Four people drilling into rock in the White Mountains

Saving the Silverling on Mt. Willard

By Dylan Summers

On a sunny day in mid-May I hiked up Mt. Willard with a small group of four from the WMTC and the State of New Hampshire’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR). Our goal was to assess the condition of a population of a rare plant, Silverling (paronychia argyrocoma), and plan steps toward protecting it from the heavy foot traffic that the summit of Mt. Willard endures.

Silverling grows in dry, sunny environments, and the ledges and cliffs of Mt. Willard are a perfect habitat for it. We saw only a handful of hikers on the hike up the 1.5-mile trail, which is not unusual for May, but would be unheard of on a fair-weather summer day.  Mt. Willard trail offers one of the best and most easily accessible views in the White Mountains. The view at the top was stunning as usual, but our eyes were focused on the ground. The evidence of human impact is obvious on this highly visited summit, with much of the vegetation showing signs of being trampled by wandering feet, along with soil erosion and a spiderweb of social trails.

Matt Peters, the botanist who first identified this population of Silverling, took us to the location of two known populations of Silverling on Mt. Willard. One was down a series of ledges, far away from the main summit, and as expected, was a healthy growing colony of Silverling. The other, however, was very close to the main summit in an easily accessed area with excellent views. What had been a small but healthy colony of Silverling when Matt had first done his survey was now reduced to only a few stems, and much of the other vegetation growing in the cracks in the ledges surrounding it had been trampled down to bare soil. Matt was confident that given a chance, the colony could regenerate, so it was just a matter of figuring out how to best keep feet from treading upon it.

We brought our findings back to a team of resource specialists and trail workers from the DNCR, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the WMTC to discuss short and long-term plans for protecting the Silverling as well as other plants on the summit of Mt. Willard. In the short term, we decided that the best course of action would be to build a short post-and-line fence as an obvious barrier to get people’s attention, with signs warning of rare plants in the area to help them understand why they should stay on one side of it. We weighed the pros and cons of different designs and settled on drilling holes into the ledge with drop-in anchors that would create a fence that would be easy to take down once long-term efforts to protect plants are in effect.

With a plan in place, the WMTC crew members from the Lakes Region Conservation Corps and I headed up the trail in early July with a generator, hammer drill, rope and harness, and hardware to put up the fence, all strapped to a packboard. I was impressed with the problem-solving capabilities of the crew as we worked through the little bumps that always come along with implementing a project like this one. One member harnessed up to drill the hole for the last post right near the edge. We were able to finish the project in one day, packing out all our gear and leaving behind a fence that will give the little Silverling a chance to grow and hopefully flourish.

Iron Mountain Project

By Yohann Hanley

The Iron Mountain Trail is a 1.6-mile trail that leads from the historic Hayes Farm property over the summit of Iron Mountain and south to a series of cliffs overlooking Intervale, Glen, and Bartlett. Although the summit is wooded, there are several lookouts along the trail offering views of the Presidential Range and Attitash/Bear Peak. The foundations of an old fire watch tower are still visible on the summit. There is also a side trail near the southern end that leads to an old iron mine site.

The current trail from the edge of the farm property to the summit of Iron Mountain has become badly eroded and gullied. A classic example of old school trail design, the trail runs almost directly up the slope to the height of land, gaining elevation quickly but with little thought to maintenance and erosion issues. It has become a “fall line” trail, where water is essentially trapped in the treadway and creates a stream every time it rains. The erosion is knee-to-hip deep in many places on the trail, and the tread is extremely widened in the worst of these places as hikers try to find safe ways up and down the eroded areas.

The proposed work includes adding new drainage structures near the bottom of the slope, and relocating approximately ½ to ¾ of a mile of the trail below the summit to a more sustainable grade. The new trail section will follow natural contours of the slope and tie into several old logging road beds as it winds up the mountain side. Our intention is to keep the grade low enough to avoid building too many structures in the new section. We will also be working on erosion mitigation on the closed section of the trail to prevent further damage to the slope. This work is expected to take six weeks, and will mostly be done by AMC White Mountain Professional Trail Crew, with some support from our LRCC crew.

