest room facilities.

Heading west back toward New Hampshire, you'll find Vaughan Woods State Park on Old Fields Road in South Berwick, Maine. A well-preserved forest of 135 acres, the park is the site of James Warren's house and grave, which dates back to the 1600s. The park offers a planned wooded area, trails and a picnic area.

Over in Dover

Continuing west into New Hampshire takes you to Dover, a town of many parks. One of its most notable is the Henry Law Park, situated downtown along the Cochecho River. The two-acre area provides a river walk, picnic shelters, grills, benches and a wading pool. It also has a stage where events are held in the summer months.

This park is the site of the town's recreational center and the city's indoor pool, which nonresidents may use for a fee. It also has a covered bridge.

Dover is also the location of Garrison Hill Park on Ascension Avenue. Here at the city's highest point is an observation tower from which you can see the White Mountains to the west and the Isles of Shoals to the east.

Off Portland Avenue you'll find Guppy Park. Here the city provides a 50-meter Jenny Thompson Olympic indoor pool, a wooded area, picnic shelters, a softball field and rest rooms.