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Take the plunge: Local Outdoorsman Writes Guidebook to New England Waterfalls

By Ethel Mickey, Staff Writer, Salem News

Tuesday, 4/12/2010

DANVERS, MA -- Beach too crowded? Why not take your family on a hike to one of the region's hundreds of waterfalls, suggests Greg Parsons, who co-authored the guidebook "New England Waterfalls."

"A lot of hikers are always trying to climb mountains just to reach the peaks, and they don't realize there are great hikes with waterfalls along the way," Parsons said.

Parsons, a longtime Danvers resident, wrote the guidebook in college along with Kate Watson when the two wanted to visit waterfalls in Massachusetts, but realized there was no guide out there.

"New England Waterfalls" features detailed information about 200 waterfalls and basic information on an additional 200.

"They're all over New England," Parsons said. "Waterfalls don't have to be in the mountains. They're found in all six New England states and almost in every corner of the states."

The book includes state maps, pictures, descriptions and ratings of waterfalls on a scale from one to five. Appendices in the back of the book name the best swimming holes, multi-waterfall day trips and long-distance hikes.

So what makes one waterfall more impressive than another?

"The height, how dramatic of a fall it has, water volume, ruggedness of scenery, if you can swim ... a kind of wow factor when you come down the hill or over a ravine and see it for the first time," Parsons said.

Although he now enjoys getting outdoors, Parsons was not always fond of hiking.

"Growing up, my parents would try to get me to go on hikes, but I would just kick and scream," he said. "I was a stubborn little brat."

While a business student at Babson College, though, he made day trips out to Bash Bish Falls in Western Massachusetts. He says the hiking would balance him out.

His love of waterfalls in particular came about 10 years ago, after visiting some of the most monumental falls in the world.

"It all started from my cross-country road trips," he said. "I went to the national parks, Yellowstone and Yosemite, and saw the waterfalls there."

Of the 200 waterfalls described in detail in the guidebook, Parsons has been to about 160 of them, and his co-author visited the rest. He said it took him about eight years to visit them all.

His advice for waterfall enthusiasts: wear good boots, because some trails are very steep; bring water shoes if you plan on swimming; and bring a camera.

"It's great to go on overcast days because the sun doesn't reflect off the waterfall and it makes it more photogenic," he said. "You can have them, many with swimming holes, to yourselves all day long."

Although this summer's hot and dry conditions do not make for prime waterfall viewing, Parsons has a few suggestions for North Shore families looking for a day trip.

"Royalston, Mass., is about an hour and a half away, and there are three waterfalls you can easily combine for a day trip. There's Spirit, Doane's and Royalston falls," he said.

Spirit Falls is a two-tiered waterfall that has a 150-foot total drop. Doane's is an almost 200-foot-tall chain of cascades and plunges, and Royalston is an impressive, remote plunge waterfall.

He also suggests families visiting the White Mountains in New Hampshire this summer visit some of the many falls in Lincoln and Conway.

When it comes to his personal favorites, Parsons has a tough time picking just one, but he names Bash Bish Falls at Mount Washington, Mass., Arethusa Falls in New Hampshire and Moxie Falls in Maine as his top three.

Among the many recommendations in the book, Parsons urges people to visit waterfalls more than once and in different seasons in order to fully grasp their personality.

"Check out the falls during dry and wet weather, when they're covered in snow, and during fall foliage," he writes. "These ever-changing conditions create an unpredictable waterfall experience for each visit."

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