National Trails Day on Crawford Path by Paul Kirsch
acidotic RACING (aR) is a group of multi-sport endurance athletes that host events, compete at events, and do community and charity work (the group has three pillars - Competition, Community and Charity). Chris J Dunn is the President and Founder, and the club is based out of Strafford, NH with members located all across New England.
Like everyone else, the pandemic impacted all of us. As the year went on, we had discussions about ways we could give back to our community. We all love the outdoors and recognized the extra traffic the trails received in 2020, so the trails seemed like a great focus for a community project. All of our members enjoy trails in the White Mountains and after connecting with Melanie Luce from the WMTC, we came up with the plan to get a group together to do some trail maintenance on the Crawford Path for National Trails Day. Our group included members of aR as well as a crew from Saucony - we are fortunate to have Saucony as a partner, and our trails project fit in well their philosophy of "Run for Good."
The day was so much fun for all of our members - we had volunteers there as young as 5 and as old as 75, all out enjoying the camaraderie of shared work to help support the trails we love. Because of COVID, this was the first time most of us had seen each other since 2019. It made it even more special that our first gathering was in such a beautiful spot, pitching in together. The WMTC staff really made the day a fun and educational experience. I'm not sure I will ever be able to pass another water bar again without wanting to clear the debris out of it! We learned important techniques of Level 1 maintenance as well as gained insights on proper trail construction that can help prevent erosion. There was one group that got so into it they want to come back specifically for a rock-step building workshop to learn more from WMTC Board Member, Bob White.
As I look back on the day, it really hit home with me the importance of organizations like the WMTC. Not only are they a resource to financially support trail maintenance projects around the Whites, they also provide groups like ours the expert knowledge and guidance to get involved with sweat equity. aR is already talking about helping out on another volunteer day later this summer. We also plan to make our National Trails Day work with the WMTC an annual event.
WMTC and the Collective Impact Model by Melanie Luce
The WMTC is unique as a NH nonprofit in that we were conceived out of a Collective Impact model.
Collective impact models describe an intentional way of organizations working together and sharing information for the purpose of solving a complex problem. Proponents of collective impact believe that the approach is more likely to solve complex problems than if a single nonprofit were to approach the same problem(s) on its own. While collective impact seems very similar to plain old “collaboration,” there are certain characteristics that distinguish collective impact initiatives - and make them successful.How is collective impact different from collaboration?
While a collaboration often implies only a two-way street, collective impact has been described as “building on the muscle of collaboration” to create an entire community that is intentional about its approach to solving a problem or multiple problems – together. WMTC partners with like minded individuals and organizations to support trail maintenance and sustainability in the White Mountains and surrounding areas, and all partners help WMTC decide on initiatives that address the community’s needs.
How do we do this?
WMTC is designed to serve as the backbone of the Collective Impact model around trail stewardship in the White Mountains. As the backbone, WMTC is responsible for "building public will" and making sure that stewardship initiatives stay focused and move forward. WMTC also focuses on building a culture that encourages information sharing and candor among organizations, addressing and resolving any potential conflicts so that trusted relationships can emerge among the participants. We play an administrative role such as convening meetings, coordinating data collection, connecting participants with each other, and facilitating the activities of the initiatives, so that working “collectively”the participants can move past barriers, and increase efficiency and productivity. The WMTC also serves as a primary source for financial resources to the collective impact initiative.
It is our goal and mission to “raise all ships” by providing needed resources and financial or staffing capacity to our partners in trail maintenance. In doing so, we are working to re-align trail stewardship, provide much needed training to volunteers, and address large scale projects that our partners would not be able to accomplish if working alone. By “raising all ships” WMTC is moving the tide closer to protecting the trails in NH and preserving the legacy of the people and organizations who have already given so much.
WMTC Hosts LRCC Americorps Members by Dylan Summers
The Lakes Region Conservation Corps (LRCC) is an Americorps program that partners with nonprofits in New Hampshire to host Americorps service members who positively contribute to local communities and gain experience in a variety of fields. As a new host site for the LRCC this year, the WMTC has three Americorps members working on trail maintenance in the White Mountain National Forest, much of it focused on the Sandwich Range right at the edge of the Lakes Region. As part of their service, members will gain hands-on experience with the tools and techniques of trail maintenance, safety, and working in the backcountry. The crew will work in the beginning of the season on Level 1 maintenance and later on will tackle small Level 2 maintenance projects. They will also gain insight into the “hows and whys” of the management of trail networks, giving them experience that is important to any land management career.
I’ll let them introduce themselves:
Howdy! My name is Todd Jahns, and I’m originally from Brenham, Texas. I graduated from Texas A&M at Galveston with a major in Marine Biology, and I am currently a student at the University of Miami working toward a Master of Professional Science degree in Exploration Science. I have been blessed to be able to have many experiences exploring underwater, but I felt like understanding more terrestrial exploration could do a lot of good as well. I found out about the WMTC through Americorps, and it sounded like a great opportunity to do just that! I’m excited to be able to help people access nature, and enable them to explore themselves
My name is Gunnar Nurme and I’m from New London, NH and very proud to call New Hampshire home. I graduated from St. Lawrence University this spring with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Economics. Throughout my college years I grew passionate about the environment and want to pursue a career in the conservation field working to protect lands and natural resources. I saw the LRCC AmeriCorps program as a great way to begin a career in conservation in a place that I care about. I was specifically interested in working with the WMTC because I’ve spent several summers living in the White Mountains, and the amazing opportunities for outdoor recreation have made the area feel like a second home. I’m excited to be working with the WMTC to help give back to the trails that have done so much for me and to help preserve them so others can continue to be inspired by the White Mountains for generations to come.
