WMTC FALL 2020 IMPACT REPORT

Photo Credit: Joe Klementovich

THE WMTC THANKS YOU!

All of us at the WMTC are excited to share our first impact report with you as donors and supporters of the Collective’s trail maintenance efforts throughout the White Mountains.  We are proud of the work that we accomplished in light of a difficult spring and summer, as like many organizations, the WMTC grappled with how to continue to fulfill our mission and operate in 2020 given pandemic constraints.  

The later end of winter into spring was spent developing contingency plans, running through various project scenarios, and developing COVID-19 safety protocols for our trail maintainers. With proper planning, we felt confident that we could move forward with implementing the projects we had scheduled for the summer season, despite having to eliminate plans for volunteer engagement.

 

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Photo Credit: Cait Bourgault

We also participated in NH Gives for the first time this past June and were overwhelmed by the generosity of donors, particularly in light of so much economic uncertainty. NH Gives had its most successful fundraising year since its inception 5 years ago, with donors giving $3.2M in 24 hours - more than double the total of donations over the past 4 years of giving combined. We are so genuinely thankful to the many individuals who financially supported us during that 24 hours of fundraising. Your dollars helped us fully fund our 2020 project budgets - YOU moved the needle forward on covering expenses such as hand tools, summer crew housing and professional crew salaries to perform the work.  THANK YOU for contributing to sustaining the trails!

From the Glen Ellis Historical Project to the Cathedral Ledge Project, WMTC worked with many partners to achieve their project goals and to contribute to a successful season of trail maintenance, trail sustainability and safety for all the professional crews. You’ll see our partners listed elsewhere in this report, but we can’t overemphasize how Preserving the Legacy will only be achieved through collaborative efforts like those we undertake with various trail clubs, government agencies and funders, professional trail crews and YOU.  

With concerns about the pandemic and nation-wide social unrest overshadowing much of 2020, many more people have turned to the outdoors to find ways to connect and seek respite from everyday anxieties.  The human impact to our trail system is noticeable and of serious concern, and all of us at the WMTC are committed to doing everything we can to continue building capacity for more project work so that trail infrastructure is addressed. We’ll keep on repairing and restoring trails that you love, and we’re so glad you’re willing to join us in this work in whatever ways you can - through donations, volunteering your time and talents, sharing the word about our work with other trail lovers, and helping to educate newer outdoor enthusiasts on good stewardship.  It all matters, and it is all deeply appreciated.

 

Photo Credit: Joe Klementovich

Meet Ally Scholtz - Assistant Project Manager

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Before joining the WMTC, Ally spent 2 ½ seasons as a member of the AMC professional trail crew and also worked for the USFS fall trail crew out of the Androscoggin district. Ally knew even back then that she wanted to work with the Trail Collective, and when she was hired by the WMTC in March 2020, she was over-the-moon about it and says she still is to this day!  In the winter she spends her days as a proud snowmaker for the local ski areas.  Here’s a little bit more about Ally:

Why I’m involved with the WMTC:

I have always had a great love for hiking trails and for the great outdoors, especially in the White Mountains. There is so much history in these trails, and so many fabulous partner trail crews, each with unique knowledge and specialties.  It is so exciting to be a part of continuing the legacy of hard work on the trails!  

Interests/activities:

In my free time I really enjoy rockhounding and treasure hunting. I have a special talent for finding crystals.  

Photo Credit: Joe Klementovich

Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in:

I love to ski all day long! 

Favorite trail in the Whites and why:

My favorite trail is the Franconia Ridge trail, which is where my first volunteer trail work week took place, and that is where I knew for sure that I wanted to become a trail worker. It’s beautiful up there - you can see the Cannon cliffs and the Pemi Wilderness, and there is so much alpine zone to hike across to get to the other side. It feels otherworldly up there.  

Favorite piece of outdoor gear:

I have a mini flashlight that attaches to a zipper pull, it was super cheap and comes in handy all the time! 

Favorite color:  Blaze Orange 

Something most people don’t know about me:

Every day that I possibly can, I watch the sunset outside. I like to be quiet from the time the sun hits the horizon until it has fully set. It's a great time for me to check in with myself and set goals for the next day. 

Best meal you’ve ever had while camping or out on the trails:

The best meal I ever had was on the last day of a 10-day trip, and my cook partner and I had only a few odds and ends for food. We ended up making “chicken salad” out of some canned chicken and mayo packets.  We made it fancy by adding walnuts and craisins from our trail mix. We heated it all up, added the last two pieces of cheese and put it on toast. Delicious.   

