On Track

The tracks behind the future home of Thrive Outdoors community center are overgrown and graffiti tagged. There is a homeless camp, or the remnants of one, blankets, bags, cans of tuna and bottles scattered along wooden tracks. Soft, dirty, piles of garbage, dispersed in heaps over rubber tires and under trees.

Train stations are places of community and connection. But, these tracks behind the old station on Elm, tracks that once brought people to work, to family, to good and meaningful parts of people's lives, have become a place where people sleep on mattresses under a rusty train car.

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It's a space that has lost its purpose through years of neglect.

Yet, in walking the tracks, we found a wealth of goldenrod and wild flowers, young birch trees, saplings pushing up through the dirt, between the old wooden tracks.

Though this piece of Manchester history has been left almost unrecognizable, by life, by circumstances, by lack of attention, by carelessness...nature is patient, it perseveres. In the changing of seasons, in the spreading of seeds and the determination to grow toward the sun, it is hopeful, always.

And, likewise, we are starting to see this old train yard as it can be, as it should be. We want to bring it back to its roots, its intended purpose.

And, when we open, we want the same for those who walk through our doors.

Melanie Haney
The Thrive Outdoors Leadership Center in Manchester: The Vision

It’s a blustery and cold February afternoon in downtown Manchester as a crew of a dozen people gather to pull piles of insulation and debris left behind in the basement of The Training Station. Through the rain, they cross the concrete parking lot to the dumpster. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts just beside them, a large bill board overhead, cars zooming past on the street above. It’s as urban as Southern New Hampshire can be.

The team working together to clear out the piles of cinder block bricks and clean out years of neglect, is from Thrive Outdoors. Thrive Outdoors, who is known for building fires and trekking through forests, for overnight survival camps, and for teen and youth programs that take groups out on adventures into the mountains or pitching tents and filtering water in the Catskills.

How does a company whose curriculum focuses on nature and the tools of the wilderness, find themselves surrounded by brick and wood and rubble, in the broken down basement of a building on the main street that runs through the heart of the largest city in New Hampshire?

It’s actually quite easy - the concept of Thrive Outdoors wasn’t born in the wilderness, and it’s original intent was never as simplistic as taking people into the wild to teach them survival skills. On the contrary, Thrive Outdoors evolved from dream to reality, in a small office, in the heart of Manchester’s homeless population, where Jake King worked as director of the (now defunct) homeless center. It was there that he began to piece together and make the connection between what he had been witnessing for the past decades in his work, as an army ranger and later a police officer, and through years of working with disadvantaged youth. All of the populations of people that he had been working with, were stressed and were ill-equipped, often through no fault of their own, to manage their stress. As he witnessed the implications of this stress on their day-to-day lives, he was inspired to create something to help.

He, along with his partners, formed Thrive Outdoors with the vision that it would utilize the healing qualities and tools found in the wilderness, to help people in their daily lives - in their schools, their office jobs. It was never the intention to move people out of the city, but to teach people how to have the calm and focus that comes from time in nature, right here, in their busy, urban lives. And so, when the opportunity arose at the 200 Elm St location, it made perfect sense to start plans in motion for a leadership training center - right where we find the people who need the benefits Thrive Outdoors offers, the most.

The vision for the Leadership Center is that it will offer a unique space, filled with natural elements and equipped to do everything from teaching survival skills and tree identification, to low-ropes courses and boulder wall activities. It will be a space for Thrive Outdoors to offer corporate training for small and large businesses, helping with employee health, satisfaction and attrition. As Thrive also works closely with several therapists and social workers, there is a long-term goal to also use the space for therapeutic groups and especially to facilitate groups for those working in fields of vicarious trauma, first responders, for example - who are in some of the most stressful lines of work.

Looking around the basement facility in its current state, it’s clear that the dumpster in the parking lot is going to be full - and that there are many hours of manpower and hard work needed before the doors can open. In the meantime, Thrive Outdoors will continue to work with businesses and schools and run their outdoor programming in Hopkinton, as well as their recovery programming, working with Avenues. If you or your organization would like to learn more about Thrive Outdoors programming, take a few moments to browse the website and submit a contact form.

To learn more about the Leadership Center project, specifically, or get involved, please contact Jake King at Jake@thriveoutdoorsnh.com.

And be sure to follow here, as we will be updating with how things are progressing in the coming months!

Some of the crew at the site of the future Leadership Center.

Some of the crew at the site of the future Leadership Center.

Melanie Haney