Hi, I’m Amanda Gray! I grew up in Waconia, Minnesota and got my bachelor’s degree at Minnesota State University Mankato. I majored in Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services, double emphasizing in Recreation Management and Leisure Planning Management. I wanted to join AmeriCorps, LRCC, and the WMTC for an internship to gain experience on trail maintenance. So far, I absolutely love it here and the knowledge/experience I have gained.
Meet Dylan Summers, Youth Crew Coordinator
Location: Wolfeboro, NH for now
Start date with WMTC: May 2021
Why I’m involved with the WMTC:
The White Mountains have always been very close to my heart, ever since my parents began taking me hiking in them as a kid. Having a meaningful career in a place that I love has always been an important thing for me, and working with the WMTC allows me to have that and give back.
Interests/activities: Hiking, all types of skiing, rock climbing, photography, leather crafting, reading.
Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in:
Favorite trail in the Whites and why:
Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. I spent three winters caretaking at the AMC Carter Notch Hut, and Carter Notch became a place very dear to my heart. I love standing at the narrow col before dropping down toward the lakes and the hut; it feels like standing on a threshold.
Favorite piece of outdoor gear: Skis
Favorite color: Maroon
Something most people don’t know about me:
I have been bluff charged by bears twice in my life. Once by a mama grizzly bear with cubs in Alaska, and once by a human habituated black bear trying to get food at a campsite right here in New Hampshire!
Partner Spotlight: Access Fund by Mike Morin
Over the past few years, visitors to Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse Ledge outside of North Conway may have seen and heard evidence of the ongoing trail stewardship initiatives taking place below these iconic cliffs. Building off of past stewardship efforts led by volunteers and park staff, Access Fund began working at Cathedral Ledge in 2016 to address stewardship needs along the trails that climbers use to access some of the area's most popular rock climbing objectives. This work is just one example of the climbing area stewardship movement that has been gaining steam across the country since the launch of the Access Fund - Jeep Conservation Team program in 2011.
The act of stewarding climbing areas isn’t new—volunteers have been working with private landowners and public land managers for decades with the support of Access Fund’s Adopt a Crag program. However, the development of large-scale, planned stewardship initiatives, backed by professional trail crews, is a more recent development in most parts of the U.S.
Access Fund launched the Conservation Team program in response to the growth of climbing from a niche activity with tens of thousands of participants annually, to a mainstream sport with an estimated individual annual participation rate of around 7 million people. This growing popularity of climbing, along with the fact that most trails that climbers use for access have seen limited management, raised concerns that impacts were beginning to outpace the efforts of the volunteers who traditionally cared for their home cliffs and boulder fields.
Today, with funding support from grants, corporate and non-profit partners, Access Fund has three traveling teams on the road for 10 months out of the year, hauling a utility trailer full of tools, and equipped to handle the unique challenges of building and maintaining trails on the steep slopes that commonly lead to the cliffs that climbers cherish.
“Climbers have historically had a very strong connection to the places that they climb,” says Mike Morin, Access Fund Northeast Regional Director. “Climbing resources are finite; you can’t create new climbing areas in the same way new mountain biking trails can be created. The limited amount of opportunities means that climbers often visit the same cliff every weekend, and this familiarity has played a significant role in the reverence for the land that climbers often have, which in turn has inspired the many decades of volunteer stewardship at places like Cathedral Ledge, Whitehorse Ledge, and Rumney here in New Hampshire.”
The volunteer spirit that has historically been at the heart of the U.S. climbing area stewardship is at the core of Access Fund’s Conservation Team program. While the Conservation Team crews are increasingly teaming up with other professional trail crews, a significant part of their work still involves engaging with local volunteers on projects. The Conservation Teams also host multi-day stewardship workshops to educate local volunteers on technical skills (like rock work) and soft skills (like recognizing the differences in how climbers travel across the landscape compared to other user groups).
“We’re excited to support and help expand the capacity of local volunteers as they continue to lead the charge on stewardship efforts at their home climbing areas”, says Ty Tyler, Access Fund Stewardship Director.
This local partnership model is at the heart of Access Fund’s work to protect America’s climbing, which includes not only crag stewardship, but also climbing policy and advocacy, land acquisition and protection, risk management and landowner support, local support and mobilization, and education. In 2015, Access Fund was awarded elite land trust accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, which recognizes excellence in conservation and adherence to strict land trust standards. Since its inception in 1991, Access Fund has supported 81 land acquisitions in partnership with land trusts, public entities, and local climbing organizations, totaling 17,454 acres across 26 states, including several acquisitions in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization Access Fund relies on the generous donations of individuals and corporate partners. If you’re interested in supporting the Access Fund, please considering becoming a member or making a donation.