Three words that describe how you feel when you’re out on the trails:

It’s hard for me to describe how I feel in three words! I feel so inspired from all the beauty that surrounds me, I feel inspired to do better for our planet, for the people, and for myself. I can always find mental clarity on a long hike and I hope others can too! 

Tell us a bit about Glen Ellis Falls and your first summer season with the WMTC:

For ten weeks this summer I had the privilege of working alongside both the Northwoods Stewardship Center professional trail crew and the Androscoggin District Forest Service trail crew on the Glen Ellis Falls Trail restoration project. The original stone work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 and had since eroded in sections, was grown over by vegetation, and faced drainage issues throughout the trail. Another major section that needed work was the stone hairpin turn near the bottom of the trail. It was cracking in multiple sections and not draining properly - this section is where we spent the first weeks of our season.  We started with two weeks of historical rock work preservation training through Historicorps. We learned about historical preservation techniques and about how to mix and use mortar.  

As the project unfolded we found a few thrilling surprises, including a section of buried retaining wall, and an open box culvert that had been long forgotten about and was filled with sediment. It was very exciting to find and repair both features; it started to feel like a treasure hunt for historical rock work to try and find and repair. Another highlight was finding a few beautiful quartz crystals growing out of the native rocks in our quarry. We were able to include some fascinating stones into the project for everyone to see, hopefully for a long time. We built a 200-foot section of accessible trail that overlooks the Ellis river and has a spectacular view of the Wildcat mountains. This portion of the trail will be great for folks in wheelchairs or people who prefer easy walking terrain. Overall this project was a big success, as we accomplished even more than we originally set out to repair.  We were able to restore the beautiful Glen Ellis Falls trail to its original glory and then some!  My hope is that with these new renovations, more folks will be able to visit and experience the great beauty of this trail and its surroundings. 

 

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Photo Credits: Joe Klementovich

A Lifetime of Work: The Lasting Impression of Trail Stewardship

Written by Aaron Gerry

Ally Scholtz knew then and there.

As lightning split the sky above Franconia Notch and the first raindrops popped like firecrackers atop the scree, the crew ran below treeline to wait out the storm. Scholtz, dripping, cold, and grimy smiled broadly. There’s adventure in the work, she thought. It was her first week on the job. She was 16, and she was going to be a trail worker. 

With her Limmer boots, Scholtz is barely taller than your average pinch point rock bar, but she had no doubt she could hold her own in the alpine zone that first summer. She hauled rocks and built retaining walls during 8 hour days. They re-worked braided trails into a single path that would minimize erosion for years. The work outdoors, the tangible impact, it was all she wanted to do.

"I just loved it,” she begins. “I felt it was a unifying experience to be able to share that with all these people hiking, and to continue this sustainability of the trails. It made me feel like I was a part of a bigger community.”

Scholtz’s vision paid off: She is one of a few dozen professional trail workers in New England with a full-time job. For her, it’s a career, which is atypical in the industry, especially during these atypical times.

Protecting The Trails

In the age of COVID-19, America needs more trail workers than normal. 

Back in March at the onset of stay-at-home orders in New England, parking at popular trailheads overflowed and parks were seeing peak summer use in early spring. While the outdoors are a pandemic panacea for homebound Americans, an increase in trail use leads to abuse. 

Human impact is the primary cause of trail damage in the Northeast. There is an estimated 10-20 year backlog of maintenance projects across the over 1,200 trail miles within the White Mountain National Forest, according to Yohann Hanley, who like Scholtz is in his first year as a full-time project manager with the White Mountain Trail Collective (WMTC). Over time, small problems can lead to big ones, like an uncleared drainage ditch leading to irreparable erosion. Issues don’t go away, they get worse. 

"Every org that you talk to [in the White Mountains] can show you a list that they know needs to be done. But having the funding, the time, the staffing, it’s hard to line it all up,” he says. New Hampshire has more than $43 million in deferred projects according to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). A lack of funding is the main limitation to tackling the ledger.

In a normal year, most routine upkeep is performed by volunteer groups. They usually tackle basic maintenance needs like clearing brush and cleaning ditches across hundreds of miles of trail. The efforts are time intensive and necessary, but leaves little capacity for bigger projects such as rebuilding stone steps and retaining walls or repairing bridges. This year, many clean up days were cancelled along with long-term renovation efforts.

The WMTC is uniquely positioned to address the list of overdue work by offering new funding channels and by coordinating across agencies and districts. Now in their third year, the WMTC partnered on three major projects for 2020, from historic preservation at Glen Ellis Falls to rejuvenating access trails at Cathedral Ledge to developing multi-use paths around Cranmore Mountain.

For folks like Ally and Yohan, who are able to do trail work full-time for the first time in their career, this is just the beginning thanks to the WMTC.

