by Amy Patenaude
Chatham Trails Assoc. & Wonalancet Out Door Club
There are thousands of miles of trails described in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain and Southern New Hampshire Guides. There are thousands more all over New England. There are trails to the mountaintops, waterfalls, big rocks and through forests everywhere.
Wicked weather happens. Storms can knock down branches and rip trees up by their roots and can make a trail difficult to follow or even impassable. Rushing water will erode a path and cause deep ruts and washouts. Rascal porcupines can chew up an important trail sign or a vandal might remove one or point it in the wrong direction. Blazes wear and fade.
Do you have any idea who maintains these thousands of miles of trails? Volunteers do much of the work; people just like you.
There are many hiking clubs and associations all over New Hampshire, along with the National Forest Service that care for “their” trails and organize volunteers to do the work. They are more than happy to teach you how to help and provide the tools. No experience is required, a good attitude and a pair of work gloves are what you need to get started.
Appendix A of the AMC White Mountain Guide has helpful information and contacts for many of the organizations. Contact the group that maintains your favorite trail or one that is near you about volunteering. They have websites and Facebook pages and there is a new NH Trail Workers Facebook page too.
My first time volunteering I tagged along with friends joining the volunteer workday hosted by the BRATTS—Belknap Range Trail Tenders. We worked improving the Red Trail; moving rocks, constructing water bars and hardening the path. I watched the experienced trail builders move big rocks into place and grade the path. I did what I was asked. I collected rocks and filled and carried sacks of gravel. I learned a lot and I gained a greater appreciation of what it takes to make a good trail.
My friends are trail adopters too. They care for their trail by cleaning water bars, removing brush and small blow-down trees, checking trail signs, paint blazes and even remove litter.
Hikers are really fortunate that trails have adopters to care for them. Otherwise who would do it?
The Appalachian Mountain Club, the Randolph Mountain Club, the Wonalancet Out Door Club and others utilize professional trail crews that do the heavy lifting of removing large trees and re-routing trails. Only volunteers that have had special training and certification are permitted to use axes and chainsaws. They do a lot but it isn’t possible for the professional crews to do it all.
The last two weekends I volunteered with the Chatham Trails Association (CTA) and the Wonalancet Out Door Club (WODC). I’m busy, I play hard but I try to volunteer a few days a year because I care about our trails and because it is fun.
Saturday I left my house at 5 am and drove to the AMC Cold River Camp in Chatham, that’s near NH/Maine border at the bottom of Evans Notch. I volunteered for the Chatham Trails Association work weekend. At 8 am we met at the shed and assignments and tools were distributed. We were instructed to hike to the top of our trail and work our way down.
For the next eight hours, along with my new friends Andrew, Dave, Francine and Jay, we worked our way down the Slippery Brook Trail cleaning water bars, removing debris and lopping off brush. Sometimes the black flies were fierce and I wore a head net to keep the dang things out of my eyes and ears.
Cleaning a water bar requires removing the leaves and debris with a rake and a hoe. The purpose of a water bar is to send the water off the trail before the water can cause erosion. If it is full of leaves and silt it can’t do its job and the water will run down the trail and washout the trail.
When we got back to the camp I was tired and dirty. I went straight to the showers. On the wall of the bathroom hanging in a frame was a copy of instructions for “Three Steps to Beautiful Water Bars.”
After I was all cleaned up, with a little help I found and moved into Fernbank, my own little cabin complete with a working fireplace and kerosene lantern which I used later in the evening. There are many of these cute little cabins and volunteers filled them all for the weekend.
Before dinner we enjoyed a social hour and sharing tales about our adventures. Dinner was yummy and prepared by my friend Zachary the Cold River Camp Cook. Oh I especially loved the brownie with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream we had for dessert!
It was really easy to fall asleep. And Sunday we did it all over again; Andrew and I worked Eagle Cascade Trail. The next work weekend will be in September. I hope to make it.
On National Trails Day, the Wonalancet Out Door Club hosted a trail work day on the Cabin Trail. My friend Ellen and I decided to make the trip to give a hand. Ellen’s mother is the person that mails out the orders for the WODC shirts.
We met at the Ferncroft parking lot. The original plan was to clean up the Dicey Mills Trail but the trail had been cleared earlier in the week. A dozen volunteers showed up and we jumped in our cars and drove down the road to the Cabin Trailhead.
Tools were passed out–rakes, hoes and loppers. There are a lot of water bars and ditches on the Cabin Trail. Thankfully the beech leaves were dry and raked out easily. Many hands made light work. After we cleaned one out we headed up the trail to find another leap-frogging our way up to the next that needed cleaning.
While I was raking I found an old chain used by a logging crew long ago. It was rusty and stiff. It’s still hiding someplace along the trail.
Shortly after noon we reached the Wilderness boundary and that was it for the water bars. Half of our group finished here for the day. Ellen left too since she needed to rest up to run a half marathon the next day and her mother was waiting for her too. The rest of us continued up the trail removing a few blow downs and brushing the trail in the places where it was needed.
Trail work is satisfying and getting together to work and meet new people that also enjoy hiking and caring for the trails is fun. We took a good break at the Whitin Brook Trail intersection. Many stories were exchanged and the folks that have been working these trails for decades passed on the history of the area.
Steve, Angel and myself decided we’d work our way to the end of the Cabin Trail where it intersects with the Lawrence Trail. It was just another 4/10th of a mile further up. We were told that there was some much needed brushing to do there.
I learned that Steve had recently become the trail adopter for the Rollins Trail. He and Angel live about an hour and half away in Maine. I asked him why he adopted a trail here and he told me he loves the area and enjoys the maintaining trails.
Near the top of the Cabin Trail we enjoyed the views of Mount Paugus’ bare ledges. Cutting back the branches of the spruce trees took a little more time than we thought it might but we got the job done. It would have been fun to continue hiking but it was getting late into the afternoon and I was feeling tuckered out.
Yes it was fun to admire all our work as we descended the Cabin Trail. The efforts of a dozen volunteers made the Cabin Trail clear and will help preserve if for another season.
New Hampshire Trails Day is July 21st and there are numerous opportunities to volunteer on this day! Sign-up and