The Peace of Wild Things

By Ally Scholtz (with a nod to Wendell Berry)

On Thursday, July 8th, I had the privilege of attending a training about all things Wilderness, led by two super knowledgeable and engaging instructors from the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), Kate and Scotty. In the class with me were WMTC intern, Maisy Mure, and our colleagues from the NorthWoods Stewardship Center who are assigned to the Old Paugus/Paugus Beeline project in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. It was a rainy Thursday when Kate and Scotty hiked out to meet the NorthWoods crew at camp, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, and about .5 miles into the Sandwich Range Wilderness. The day started off with everyone huddled under the kitchen tarp, out of the rain. Kate and Scotty started with the history of the Wilderness Act and how federally-designated Wilderness areas came to be.

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was signed into law by the 88th congress, “To establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people and other purposes.” During the lesson, a copy of the Wilderness Act was passed around for participants to read. The Wilderness Act is written quite beautifully, and is a great read for anyone interested in the details of what Wilderness areas are, including their uses/ prohibitions and special provisions.

 

The next lesson was about the 5 values of Wilderness. A Wilderness area shall:

  1. Remain Untrammeled and unhindered by the actions of humans and human manipulation.
  2. Remain Natural: the ecosystems are to be free from the effects of humans and modern civilization/ technology.
  3. A Wilderness area is to Remain Undeveloped, and will retain its primitive characteristics, and will be without human made “improvements” or occupation.
  4. A Wilderness will provide Outstanding Opportunities for Solitude and primitive recreation.
  5. A Wilderness may have Other Features of Value, like geological formations or places of historic or scenic value.

 

Sometimes, however, these values can oppose one another. Sometimes “remaining untrammeled” and “remaining natural” are at odds, and it can be complicated to strike a balance. For example, invasive species in the Wilderness may not be natural, but dealing with the invasive might be an action of trammeling. Hence, there are many things to think about when taking action in Wilderness areas.

Wilderness trail building differs from regular trail building, and there are a lot of elements to factor in when working within Wilderness. The goal is to provide the user with access to an area that feels wild and hopefully also remote and primitive, with a trail that is well-built and sustainable, but also a trail that doesn't feel like a man-made structure. The goal is to be “sneaky” about how the trail is built, as having no huge bridges or massive trail structures makes the experience seem truly wild and untouched by other humans. It is important to note that some wilderness areas DO have these kinds of structures: some may be left over from before the Wilderness area was designated, and some structures may be there for safety reasons, like bridges.

One key point from the class is that many Wilderness areas have slightly different rules depending on the primary usage of the area. Some rules can also be broken during extenuating circumstances. For example, there are no motorized vehicles allowed in Wilderness, but in life-threatening or other extenuating circumstances, this rule may be waived.

At the end of the day, we all had a deeper understanding of Wilderness and what it means to work in such a special place. Because of this training, there will be even more thought behind and respect for the work on the Paugus Beeline/Old Paugus trails in the Sandwich Range Wilderness.

Where Recreation and Conservation Meet

By Matt Coughlan, owner/operator - Recon Trail Design, LLC

A silt fence and a turnpike are used to protect sundews, a sensitive wetland plant. Photo by Recon Trail Designs

A silt fence and a turnpike are used to protect sundews, a sensitive wetland plant. Photo by Recon Trail Designs

What is a trail?

As a professional trail builder, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about questions like this. People make trails, but so do deer and bears. From game trails to hiking trails to paved rec paths, trails come in all forms (one could even say roads are just highly-engineered trails for our cars). I like to think of them historically as the original transportation system that connected us to other people and places, long before cars. Fast-forward to today, and we tend to use trails in a more therapeutic sense. This is how I often introduce the topic of new trail survey and design when teaching aspiring trail builders. I think it’s good to contextualize your work within the scope of time and lessons learned from the ones that came before us.

