2000 Fall Trails Report
The Summer of 2000 marks another banner year for WODC trails. For the second summer, the WODC fielded a full-season crew to continue the restoration of the of Walden Trail, repairing the erosion damage that often results when erodible soils and lack of maintenance meet in the backcountry. Lead by veteran crew leader and adopter Chris Conrod, the crew spent over 2200 hours building 174 steps, water bars, and retainers that will help stabilize the trail for many years to come.
At the heart of this effort were three exceptional crew members: Mao Lin, Beth Chesterman, and Ron Alessi, who were recruited through the Resource Assistance program of the Student Conservation Association. Their efforts were supplemented by fellow SCA volunteers John Lee and Becky Davidson, as well as Kelley Perkins and Evelyn Giguere, who worked with several organizations during the summer.
The entire crew was housed at the USFS Mead Base facility, located at the foot of Mt. Israel in Sandwich. The use of Mead Base represents a collaborative effort by the WODC, SCA, USFS, and many interested individuals, such as those who helped clean, paint, and prepare the Base for the crew's arrival. Mead Base became available when the Boy Scouts decided not to extend their "lease", and its tentative rebirth as the Mead Base Conservation Center can be credited largely to tireless energies of Fred Lavigne and Evelyn MacKinnon. Although the USFS is still working to determine the long-term disposition of Mead Base, we hope it can become a resource for conservation programs in the Sandwich Range.
This year's Walden Crew was again funded by WODC dues and donations, together with a matching grant from the Recreational Trails Program. RTP is a component of the national transportation bill know as ISTEA: The Intermodal Surface Transportation and Equity Act. ISTEA is in turn funded by a portion of the Federal gasoline tax that is designated for alternate and non-motorized transportation. Through two separate grants, the RTP is providing approximately $10,000 per year in support of our work. However, the grant is based largely on the significant match of volunteer time, totaling nearly 3000 hours per year! The exceptional amount of volunteer time is probably the key reason the Club has been successful in obtaining funding for the entire three year restoration, and highlights the importance of maintaining accurate volunteer records, as annoying as this paperwork may be! This combination of support allows the WODC to operate a full-season trail crew at a net cost to the membership of under $6000.
Many elements of the 2000 Walden Crew were similar to 1999. The program started with a week of orientation and training, including a welcome potluck supper, a full-day hike, First Aid workshop, tools safety training, and low-impact camping program. Weeks two through ten were spent on the trail, working from a spike camp carefully located between Walden and Square Ledge Trails. The work began in the bottom of the col south of Nanamocomuck, and progressed northward to a point above the East Loop Junction. At the end of the season the crew had completed 53% of the work slated for 2000/2001, putting us in great shape to reach the summit of Passaconaway on August of 2001.
After ten weeks the crew was a smooth running machine, and a great pleasure to work with. In many ways, the crew espouses the core values of the WODC: volunteerism, a love of the outdoors, and a no-excuses get-it-done mentality. We salute them, as Chris did with his presentation of inscribed mattock handles at the 2000 Annual Meeting. Thank you all!
Carefully arranged around the Walden crew were a number of other trail activities. We celebrated New Hampshire Trails Day by clearing water bars on Blueberry Ledge Trail, followed by a wonderful potluck supper at Dick Daniels' pond. Our annual weekend on Kate Sleeper Trail found little clearing to be done, thanks largely to the increased efforts of USFS summer patrols. This left more time for ongoing erosion control work, such as the six steps and three water bars (all in rock) that were built this year. This ongoing trail-tending effort has been very successful and rewarding, with the trail becoming steadily more stable, unobtrusive, and lower-impact. The final scheduled trip consisted of building steps and water bars on Old Mast Road. These corrected a number of growing erosion problems, while taking preventative steps to arrest other problems at an early stage.
While specific restoration projects are the most obvious WODC trail activities, proper trail planning and management are equally important, and consume just as much time. Interest in these areas has been rekindled by recent USFS initiatives, and by more active staff members at the Saco Ranger District. This summer we welcomed the arrival of Dave Neely as the new Saco Trails Supervisor, and have been encouraged by the renewed emphasis that Dave brings to trails, including the full range of hiking and camping issues we encounter every week. These topics are particularly important in Wilderness areas like the Sandwich Range, and are a challenge to implement without interfering with the natural order or intruding on the human experience. We look forward to this ongoing dialog, and hope the USFS will provide the backcountry and Wilderness programs with the full support they deserve.
Plans for 2001
The primary objective for 2001 will be to complete the slated work on Walden Trail, as authorized and funded at the 2000 Annual Meeting. A request has already been submitted for an SCA crew, and the Trails Committee will continue to refine the details throughout the winter months.
To encourage broader participation in general trail maintenance, a trail clearing day is planned for mid-May. This effort will focus on removing most major blow-downs before the heavy hiking traffic begins on Memorial Day weekend, and avert the damage that occurs as hikers seek new routes around the obstacles.
The traditional New Hampshire Trails Day (in mid-July) will focus on critical drainage maintenance. Although frequently overlooked by hikers and volunteers alike, WODC trails contain over six hundred critical water bars and drainage structures, all requiring some level of annual maintenance. Although we can only clean a fraction of these in a single day, it will at least serve to highlight the importance of this regular maintenance.
In an effort to encourage the efforts of WODC Adopters, the Trails Committee is launching a renewed effort to support the Club's Adopters. In addition to offering expanded support, we will continue to ask each Adopter to confirm their specific interests and plans. (See related article by John Boettiger.) This will allow the Trails committee to provide assistance where needed, while not duplicating the maintenance each adopter has pledged to provide. While many adopters have completed the Adopter Agreement initiated in 1998, many have not, making it difficult for the Trails Committee or USFS to make necessary plans for the care of these trails. One consequence is that adopters may be unaware of the significant co-maintenance of their trails, and therefore may not realize the efforts that are actually required. While respecting the unpredictability of each Adopter's schedule, better communication is clearly required to ensure proper care of the trails.
Although 2002 may seem a long way off, it will be an important fork in the road for WODC trails, and we need to start considering the course the Club will take. Should we undertake other intensive restoration efforts, or should we look for a scaled-down approach? Its important to recall that the Club's trail restoration efforts began with the cooperative trail crew operated by Nat Scrimshaw and the Sandwich Range Conservation Association. SRCA realized that few trail clubs had the means to operate a full-season crew, so they formed a single crew that could undertake a 2-3 week project for each club, while providing a full season of work for the crew members.
In recent years the WODC's trail efforts have become more ambitious, and with the dissolution of SRCA, other sources of trail work had to be found. Although our week-end efforts had become substantial, they we're sufficient to cover remote, high volume projects such as the Walden restoration. The result was a part-time ice storm crew in 1998, followed by our first full-time crew in 1999.
Should we continue to operate a full-time crew? Although possible, a significant year-round effort is required to plan, fund, and run a crew. Perhaps we should consider a part time crew. Although this seems attractive, a shorter program still requires much of the same planning, and good candidates tend to want a full summer program.
Or perhaps we should re-consider the original model of a cooperative crew. It has the advantage of supporting a number of trail clubs, without requiring each of them to perform all the required planning and organization. There would certainly be plenty of work for a co-op crew. The WODC, for one, could use a crew for two weeks just to clean its 600+ water bars. And while no single trail needs the extensive work required on Walden Trail, there are still serious problems to be addressed on Lawrence, Wiggin, and Old Mast Road.
Its your Club. What do you think?
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