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Volunteers pitch in for annual trail maintenance projects on Mount Monadnock

  • Volunteers pitch in for the annual Monadnock Trails Week mountain maintenance project. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Volunteers pitch in for the annual Monadnock Trails Week mountain maintenance project. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Volunteers pitch in for the annual Monadnock Trails Week mountain maintenance project. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Volunteers pitch in for the annual Monadnock Trails Week mountain maintenance project. Staff photo by Ben ConanT

  • Volunteers pitch in for the annual Monadnock Trails Week mountain maintenance project. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mount Monadnock’s trails are alive with activity this week. Sure, some of those bootprints are from the hundreds of thousands of people who ascend the world’s second-most-climbed mountain each year. But down below, around the White Dot trailhead, halfway up Pumpelly, and on a handful of other trails, are scurrying worker bees who’ll not make the summit — not this week, anyway.

Carrie Deegan, the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests’ Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager, won’t climb to the top, nor has she during any of the Forest Society’s past 12 Trails Week events. There’s nothing to do at the summit but build cairns, she said; down below is where the real work takes place.

“There’s a lot of maintenance that needs to be done,” Deegan said, in between organizing volunteers in the State Park parking lot. “It feels like we’re kind of putting out a fire with a teacup full of water. It’s tough.”

With 100,000 hikers climbing the five main paths to the summit each year, there’s a lot of wear and tear, Deegan said. The Forest Society owns about 4,000 of the 6,000 acres at Monadnock State Park, and leases them to the state.

“That 4,000 acres has a lot of trails on it, so we try to do what we can to work with the state park to help improve the trails,” Deegan said.

For the Forest Society, that means volunteers, and plenty of them. Deegan estimated between 25-40 people come out for each day of Trails Week, working about 1,000 hours between them.

“I just really like doing trail work,” said Bob Humphrey of Warner, who came down to volunteer for the third year. “Once you get into trail work, you never look at a trail the same way again.”

Humphrey said that since he started doing trail maintenance, tending 20 miles of trails on and around Mount Cardigan, he can’t even go about an everyday hike without clearing debris from the trail or kicking sticks off the edges to allow water to flow freely.

“The big thing is keeping the trail out of the water and the water off the trail,” Humphrey said.

That particular issue was at hand for the volunteers this week, as a large portion of the Royce Trail was washed out due to early spring rains.

“A stream got clogged,” Deegan said, “and it changed course and kind of ran down the trail and completely ate it out … You’ve got to pick your way around it. It’s not pleasant. We’re going to create a fix for that.”

Problems like the washed-out Royce Trail are just additions to the over 800 infrastructure repair points the Society identified in a study two years ago. On a mountain as well-traveled as Monadnock, hikers need all the help they can get.

“There will always be rescues no matter how nice the trails are,” Deegan said, “I think we certainly don’t want those rescues to be about trail problems and we don’t want them to be caused by deficiencies in the trail, or maintenance that needed to be done.”

Beyond standard trail maintenance, the volunteers are undertaking some more ambitious projects. One group has been installing a set of stone stairs on the Pumpelly Trail for the past five years, moving a little further ahead each season. The volunteers at the White Dot trailhead were working to restore the Nature Trail, a quarter-mile loop right past the visitor’s center. That trail, opened in the ’80s and then left dormant, is envisioned as a pleasant alternative to a full summit hike.

“Often folks get left behind with the small kids, and there’s nothing for grandma to do with the small kids, and they ask ‘What can we do for half an hour while we’re waiting?’ said Society volunteer coordinator Lee Wilette.

Once complete, the trail will have a scavenger hunt, interpretive learning areas, and plantings to replicate the 76 species of plants Henry David Thoreau identified in his time here.

“Not everybody can climb Monadnock, but everyone should be able to enjoy it,” Wilette said.