It seems safe to say that the trails of today won’t be the trails of tomorrow, or meet the demands of ever-changing uses.  As an example, I offer the Appalachian Trail. It was born from the industrial revolution as a series of remote camps accessed by a primitive hiking trail. The A.T. was envisioned, in part right here in the White Mountains, by Benton Mackaye as a way to escape the city and rejuvenate one’s self by walking through the woods. Today, the A.T. has evolved into a 2,190-mile trek from Georgia to Maine that draws thousands of people annually from around the world.  Our need to manage that increased use has evolved as well. The Presidential Range of the Whites is a jewel of the A.T., and has seen its share of impacts, developing a backlog of maintenance needs. With its stunning rocky peaks strung together by a treeless alpine ridge, the Presidential Range is not only a place to recreate, it is also an ecologically rare and globally unique ecosystem that long pre-dates our footprints. Some plant communities that grow here are one of maybe three known populations in the world and take decades to regenerate after disturbance. Here, we should consider each step carefully.

BEFORE AFTER

Want to see Crawford Path, before and after trail work? Grab the orange slider and drag to see!

Other types of trails and trail uses continue to grow and change, too. As someone who got their start in the early days of Kingdom Trails, I’ve watched the mountain bike scene expand dramatically over the last 15 years, and trail building techniques evolve in tandem. Where I once searched for great bike trails in my travels, there are now a proliferation of trail systems and bike parks. Now, the mountain bike community has a new nut to crack with the rising popularity of e-bikes (bicycles with built-in electric motors) as singletrack riders take sides and trail managers deliberate about how to best regulate this emerging trend. Allow, segregate, or restrict? Develop or preserve?

Now, I hope you’re ready to get a little philosophical about the modern era of trails.

Trails are many things. Their distinction today seems to be that they provide us an, “escape from the real world” (or, as I see it, a way for us to re-engage with nature, the actual real world). If trails are anything, they are a tangible way to clear our minds and find a sense of rejuvenation in the outdoors. In many ways, they have become our modern conduit to nature and the experiences it provides.

As a student of recreation, I found it interesting to learn that the root of the word recreation is “to re-create.” Trails offer us a chance to momentarily re-create ourselves through immersion into the wild and free, and, as I hope, an opportunity to gain greater appreciation for nature. As trail builders, we are privileged to be the ones to sculpt the natural world — to provide others the chance to enjoy nature and its beauty.  I’ve come to appreciate this more over the years and now consider creation and conservation equally. Through the eyes of a conservationist, I ask, is nature just a canvas to create whatever recreational playground we desire?

Trails, and the opportunities they provide, are the nexus for our appreciation of nature and its processes.  After all, aren’t we just another organism making our way in the same complex ecosystem? As a species we are unique however, as Aldo Leopold recognized when he wrote “our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom […], but they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history, to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” And there-in lies the crux. As outdoor enthusiasts, we often focus on our own experience and not what impacts our footprints or tire tracks leave behind. As trail builders, we often aspire to make our trails as inconspicuous and natural as possible, though that is not always the case as technologies advance and new types of recreation take hold. For me, it is a constant reminder of the balance we must strike in an increasingly human-engineered world.

It is with a sincere acknowledgement of our impacts that we should approach outdoor recreation and trail building in the modern era. We all have a responsibility to “protect the trails, and preserve the legacy”. As we leave our signatures across the native landscape, we should do so cautiously and intentionally to not ruin the very experiences we seek. Especially as our truly wild places continue to shrink. We must think, not for today, but for the future generations that will inherit our creations, and who will never know what was there before. It is my belief that not all trails should be created, but all trails that are created should be in harmony with the natural order of things and not solely for our pleasure. Some places require special consideration, and some should remain wild and free. In that sense, not all trails are created equally.

At Recon Trail Design, I practice a conservation-first approach to trail building. I always seek to balance creating new recreation experiences with preserving the natural characteristics that define them. Environmental conservation is the lens through which I view my work as trail designer and builder. I incorporate conservation practices into each project and consider not only the user experience, but the impact the users and trail have on the local environment. For example, this often entails designing specific drainage features into a trail to mitigate erosion, and employing best management practices like using silt fence to minimize the impacts of construction and sedimentation into nearby streams and wetlands. During construction of features like stone staircases, we use rigging systems to lift and move materials through the air to reduce impact to the ground and surrounding vegetation. Our mission is to provide sustainable recreation opportunities that offer people a chance to connect with nature in a meaningful way.

