Partnering with Veterans on the 48

By Terri Potter and Michael York

After summiting Mount Washington near the end of September 2017, Michael York learned about the Four Thousand Footer Club, and the mission-based objective appealed to him. He might not have been fully aware of it at the time, but a glimmer of an idea was forming. After completing 10 summits, he realized he was getting more out of his hikes than he’d ever expected. He felt a comfort on the trails and a sense of calm he hadn’t realized he needed in his life. Hiking became a form of therapy, and Mike found himself disappearing into the woods more and more, not only on a mission to complete the 48, but to clear his mind and decompress. He also felt a bond with fellow hikers he encountered on the trails – a camaraderie he hadn’t experienced since serving with his fellow marines.

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Yuma (far left, back row) and Jess (kneeling in black) enjoy summit time with an all- female veteran crew on the Kinsmans on March 7, 2021.

After researching the benefits of outdoor recreational therapy and the positive impact it had on veterans suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD as well as substance abuse, he knew he needed to get more veterans out on the trails to join him. Mike unofficially started Veterans on the 48 in May of 2019 with a long-term goal of becoming a nonprofit to benefit veterans by getting them into the outdoors.  At the time, however, he wasn’t sure how to go about moving forward.  

The organization began as a social media page to simply share photos of veterans who were hiking in the White Mountains and to create a networking tool for veterans to find other veterans with whom to hike. Mike created the hashtag #veteransonthe48 in hopes it would gain popularity and that veterans would use it when posting their photos to help make it easier to find each other on social media.  Once he had generated a modest following, he began organizing group hikes for veterans.  The more hikes they did together, the bigger the groups became, and the more the word spread.  Eventually veterans who joined the group hikes were linking up with each other for hikes on their own as well. 

In April of 2020, Mike received 501(c)(3) status and continued to work on building the nonprofit. There are no membership fees, and the organization is open to all veterans of the armed services.  Any money that is raised through donations or sponsorships is used to fund trips and events, to pay for veterans to get training, or to purchase hiking gear for veterans.  The organization has paid for veterans to take wilderness classes (LNT, map and compass, shelter building, how to prepare/pack for a hike, etc.) and is planning to send veterans to Wilderness First Aid (WFA) classes this April and October to be certified through SOLO for a 2-year certification. The goal is to send as many veterans as possible to these types of classes, free-of-charge, to instill leadership and confidence in them while on the trails.  Veterans on the 48 also provides lodging for participants if their planned hike requires an overnight. Trips of this nature are all dependent on the organization’s ability to raise the required funds.

By the beginning of 2021, Veterans on the 48 had grown at a much faster rate than Mike had ever envisioned, and he knew to move forward efficiently, he was going to need assistance.  He brought on a Vice President, two female veteran outreach coordinators, and a trail crew coordinator to help grow the nonprofit, all participating on a volunteer basis – there are no paid staff on Veterans on the 48.

Their Vice President, Mike Bassett, is a veteran with a background in recreational therapy and adaptive sports, has worked with many veteran amputees, and currently works at the VA in Vermont.  The female veteran outreach coordinators, Yuma Haidara and Jessica Bryant, are navy veterans who Mike met while hiking and has since become close friends with.  Mike shared “they are amazing women who I trust, and I know having them sign on to lead our female veteran hikes will be huge for not only the female veteran community, but for the organization as well.”  With the expansion of their staff, they try to coordinate at least two hiking events per month.

As they look forward to adding trail maintenance to their programming, I asked Mike what was motivating veterans to do this work, and he shared several reasons.  Trail maintenance provides “the opportunity to give back to the trails that give so much more to us, the ability to spend the day with other veterans (camaraderie), physical activity, learning something new, and the opportunity to gain certifications in trail maintenance so that we can potentially adopt trails of our own.”  Their trail crew coordinator is a 59-year-old army vet (and Mike’s father).  Greg York was at one time the safety officer for the AMC’s Northwest Cabin in Salisbury, CT. Responsible for upkeep and inspection of the cabin and grounds, Greg was also involved in maintaining two miles of trail leading to and around the cabin. After partnering with the WMTC, Mike knew Greg would be the best person for the task of running the veteran trail crews, which will include 30 veterans, broken down into Alpha, Bravo and Charlie teams to cover various locations and time frames throughout the summer.

