Volunteers Donate Time to Trails at Monadnock

July 18, 2009

The fourth annual “Trails Week” was held this past week at Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey. The event is a public-private partnership between the Forest Society and NH State Parks with grant support from the State Recreational Trails Program .

Volunteers assembled before nine each morning at Monadnock State Park to receive tools and instructions for each of five days of ongoing service projects designed to improve the recreational experience of visitors by restoring damaged or degraded hiking trails or cross country ski trails.

With smiles, strong backs and fueled by coffee and doughnuts, volunteers and Forest Society staff dispersed into the woods on day four of the five-day event. Volunteers traveled from several surrounding communities in Southwest New Hampshire and even a few towns in northern Massachusetts to donate time to the trails. When asked why, most volunteers cite fond hiking experiences and feeling a need to “give back” to the trails they’ve enjoyed for years.

Traditionally, the annual Monadnock Trail Week focuses on the upper slopes surrounding the iconic open summit. The work typically involves marking or “blazing” trails, rebuilding stone stairs which form the treadway and moving earth, logs and stones to create “waterbars” and ditches that divert running water off the steep portions of trail. 

This year, work focused on the lower slopes on the east side of Monadnock. The tasks involved removing and replacing rotted wooden bridges over small brooks along the extensive network of cross country ski trails on the mountain.

A more daunting challenge this year was clearing the debris remaining from the December 2008 ice storm. The December ice storm left a temporary visual legacy on the forests of southwest New Hampshire. The ice damage to the overstory is most-evident today in the fallen limbs and branches. Now patches of bright sunlight reach the forest floor in areas formerly shaded by a closed canopy overhead. Beech, birch and red maple trees seem to have faired worse than oaks. Pine, hemlock and spruce with shallow roots were uprooted when they tipped from the weight of ice. The forests in New Hampshire are resilient. New sunlight reaching the ground reinvigorates growth of seedling, saplings and understory ferns and forbs creating new food and habitat for the small mammals including mice, squirrels and hares. In turn, larger predators such as hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes and bobcats will follow. From that perspective, the ice storm is not a “disaster” from the perspective of the forest ecosystem that is well-adapted to withstand periodic disturbances on a landscape scale.

Ecological silver linings are a slim comfort to those who frequent regional hiking and skiing trails obscured by fallen limbs. The volunteers worked for three days along several ski trails, the Hinkley hiking trail and the Birchtoft hiking trail from the campground at Gilson Pond. A professional chainsaw crew had previously reduced the wreckage of branches and limbs to manageable sizes for volunteers and Forest Society staff to drag off trails and toss into the surrounding woods.

On the eve of the final work day on Wednesday, a barbecue was hosted by the Forest Society at the State Park Headquarters to thank volunteers. Without the hard-working and dedicated volunteers, the public-private partnership to maintain and improve hiking trails on the 1000-acre Mount Monadnock State Park and surrounding 4000-acre Monadnock Reservation owned by the Forest Society would not be possible. Thanks, crews!

Naturalist Dave Anderson is director of education for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at danderson@forestsociety.org or through the Forest Society's Web site: forestsociety.org.

See more photos of volunteers at work at http://monadnocktrailweek2009.shutterfly.com/27.