Next time you’re hiking, mountain biking, or trail running, stop and step off the trail (unless you’re in the alpine zone, then just sit on a rock within the trail). Take a moment to clear your mind and be still.  Observe the movement around you, the wind through the trees, a chipmunk rustling through dry leaves... and just breathe. If you sit long enough, you will have a unique and unexpected experience.

Matt Coughlan, owner/operator - Recon Trail Design, LLC
B.S. Recreation Resource Management, M.S. Environmental Conservation
Instagram: @recontrails
recontraildesign.com

Recon Trail Design, LLC is a full-service trail planning and construction company based in western Maine and the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire. Matt Coughlan grew up in central Maine and got his start in trails as an AmeriCorps college intern at Kingdom Trails in northeast Vermont. Prior to starting Recon Trail Design, he worked for The Nature Conservancy of Maine, the Student Conservation Association, U.S. Forest Service Bridger-Teton District, and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. In 2019, he managed the Crawford Path alpine-restoration project for the White Mountain Trail Collective.

Meet Lucas Kirsch - WMTC Intern

headshot-lucas

Location: Madison, NH

Start date with WMTC: June 2021

Why I’m involved with the WMTC: I have grown up with the White Mountains my entire life, and they have given me great opportunities to experience wildlife and nature. I’m joining to give back to the community that helped me so much.

Interests/activities: Hiking, drawing, comics, discovering new music, folklore

Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in: Running.

Favorite trail in the Whites and why: Mount Kearsarge. It’s one of the first trails I hiked with my dad, and when we arrived at the top we were surrounded by an ocean of clouds, even though it looked dark and cloudy at the base of the mountain.

Favorite piece of outdoor gear: Spikes for hiking shoes

Favorite color: Dark green - like forests and tortoises

Something most people don’t know about me: I’ve been to South America and Europe and have been above at least 4000 feet in elevation in both.

Best meal I’ve ever had while camping or out on the trails:  Blueberry pancakes made over a campfire

Three words that describe how I feel when I’m out on the trails: Energized. Relaxed. Comfortable.

Life before the WMTC: I’ve had a lot of experience through volunteering and community work throughout the Mount Washington Valley. My parents have been involved with many trail races throughout the area, such as the Madison Thanksgiving 5k and Loon Mountain Running race, so I’ve helped a ton with water stops and equipment. I’ve also done some volunteer help with the Green Mountain Conservation Group for water quality monitoring.

Meet Maisy Mure - WMTC Intern

headshot-maisy

Location: Holderness NH

Start date with WMTC: Early June

Why I’m involved with the WMTC: I grew up in central NH and spent my childhood hiking and skiing the Whites. I heard about the WMTC through my sister, who interned for WMTC last summer, and I knew it was something I just had to be part of! I loved the idea of being able to give back, to help maintain the trails so that others may enjoy them as much as I do.

Interests/activities: Running, hiking, art, reading (when I’m really motivated)

Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in: Nordic skiing

Favorite trail in the Whites and why: Whiteface Mountain, on the Sandwich Range, is one of my favorites. I love the drive there that goes through North Sandwich, and although it’s a tough hike, the views at the top are gorgeous.

Favorite piece of outdoor gear: My Osprey backpack

Favorite color: Blue

Something most people don’t know about me:  I once ate a pint of ice cream in under five minutes.

Best meal I’ve ever had while camping or out on the trails: A good PB&J

Three words that describe how I feel when I’m out on the trails:  Outdoorsy, happy, inspired

Life before the WMTC: I’ve been doing odd jobs around my neighborhood since I was about twelve or so, like babysitting and gardening, but my first real job was working at Frosty Scoops in Plymouth. From there I went from bussing tables at the 104 Diner in New Hampton to the Italian Farmhouse in Plymouth, and now the WMTC!