Looking toward the future, the group hopes to obtain a company van through a donation so they can provide transportation to veterans who would not otherwise have a means of joining them at the trailheads. They are also working on a website to improve their means of communicating and fundraising.  We certainly look forward to watching them continue to grow and create an outdoor community for their fellow veterans, bringing all that we love about the Whites to those who have served our country. 

To donate to the Veterans on the 48: https://www.paypal.me/veteransonthe48 or send a check made out to: Veterans on the 48, 430 Highland Street, East Bridgewater, MA 02333

Project: Sandwich Range Wilderness

Located in the southeastern corner of the White Mountains, the bold peaks and long ridgelines of the Sandwich Range form a rugged series of valleys, glacial cirques, and high mountain passes. The terrain is broken by steep, boulder-strewn streams tumbling over cascades and through calm pools. Dense spruce-fir vegetation dominates at upper elevations, with northern hardwoods on the lower slopes and valley bottoms. Flat Mountain and Black Mountain Ponds attract moose and other pond-loving wildlife, while peregrine falcons nest on the steep cliff face of Square Ledge. Several hiking trails access the range, and approximately 57 miles of these typically steep and direct routes are within the Wilderness itself. Many of these trails date to the turn of the century (the last century!) and provide visitors a direct connection to the long recreation history of the area.

All of this wilderness is located in New Hampshire and is managed by the Forest Service.

This area is composed of 3 major ridges radiating outward from the center. It contains several dominant peaks, including the Tripyramids, Mt Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway as well as several mountain ponds. The area has long been popular with campers and tourists looking for a variety of hikes.

Work Needed:  This project will focus on part of the White Mountain National Forest’s “critical need projects” in the Sandwich Range Wilderness for backlog maintenance and will focus on the most highly used, impacted and eroded trails.   This project will include a week long Wilderness Skills Specific Training with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards.

The following trails will be the focus of the project:

Paugus Beeline:

This 1.1 mile section of trail connects the Old Paugus Trail to the Bolles Trail, and runs mostly in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. Originally intended to create a “bee-line” between the summits of Paugus and Chocorua, this trail is now more commonly used as part of several possible loop hikes from the Liberty Trailhead. 

The planned work includes several short relocations moving the treadway out of wet areas, and improving or installing multiple drainage structures where natural seeps have erupted into the existing treadway. 

Old Paugus: 

This 2.8 mile trail runs from the Bolles Trail to the south knob of Mt. Paugus, almost entirely within the Sandwich Range Wilderness. The trail follows and crosses Whiten Brook several times before leaving the brook at the 1 mile mark, turning towards Mt Paugus. This trail is also frequently used as part of several possible loop hikes from the Liberty Trailhead.

The planned work will be mostly between the junction with the Big Rock Cave Trail and the large cliff that the trail traverses beneath at approximately 1.7 miles. This work will include installing rock steps, drainage structures, and possibly some short switchback turns in a steep, rocky gully below the cliff. 

Dicey’s Mill:

This 4.6 mile trail runs from the Ferncroft Parking area to the summit of Mt Passaconaway, mostly within the Sandwich Range Wilderness. This trail is one of the most heavily used trails in the Sandwich Wilderness as it is a pleasant and moderate route to a 4000’ summit.

The planned work is a continuation of work done 4-5 years ago with the USFS and WODC. Improvement and installation of drainage structures along the trail, as well as new rock staircases and steps to existing rock staircases.  NOTE The Wonalancet Outdoor Club (WODC) is the only volunteer club maintaining wilderness trails in the White Mountains!  To partner with them and help complete this project will be a GIANT accomplishment for Wilderness Trails! 

In total 8.5 miles of Wilderness Trail will be restored.

Work is expected to take 10-12 weeks to complete. 

We are still actively fundraising for this project!  Please consider making a donation to help!

 

WMTC 3rd Annual Trail Maintainer Gathering

Thank you to everyone who joined us virtually on March 4th for the third annual WTMC Trail Maintainers Gathering!  After canceling our gathering in 2020 it was really important to us to hold a gathering this year.  We want to stay connected to all of the Whites’ trail maintainers, as this work isn’t about the WMTC, it's about YOU, the trails and the legacy that has literally been worked into the soil of the trails in the White Mountains.  It’s YOUR legacy that we want to uphold and preserve.

