Dan Newton, president of the Waterville Valley Athletic & Improvement Association, explains what WVAIA is all about.
If you’re new to Waterville Valley, one thing you already know from reading the title of this piece is that WVAIA is hard to say! Try saying it three times fast… See? The fact is, even if you’re a long-time resident of Waterville Valley, WVAIA is hard to say. And yes, it makes you think of Old MacDonald on his farm with all those animals singing ee-eye-ee-eye-oh… you know, the WV eh-eye-eh had a farm…
For the record, WVAIA stands for the Waterville Valley Athletic & Improvement Association, and despite this slightly silly name, it is, in fact, a venerable hiking club in its 125th year as an organization. That’s right. It was formed in 1888! Its mission then and now was to, “…encourage all healthful exercise and afford facilities thereto.” So, what does that mean? Before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at the name, shall we?
Clearly, the problem lies in the word, “Improvement,” doesn’t it? I mean, what the heck is an improvement association? Sounds like a new religion of some kind. Well, by way of an excuse, saying things like “improvement” and “thereto” is how people talked back then, right? You didn’t have to be a lawyer to say, “I’d like to afford a facility thereto, please.” Anyway, they hiked in knickers and long dresses, wore formal and flowery hats and carried enormous umbrellas even when it wasn’t raining; so, it’s not surprising that they spoke that way.
So, what do you do when you “afford a facility?” First, let me just say that this is not about having enough money to buy a building. Here’s a little history that might help to explain things. When Waterville Valley was first conceived as a resort community, it was the fishermen and then the hikers who realized that this place was a great place for recreation. So, this guy named Nathaniel Greeley opened a hotel (or a facility, if you like… but that would just confuse things!), that he called Greeley’s Mountain House and started accepting visitors. Soon, a croquet court and bowling alley were added to the athletic offerings of the valley, and later, a tennis court and golf course were installed. So, with all this recreation, the increasing number of visitors decided they needed an organization to manage these facilities, and so the WAIA (because Waterville Valley, NH was just Waterville, NH back then), was born. If you try, you will note that it’s much easier to say WAIA than it is to say, WVAIA. It’s the transition from “V” to “A” that gets you; so clearly, if anyone’s to blame, it is our 20th century forefathers who decided to change the name of the town without consulting history first, than it was the 19th centurians who named the organization.
Today, the tennis courts and the golf course are privately owned, and the bowling alley no longer exists, but the hiking trails are still here, and so is croquet! Most importantly, the WVAIA maintains the hiking trails of Waterville Valley through a series of volunteer trailwork days, as well as with a paid crew. The job of clearing blow downs, cleaning out waterbars that drain the trails, cutting back the relentless forest, building bog bridges and timber ladders, and constructing stone steps for erosion control are just some of what the organization is responsible for. These trails comprise what is widely regarded as one of the oldest trail systems in the country, and are filled with interesting features: magnificent views, slides, a chimney, a flume, the largest glacial erratic in the state, spectacular cascades, as well as a plethora of brooks and streams to enjoy (this is where the “Waterville” part comes in). And, like anything else, the trails need to be cared for. Also, throughout the year, the WVAIA offers guided hikes and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing adventures; and, every Sunday afternoon throughout the summer, croquet is played alongside Snow Mountain Road, next to the tennis courts.
So, in the final analysis, the WVAIA is a 501(c)3 non-profit historical organization with a focus on the stewardship and enjoyment of the northeast’s oldest hiking trail system. For more information about the WVAIA, check us out online at wvaia.com.