Monadnock Profiles: Wilton state rep. is an outdoorsman through and through

  • Chris Balch

  • Chris Balch, a state rep for Hillsborough District 38, has spent most of his life in the outdoors and that means snowshoeing through miles of trails from the back yard of his Wilton home. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Chris Balch, a state representative for Hillsborough District 38, blazes a trail with his snowshoes from the back yard of his Wilton home. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Chris Balch has spent many years building and restoring boats, even teaching a workshop at Lawrence Academy, where he taught many years ago. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Chris Balch. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/11/2020 2:31:13 PM

Chris Balch was hesitant when he decided to run for a seat in the State House.

He was an activist with a lot of work put into the fight against pipelines in New England, not a politician. But there were enough people looking for a change in who was representing Hillsborough District 38 that Balch wanted to be part of the solution.

“Why not be part of the system you want to change?” Balch said. “I’m still an activist and I’m still going to fight and be out there for what I believe in.”

So Balch filed for the democratic side of the ballot for the 2018 election and set out to show why he would be a good fit for the constituents of Antrim, Bennington, Francestown, Greenfield, Greenville, Hancock, Hillsborough, Lyndeborough, Wilton and Windsor.

“I had no idea if I was going to win,” he said.

In an effort to be transparent, Balch didn’t go out there and make a bunch of promises just to get votes.

“I didn’t feel like I had to,” he said. “If I was the right choice, people would vote for me.”

And it turns out that Balch was the person that people wanted to fill one of two seats in the district and just completed his first year on the job, which pays a whopping total of $100 a year.

“Somebody once told me I make about 26 cents a day,” he said.

His disappointment with his predecessor was centered around a pattern of missed votes, so Balch has made it a point to be at the State House whenever there’s a vote.

“Showing up is kind of ground rule No. 1 for me,” Balch said. “Ground rule No. 2 is admitting when you don’t know something.”

Balch knows he’s not going to make every one of his constituents happy. But he believes if he stays true to what he said during his campaign that’s the best way to earn their trust.

“It’s a really important responsibility,” Balch said.

He knew it was going to be a tremendous amount of work. He has committee meetings twice a week and when the Legislature is in session, it means a third trip to Concord. But it’s what Balch signed up for and he understands the importance of being present for everything – not just for what matters to him.

“Every time I walk through the State House doors, I’m bringing my constituents with me,” he said. “And you can’t know what you’re doing if you don’t show up.”

He co-sponsored a few bills in his first year, one seeking a ban on single-use plastics and another on plastic straw restrictions, both of which did not pass. He also was part of a bill relative to the regional greenhouse gas initiative cap and trade program for controlling carbon dioxide emissions that made it to the desk of the governor, only to be vetoed.

“If things don’t show a significant change or at least start moving in the right direction, we might be in trouble environmentally,” Balch said.

Despite the lack of action, Balch is undeterred. He will continue to work toward change.

“I think making change at a state level is not something that’s going to turn on a dime. It’s going to be a slow and gradual change,” he said.

Balch doesn’t plan to be someone who runs every two years for the rest of his life, but so far he has enjoyed the experience and has intentions of another run in 2020.

When Balch isn’t driving from Wilton to Concord, taking part in committee meetings and legislative sessions, he’s an outdoors man through and through.

His love of nature began at an early age. He has miles of trails behind his Wilton home for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the warmer months.

In his younger years, he spent time as an outdoor leader with the National Outdoor Leadership School, but knew it wasn’t a career path that would be sustainable. So he began teaching, first at a school in Vermont and then at Lawrence Academy. In 1992, he made the move to New Hampshire as part of the original faculty that opened Souhegan High School.

“Teaching was sort of the next step,” he said.

He taught all the sciences, but “focused mostly on the natural sciences so I got to keep that connection.”

“I spent a lot of years in a concrete building for a guy who liked the outdoors,” Balch said.

He founded the Wild Quest Education Project that took students on outdoor trips, like camping along the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail, for credit. It gave them an experience they couldn’t get sitting in a classroom.

When he retired in 2013 after 21 years at the school, Balch made it a point to reconnect with the natural world. He hiked 150 miles along the Long Trail in Vermont that first fall and another 275 the following year. Both were fundraising endeavors for the Hope For Gus Foundation. Balch became friends with Steve and Tonya Dreher through their work together at Souhegan and saw the impact their youngest son’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis had on them. But he was more inspired by their courage.

“I just felt like it needed to be supported,” Balch said.

He has done many trips to bring both attention to the disease and raise funds for Hope For Gus. He climbed Mount Whitney and did the Long Trail again, as part of a team that raised $80,000 that is used to fund research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy through the foundation. He was also part of group that made the arduous trek to Mount Everest base camp that brought in $160,000.

“When we got to base camp I was so altitude sick,” Balch said. “But I had to get there.”

So far, Balch’s work with the foundation has brought in almost $300,000 and he’s not done yet with another trip back to Everest base camp planned for 2021.

Growing up, Balch’s family were big skiers and he even spent some time as an instructor at Killington. It was during his gap year that extended to six years.

“I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Balch said.

He eventually decided to go to school, even though he could eat for $10 a week and had no issues living out of his car. He spent time at UNH and the University of Vermont and finished his degree in wildlife ecology from Pacific Western University.

He grew up in Connecticut and Vermont and first lived in Mason when he moved to New Hampshire. But there was something about the town of Wilton.

“I always liked Wilton, but never had a reason to be in town,” Balch said. “I liked the sense of community. You’ve got blue-collar people, professional people. It’s really a nice mix.”

Then he found a piece of property. The house was a fixer-upper, but perfect for him and his wife Paula, with whom he celebrated 10 years of marriage this year.

In the detached garage of his Wilton home, Balch has a workshop where he both builds and fixes boats. It’s a side business, but really more of a retirement project. He also teaches workshops on boat building at Lawrence Academy and will do the same at the Well School this summer.

He released a book this year, “Rotten Ground,” a horror story inspired by the odd fenced off area along Route 101 in Wilton that seems to enclose nothing but woods.

But where Balch is his happiest is out in the woods or on a trail, taking in nature by himself. Its what he’s always loved and will continue to do – when he’s not trying to make a difference for the people of Hillsborough District 38.


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