Trail Tales

July 19, 2011

 Trail Tales

In younger days, I was a card-carrying “peak bagger,” racking-up trail miles and collecting summits as fast as possible. I pounded the trails while watching only my boots, I didn’t see much else of the forests through which I hiked.

I’ve slowed down since. Now I hear bird songs and admire flowers. I linger at waterfalls and summits. I try to puzzle out the site-specific history of the surrounding forest. I see more by going slowly. My kids say that’s just the old man’s elaborate rationalization.

Lately, I’m looking down at my feet again; looking at the trail itself: steps, diversion ditches, water bars constructed of timber or stone and rock steps. Trail work is making me more a connoisseur of “the treadway” as any trail surface is called.

Muddy ruts with bootleg bypass trails or soil erosion that has exposed tree roots due to heavy hiker traffic make me want to drop my pack and get to work. Water flowing on trails is enemy number one with heavy hiker traffic a close second.

The idea of spending an entire day along twenty yards of trail while using tools to move and place rocks and logs to rebuild a section of treadway seems a natural progression after years of hiking. Reaching a familiar summit is now almost irrelevant. You can guess what the peak baggers think as they race past (synonyms at “elaborate rationalization”) but passing hikers are universally grateful for the hard work to stabilize and improve trails. Dedicated and experienced trail work volunteers tend toward an older demographic. I like to think many young hikers will eventually “graduate” into working on trails.

In July, volunteers and Forest Society staff and interns gather at Monadnock State Park to fix sections of eroded and degraded trail to provide tens of thousands of hikers with firm footing when they attempt to climb 3,165 high Mount Monadnock, alleged to be the most-climbed mountain in the western hemisphere!

“Monadnock Trail Week” was initiated in 2005 by the Forest Society and NH State Parks to restore the most heavily-used trails on the mountain where the Forest Society owns 4,119 acres. “This year’s event was a great success,” said Forest Society Land Steward Program Specialist, Carrie Deegan who coordinated the event. “Thirty-six volunteers put in nearly 500 hours of work on the mountain over five consecutive days.” 

The most intense volunteer efforts involved constructing new drainages and water bars half way up the 2.4 mile Dublin Trail on the north side. Drainages were created from large rocks and spruce logs found on site. Logs were cut, peeled, and moved into place, involving significant teamwork and coordination. On the south side of the peak in Jaffrey, trail work was accomplished along the White Arrow Trail located above the historic “Old Toll Road” and site of the former “Halfway House.” Work on the White Arrow Trail involved moving and setting large rocks as stepping stones and constructing drainage channels to move water off the trail.

Deegan’s tally of the work accomplished for the week includes 78 cleaned and repaired drainages, 14 new check steps, 11 new water bars, 17 new rock steps, four hazard tree removals, two miles of new trail markings, and one view clearing. “This work is a significant help to MonadnockState Park staff, who strive to maintain the nearly 40 miles of trails on the mountain, many of which see extremely heavy use each season.” Forest Society, field forester, Wendy Weisiger adds: “Trail Week allows us to make needed improvements to recreational trails on Monadnock. Volunteers are critical to helping us complete trail projects here as well as on many of our 171 forest reservations totaling 50,000 acres statewide.”

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests conserved its first tract of 406 acres on MountMonadnock in 1915, beginning a long-term effort to protect the integrity of the mountain and its surroundings. Since then, the Forest Society has acquired 5,239 acres on both MountMonadnock and adjacent GapMountain in the towns of Dublin, Marlborough, Troy, and Jaffrey. The Forest Society leases its Monadnock Reservation to the State of New Hampshire to be operated under the aegis of MonadnockState Park.            

This summer, the Forest Society will initiate a new land conservation campaign in Jaffrey to conserve an additional 400 acres in 3 distinct tracts which, if successful, will ensure continued access to the Marlboro Trail, one of the mountains’ most popular trails.