Glen Ellis Falls: A Project with History

73,540 pounds of crushed rock crashed out of the raised bed of the 18 wheeler. The staymat pooled and pyramided with liquid grace, like the deposit of soft serve into a cone on a sunny afternoon. The truck rumbled off into the hazy morning, streaks of light filtered over the top of Wildcat Ridge. Heads of the work crews returned inwards to the circle. It was their first day on the job. 

“I’m excited to get started, it feels like we’ve been planning this forever,” begins Scholtz, clad in a boxy and bright orange shirt. The crews would be restoring faltering stonework and building an accessibility trail at Glen Ellis Falls for the next three months.

In the 1930s, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members carefully laid down a foundation of steps and retaining walls that opened access to the cascading 65-foot waterfall. To this day their work has been both a focal piece and access point to one of the most popular attractions in the Whites, the falls regularly attract 500 tourists a week during the summer.

The original CCC members on site numbered around 200 and were housed at Camp Peabody—now known as Camp Dodge—up Route 16 in Pinkham Notch. They remain the most industrious trail builders in the U.S., blazing 13,000 miles of new hiking trails (including the completion of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail), planting over two billion trees, and establishing over 800 new state parks. They “started a change in the landscape of a Nation,” declared James McEntee, the Corps’ second director, in 1942. They were paid $30 a month, good money during a time when unemployment reached nearly 25% across the country. 

Since then, seasonal ice and thaws, summer rains, sediment sifting, and decaying mortar have produced cracks in the handicraft: Leaks in the retaining wall caused water to pool at the hairpin turn and rocks spilled out of the foundation. On the whole, the work has remained in good order for over 90 years, a testament to the quality of labor.

“We’ll spend the first few days taking things apart trying to diagnose why it fell apart,” says John Burnell, a masonry restoration specialist with HistoriCorps, a historical preservation non-profit, brought in to share his expertise with the team.

The contemporary conservation crew is comprised of the NorthWoods Stewardship Center based out of Vermont, the Androscoggin District of the U.S. Forest Service, HistoriCorps, and is overseen by Scholtz, the project manager with the WMTC. Like their predecessors, the aim is to create resilient craftsmanship for future generations to enjoy, in the face of a modern economic depression.

As of June 2020, unemployment numbers were the highest since The Great Depression. Trail and stewardship projects have been cancelled across the country due to COVID-19 which makes long-term efforts like the work at Glen Ellis Falls a rarity this season. Around the circle, the smiles on the crew’s faces could make you forget about the difficulties further afield.

Cathedral Ledge: The Importance of Access

The 600 pound stone levitates like a magic trick. 

Downslope and out of sight, Ellie Pelletier, Supervisor of the Roving Conservation Crew for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), cranks the griphoist responsible for the conjuring. The heavy duty winch clicks away like a torque wrench, emitting gear-turning clangor that bounces off the 500 foot bluff to the right. Each pull raises the quarter-inch steel cable into the canopy like a zip-line. The crew guides the cubic stone 15 feet along the cable and places it onto the path as a step. It is one of many to come for the renovated access trail at Cathedral Ledge.

New Hampshire is the mecca for rock climbing in New England and Cathedral is a big reason for the designation. Viewed from downtown North Conway two miles away, the promontory juts out like a breaching whale. There are hundreds of routes, including classic test pieces such as Thin Air, a 300 foot traditional line—a climb which requires placing gear—and America's first 5.13 free route, Liquid Sky, which pushed the limits of the sport when it was established in 1986. 

While the climbing is excellent, the degraded access trail to the cliff was not. The footpath is angled like a thigh-busting stair-stepper making it prone to erosion. Wooden logs that buffet the trail were deteriorating, compromising the extensive rock work they support, while loose stones offered poor footing. 

Mike Morin, the afable Northeast Regional Director at the Access Fund (AF), began laying the foundation for the project three years ago. AF is a national non-profit and the primary advocacy and stewardship organization for millions of climbers across the country. Despite the rising popularity of the sport, organizations like AF still have difficulty raising money for larger renovation work. 

“[When we] started looking around for funding, it became the crux of us being able to accomplish our goal,” Morin says. 

Climbing areas are seeing an uptick in degradation forcing the AF to pursue larger stewardship projects. Traditionally, the non-profit has worked with volunteer crews from local climbing organizations. Projects that are broader in scope and technically challenging require more money and hands over a longer period of time, something volunteers just can’t supply. 

"Part of our goal [at the WMTC] is to add capacity and funding to partner groups,” shares Hanley, who’s been climbing since he was a teen and has mitts the size of number 5 cams. Now more than ever the focus is growing from preserving the rock itself to the land leading to them.