Whether you’ve attended a gathering with us before or this was your first, we hope you learned something, gained new insights, and got excited about another season of trail maintenance.

We were honored to have a great lineup of speakers, and we’ve outlined where their particular participation in the event starts, should you choose to check out the recording.

Please note that the presentation officially starts at 37:54 on the Zoom recording.

  • 43:35: Matt Smith, President of the WMTC Board, provided a welcome.

  • 50:20: Yohann Hanley and Ally Scholtz, WMTC Project Managers, were introduced to review the 2020 projects the WMTC completed and to introduce the 2021 projects.

  • 1:01:22: Amanda Peterson, Trails Volunteer and Training Programs Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club, was introduced to talk about Camp Dodge.

  • 1:08:58: John Favro, Chairman of American Trails, was introduced to talk about Sustainable Trails.

  • 1:58:16: Ty Gagne, CEO of New Hampshire Public Risk Management Exchange (Primex³), was introduced to talk about Stewardship and Service in relation to Search and Rescue and Trail Maintenance.

  • 2:31:10: Stan Carte, Recreation and Wilderness Program Leader for the WMNF,was introduced to talk about the WMNF Trail Strategy.

Enter passcode @BxMW9NN and watch the recording >>

Meet Melanie Luce, Executive Director

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Location: New Hampton, NH

Start date with WMTC:

January 2018

Why I’m involved with the WMTC:

Protecting our landscapes is more than protecting “green space.” Preserving the ways in which we enjoy the outdoors is paramount to its sustainability.   I am passionate about protecting trails and the environment around them for generations to come.

Interests/activities:  Yoga, hiking, mountain biking and getting out on my paddleboard

Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in:   Paddle boarding

Favorite trail in the Whites and why: 

Mt Israel, via the Wentworth Trail.  One of the 52 With a View (stunning views) but not very popular – I usually have the peak all to myself.

Favorite piece of outdoor gear: 

After ACL surgery in October 2020, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hiking poles!

Favorite color: 

Turquoise or green - it’s a toss up!

Something most people don’t know about me:  

I'm really good at curling!  

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

While canoe camping – dutch oven deep dish pizza!

Three words that describe how I feel when I’m out on the trails:  

Peaceful, Strong, Connected

Life before the WMTC:

After a good friend enlisted me to help start her small business and design a website, I found that I had skills that served a need to help others do the same thing, so I started my own business, which led to the founder(s) of WMTC hiring me to help them get the organization up and running.  I quickly found enjoyment in the nonprofit world and excelled at the work.  Becoming the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization was a long-term goal I had set for myself, and it is an honor to have a career I love, to work for a cause I believe in, and to work with amazing people!

 

 

TRAIL CLASS

By Yohann Hanley

Trails on federal lands are defined according to their “class” which defines the amount of construction and maintenance that goes into their creation and upkeep.

Class 1: tread intermittent and indistinct; obstacles common and often considerable; construction features minimal to non-existent; signs limited to junctions, trail markers where route is indistinguishable; natural and unmodified environments

Class 2: tread continuous but narrow and rough; obstacles common, blockages cleared to define route, vegetation may encroach tread; structures of limited size, scale, and quantity; signs limited to junctions, trail markers where location is not evident; natural and essentially unmodified environments

Class 3: tread continuous and obvious; obstacles may be common, vegetation cleared from trail; structures may be common and substantial; signs at junctions and as needed for reassurance, route markers as needed for reassurance; natural and primarily unmodified environments

Class 4: tread wide and relatively smooth, few irregularities; obstacles infrequent and insubstantial, vegetation cleared outside trailway; structures frequent and substantial, amenities may be present; wide variety of signage, informational signs likely, interpretive signs possible; environment may be modified

Class 5: tread wide, firm, stable, commonly hardened with asphalt or other imported materials; obstacles not present, grade typically less than 8%; wide variety of signs, informational and interpretive signs common; environment may be heavily modified

 Most non-wilderness trails in the WMNF are Class 3 trails and our wilderness trails are Class 2. There are a few specific Class 5 trails in the WMNF. Our project areas this summer will cover trails in all 3 of these classes, although the Ravine Trail project (which will be a Class 5 trail) is not on the WMNF, but local conservation lands.