Shaping Conservation by Ellyn Franklin
When pioneers of the White Mountains began blazing trails, their highest priority was reaching their destination as quickly as possible. This usually resulted in trails that marched straight up the mountainside, making New Hampshire trails the steepest and rockiest in the country. As time has passed, natural erosion and a significant increase in traffic have created a need for a different kind of trail making. Yohann Hanley, Project Manager of the White Mountain Trail Collective (WMTC), is passionate about preserving the longevity and safety of these trails. “When it took three days to get here from Boston, a trail might see a hundred people a year,” Hanley said. “Now it could see a thousand every weekend, and these trails were simply not built for that kind of traffic.” In May 2021, fourteen students from ten organizations attended the WMTC’s two day Rock Splitting and Shaping course to learn how to use existing material to improve their trail systems.
Hanley, along with Assistant Project Manager Ally Scholtz, hosted the training below Whitehorse Ledge, a belay staging area in severe disrepair. Whitehorse Ledge has one of the few single pitch climbing areas in North Conway and is a convenient place to take newer climbers and younger groups. However, many visitors stopped coming when erosion made the hillside steep and unsafe. Below the ledge, granite chunks the size of living room furniture littered the steep incline where the landslide had shed them. Students clad in safety gear crouched in their midst, armed with portable generators, impact drills, and carbide-tipped rifting hammers. The granite was ready source material for retaining walls, stairs, and drainage ditches. All the students needed was the knowledge to split and shape them into usable pieces.
Before work began, Hanley and instructor Matt Coughlan sat the students down for a quick hammer demo. Coughlan is owner and founder of Recon Trail Design, where he’s created a career in trail construction and conservation education. To illustrate how two people can split a boulder, Coughlan held a rifting hammer while Hanley wielded a striking hammer. As Coughlan moved his rifter smoothly and steadily across the stone, Hanley matched his motion with rhythmic strikes to the rifter’s head. Soon a trough formed in the rock’s surface. As the two men swung and shifted their blades, communicating silently through their own created beat, forged of instinctual knowledge and muscle memory, the rock split cleanly in half like a broken melon. Coughlan explained how the angle of the blades and the weight of the hammers all play roles in the fracture’s efficiency. “The stone will break where it wants to break,” he said, running his hand over the granite. “[When it splits,] you can read the rock like you would read the rings of a tree.”
The students also learned how to split rocks with power drills and sets of small wedges, each paired with two smaller wedges called “feathers.” After drilling a line of holes down their stone, they inserted the feathers and wedges into each hole and struck them with smaller hammers until the stone cracked. Coughlan advised them to use drills on their largest material to save manpower.
Grappling with nature may be an overly poetic way to describe the technical and practical act of splitting awkwardly shaped boulders for trail maintenance, but there is clearly art to it as well. The clean lines and artistic satisfaction of rock splitting is not lost on Olivia Carle, Level 1 Coordinator with the WMTC and also a dedicated artist. “Working with rock is a spiritual, artistic activity for me,” she said. “It’s all about working with the land and not against it.”
No matter how society evolves, the mountains will always provide both a challenge and an opportunity to harmonize with nature. Trail work is one way for people to give back to the land and remember where they came from. Nick Sindorf, Forestry Technician with the Saco Ranger District with the U.S. Forest Service noted the sentimental ties many people have to the trails in the region. “I think this area is special to a lot of people. Many people have a trail that runs in their family, meaning that their grandparents have helped maintain it, and their parents. There are many traditions that have started here, on our trails and in our woods. There’s definitely a traditional and generational aspect to trail maintenance and building.” Kurt Winkler from Friends of the Ledges agreed, saying, “They’re cutting, shaping, and building something that will last. That’s what we’re trying to do, too, is build something that will be here for our children and grandchildren.”
Whitehorse Ledge illustrates that unless knowledgeable people put in the work, outdoor enthusiasts may not always be able to enjoy what they enjoy now, which is why it is important to pass these skills down through the conservation field. This is a feat in and of itself as the seasonal job has a high turnover rate and can be a difficult career to maintain.
With training days like the Rock Splitting clinic, networking opportunities, and practical projects, the WMTC is strengthening conservation in the White Mountains and beyond. When one student expressed the desire to use rock splitting for their organization but bemoaned a lack of proper equipment, Hanley jumped at the chance to lend out hammers and drills. “Our goal is to spread these skill sets to as many organizations as possible. The strengthening of our partners is good for us as well,” he said. “Another goal for the WMTC is to get the different [organizations] to talk to each other and work together. We consider anyone who works on trails to be our partner.”
“We’re all moving toward the same goals,” said Sindorf, “and that is to provide for the public, make things last, and conservation. It’s cool to see how your work lasts through the years, which takes practice.” That work doesn’t happen on its own, and that’s why the students showed up to Whitehorse Ledge. They are conserving more than just the land by developing skills and the necessary workforce to keep the Whites a timeless home and accessible retreat for all who love them.