Cranmore Connector: A Foundation for the Future

"It would have taken us 20 years to do this, and we’re doing it in 2-3 thanks to the WMTC,” says Michael LeBlanc, Vice President at Ride NoCo, a non-profit trail development and stewardship group.

North Conway might have the best mountain biking in New England. It’s been described as the Squamish of the East, with over 60 miles of trail and free access to vertical drop you won’t find anywhere else in the region. Cranmore Mountain, just up the road from main street, is the hub that brings people to the valley. For a small town with an unseemly quantity of outdoor activities, the area gets crowded and parking has become an issue, especially the access points to Cranmore and Hurricane Mountains.

Ride NoCo, along with crews from Tyrol Trails and Tulip Trails, spent the summer repairing and re-working high-usage connector pathways. The old Cranmore Connector was a dual-purpose, single track for foot and bike that was only two shoulder widths at parts. It was popular as the main access to the extensive trail network in the Hurricane Mountain Zone, while the gentle grade made it attractive to hikers. Now there are parallel routes to separate user groups. 

At Hurricane Mountain, the team built a new two-way artery designed to handle traffic. Almost all of the trails filter down to the connector which terminates at the base of Cranmore Mountain Resort, making it the foundation for the whole system.

“These give us a framework for future projects,” says LeBlanc. “Building a new downhill trail is less challenging to crowdsource, but putting in the climbs and the infrastructure pieces is difficult. But you can’t have one without the other."

The Outdoors: An Economic Engine

In the 1930s, young men of the CCC and young women of the She-She-She were provided gainful employment during a time of crisis. They learned skills that would lead to careers and expanded opportunities. They changed the landscape of a nation.

Outdoor workers today power the economic engine that drives New Hampshire: The Whites. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, nature-based recreation generates $8.7 billion in consumer spending and supports 79,000 jobs annually in the state. Still, the chronically underfunded park services simply don’t have enough money to hire the trail workers needed to properly maintain outdoor spaces for recreation. 

“We have all these people that join crews and have this meaningful experience and fall in love with it, but there’s so few leader and coordinator opportunities [for advancement],” says Matt Coughlan, Owner of Recon Trail Designs, one of a few independent trail planning and construction firms in New England.

Coughlan has worked on trails for over 15 years. He has seen the limits of the current funding system and the benefit of the WMTC. From 2017 to 2019, the WMTC worked on the Crawford Path with Coughlan as the project manager for the 2019 season. “We were able to do about 50% of the deferred maintenance and fix some of the worst sections, he recalls. “I can’t think of another example like that.” 

The Great American Outdoors Act was passed on August 9, 2020 to help address the lack of funding. This bi-partisan bill will provide sorely needed money to both federal and state agencies, and permanently capitalize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which helps preserve and maintain critical lands. In New Hampshire, they will finally be able to tackle a backlog of more than $43 million in deferred maintenance. 

Staring at the handiwork at Glen Ellis Falls or the ingenuity at Cathedral Ledge, I’m struck that few types of work today will be seen and used by millions of people well into the future. In an age where impressions last for milliseconds, trail work imprints upon the world for generations. And on the people who made them.

“A big part of the legacy of trail work in New Hampshire is having integrity—doing the right thing when no one is looking—because the eyes of history will be on you,” says Scholtz.

Next time you’re out at your favorite trail, be sure to stop and admire. There was a lot of work that went into it. And a lot more work to be done.

 

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David Gay in response to COVID-19's impact on small business owners in New England. Any New England based business providing a service or selling artisanal goods can apply to be a vendor, free of charge,
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Burgeon Outdoor

Have you shopped or visited Burgeon Outdoor in downtown Lincoln, NH yet?  If you haven’t, you should.  Their business model is unique and their focus is on local production and supporting the mountain community they call home.  They also support all things White Mountains, including us!  As we head into the holidays, Burgeon is going to donate 25% of all purchases made using WMTC25 at checkout to the WMTC 2021 trail projects. Check them out in person or on-line and please support the WMTC by making your purchases with the code, valid from now until December 31, 2020 at 11:59pm.  Shop at www.burgeonoutdoor.com

 

Win a Ford F-150

There is no off-season in the White Mountains, but you can certainly venture off the beaten path to find that obscure trail head, secluded campsite, or wide-open vista. 

Buy one of the 500 tickets we have available to win a 2021 Ford F-150 (or $25,000 cash), and perhaps you'll score a new rig to take you on all your outdoor adventures! Best of all, the full cost of your ticket supports the maintenance of the trail system in the Whites. Help us help the trails, and heck - if you're feeling lucky, buy TWO tickets! Tickets can be purchased HERE - https://wmtrailcollective.org/truck/