Forest Notes: Tending to Mount Major’s Trails

First phase of trail work completed at Lakes Region property

Wendy Weisiger | December 2, 2020
A mask-clad hiker pauses at the trailhead at Mount Major.

A visitor paused at the beginning of the Main Trail at Mt. Major earlier this summer just before the project started.

In 2013, the Forest Society launched the “Everybody Hikes Mount Major” campaign to protect the trails and land surrounding Mount Major Reservation in Alton. The campaign raised $1.8 million that supported the acquisition and stewardship of 950 acres and since then, the Forest Society has purchased an additional 265 acres on the mountain. But our work on Mount Major is only beginning.

The trails on the mountain are being “loved to death” by the 100,000-plus hikers who visit this special place each year. As visitation increases, so do the erosion and degradation of the trails. To remedy these issues, the Forest Society began a long-term stewardship project this fall that includes the rehabilitation of the reservation’s trails to make them safer and more welcoming to hikers.

In 2019, the Forest Society contracted professional trail builder Erin Amadon, owner of Town 4 Trail Services, LLC, to provide a trail assessment and rehabilitation plan for the Main and Brook trails.

A section of the the Main Trail at Mt. Major is visibly rocky and wet due to erosion.
BEFORE: The beginning of the Main Trail at Mt. Major was rocky and wet due to erosion issues.
In September 2020, the first phase of the project began with Forest Society staff and volunteers developing a temporary re-route around the bottom 500 feet of the Main Trail and coordinating with NHDOT to close Mount Major’s parking lot during the project. Construction began after Labor Day, when most families were back in school, and finished before Columbus Day weekend, the mountain’s busiest weekend of the year. The three-phase project is estimated to take several years to complete and cost about $1 million.

The bottom section of the Main Trail as you begin your hike from the parking lot was eroded, wet, and slippery. Over the years, and in the absence of any trail maintenance, water runoff and millions of boots trampling the soil contributed to the erosion of the treadway. Water seeps into the middle of the trail even during droughts like this summer. During each rain storm, sediments were pulled off the trail and into an adjacent stream, which eventually drains into Alton Bay. In winter, the trail was icy or muddy, making it hazardous to walk on and causing many hikers to slip and fall. In an effort to avoid these hazards, hikers braided new trails adjacent to the Main Trail, causing more erosion and greater impact.

To remedy these many issues, the first phase of trail improvement involved building up the trail bed with stone and gravel and developing a drain alongside the trail for water to move into. Although hikers won’t see the excavation work done to pitch the groundwater off to the drain under the stone, they will certainly appreciate having drier feet the next time they walk on this section. Next, crushed stone was laid over the washed-out trail bed and covered with geotextile fabric. Then crushed gravel was laid over the fabric and compacted into the new tread surface. The fabric helps to keep the layers of gravel materials from combining, which in turn keeps the hardened trail bed high and dry.

Erin Amadon, of Town 4 Trail Services LLC, poses next to the upgraded trail.
AFTER: From severely eroded to graded and equipped with trailside drainages, the bottom part of Mount Major’s Main Trail was reconstructed in October by professional trail builder Erin Amadon (pictured) of Town 4 Trail Services, LLC.
Upslope from the project site, Amadon made humps in the trail, called grade reversals, which divert water off the trail and keep it from gathering speed and flowing over the treadway. The trail is pitched to one side so water flows off into the woods.

In total, Amadon added 428 tons of material to the trail, which is equivalent to 15 dump trucks. A sign posted at the Mount Major trailhead in Alton points hikers to the start of a new section of trail that was temporarily built to bypass the first phase of construction on the Main Trail.

In addition to the start of this major trail work project this fall, the Forest Society installed a new trailhead kiosk to help inform hikers about trail conditions and a donation box so hikers can directly support the Forest Society’s efforts to improve the trails. We also launched a new digital donation program, which gives hikers the opportunity to simply scan the QR code on the trailhead sign with their phones and make a donation online. All of the proceeds will go to maintaining Mount Major’s trails, parking lots, and amenities, including toilets.

The Forest Society recognizes the responsibility it has to maintain Mount Major’s trail system, to improve the hiker experience, to prevent erosion, and to protect water quality. This is a long-term and perpetual responsibility and we are excited to continue working with our partners and volunteers on the phases to come to showcase sustainable trail building at its finest.


Wendy Weisiger is the managing forester for the Forest Society. This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of Forest Notes.


  • Call to Action: Support the Forest Society’s ongoing work at Mount Major by donating today.