A New England trail in October

Iron Mountain Relocation Wrap Up

By Yohann Hanley

For 6 weeks this fall, I worked with a crew from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Trail Crew to create a new section of trail on Iron Mountain in Jackson. The original section of trail, from just about where you enter the woods to near the height of land on Iron Mountain, was a badly eroded fall-line gully. The Forest Service decided not to do in-tread repair on the old section given its level of degradation, and instead opted to cut in a new section that followed the contours of the land, stayed around a 10% grade, and worked across the slope rather than straight up the slope. This approach means the trail is a lot longer (the closed section was approximately 0.4 of a mile and the newly opened section is roughly one mile) but it also means that it should not need a lot of water bars, steps, and other hardening structures that we commonly have to add to our trails to help manage the water and erosion. It is also a much nicer walk. While you still gain 600 feet of elevation, you’re not having to breathe hard the whole time.

As you enter the woods after the second field, the trail now takes a right-hand turn and begins a series of very long, gentle switchback turns that allow the grade to be kept low and the trail to traverse the slope versus climbing directly up it. This alignment allows water to shed off the side of the trail rather than collecting and running down the treadway. We did have to do a considerable amount of benching, cutting the treadway into the sidehill, and in several sections added what we eventually settled on calling “downhill log retention.” This technique involves burying a log on the downhill side of the treadway, back filling it with crushed rock and soil, and covering it with soil so the tread has the desired outslope. The idea is that over time the log will decompose into soil on the downhill side, protecting and holding up that critical edge, without the labor and time of installing rock retaining walls. It was a new technique for me and most of the crew, but it has been used by others successfully in other parts of the Whites, so we have high hopes.

We did have to build a few small rock staircases and single-tier retaining walls in areas where we had to gain elevation faster than we would like, but on a mile of trail we only installed about 15 steps and 30 feet of rock wall. Traditional repair work in the Whites would have seen those types of numbers in a 40-foot section of trail! AMC’s trail supervisor, Matt Moore, also built a small wooden ladder in a short section that had to run straight up the slope. The treadway is new and still needs time and boots on it to fully burn in, but it’s a nice hike at this point. We’ll see what improvements it might need in the coming seasons.


I do want to express my gratitude to Matt Moore for his work on the alignment and layout of this new section of trail. He spent many days out there scouting around in thick brush, and he pushed hard to make the trail as sustainable a grade as possible. Relocation layout is not my strong suit, and getting to work with Matt through this process was very educational and a lot of fun.

The last bit of work to be accomplished was the trailhead. The trail begins on private land that is managed under a conservation easement with the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. Right from the road, the trail climbs a 65-foot long hill to gain about 20 feet of elevation to the first field. This section had become a very slick, compacted dirt track and needed some intervention. The landowners did not want to alter the alignment of the trail, so an in-tread repair was needed. As this is a historic farm property and the fields have been cultivated many times in the past 100 years, most of the rock in the area that we would normally work with has already been dug out and is now in several historic stone walls on the property. Consequently, I decided to build a timber staircase with milled 6x6 hemlock that we brought in from White Mountain Lumber in Berlin. It is a simple box construction design that I have used several times in the past, and we brought in 6 yards of washed crushed stone to backfill the steps as there wasn’t enough native material. In the end, we leave the landowner with a clearly defined start to the trail and a nice addition to the landscape. I expect that the wood will last about 15 years before we need to do any repairs.

Huge thanks to FF&J Excavating of Jackson for delivering the stone to the trailhead, and to Marty Schoonman of Jackson for using his tractor to help us move the stone up to the staircase. We moved all of it in 3 hours, which would have taken 2 days to do by hand!

Reflections from Our Inaugural Americorps Crew

By Amanda Gray

I’m Amanda Gray, one of the WMTC’s three crew members in this first year of partnering with Americorps volunteers. Together with Todd Jahns, Gunnar Nurme, and our WMTC Crew Leader, Dylan Summers, we spent the majority of our summer and early fall performing Level 1 maintenance in the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). Level 1 maintenance includes clearing and reshaping water drainages, clearing blowdown trees, and clearing brush to maintain the standard corridor openings. We also got to train and lead volunteers in Level 1 maintenance through a few volunteer events.

We had opportunities to expand our skill set on some of the WMTC’s other projects. We helped with a trail relocation for Bolles trail by clearing the trail corridor and building the tread of the new trail. Another special project assignment was on Mount Willard, where we used rock drills to put up a fence to protect rare plants.

We learned the basics of dry-stone masonry when helping build a staircase and retaining wall on Whitehorse. On Dicey’s Mill Trail we helped install a post for a trail sign, quarried rocks for stone construction, and operated a highline system for moving rocks to their designated location. We built a fence and check steps at Beede Falls. We conducted visitor use monitoring on Mt. Crawford and Davis Path. And one of our last experiences was helping the Squam Lakes Association build a mountain bike trail in Ashland. The projects were always a blast!

Todd’s most memorable highlight of the season was “FaceTiming Molly (his fiancée in Texas) while on top of Mt. Chocorua” and “how ripped my calves got” (kidding/not kidding). In reflecting on what about his experience was the most valuable to him, Todd shared, “I gained experience in a field outside of my prior knowledge base and have a better understanding of ways to promote conservation.”

Gunnar is a New Hampshire native, and his most memorable highlight was, “finding that sub-peak of Mt. Resolution. That spot was really beautiful and was something I never would have found if trail work hadn’t brought me there. In general, all the cool spots we found that were off-the-beaten-path, I might not have found otherwise.” The most valuable thing Gunnar learned is “how much work goes into protecting and maintaining trails and just conservation areas and public lands on a larger scale. Getting to watch and learn how the forest service and other organizations manage the WMNF taught me a lot about land management and made me respect all those who protect those places a lot more.”

It’s hard for me (Amanda) to choose one specific highlight of the season… I feel like we had so many. If I were to choose one thing it would be the weeks that we went camping with no cell service, “civilization,” or even other people. We would get done with our 10-hour day of work, jump in the river, make our dinner, then sit and talk around the campfire. Those nights of sitting together without any outside stressors, hearing the frogs croaking, birds chirping, and watching the stars gleam. Some nights we would play Spades, Catan, or other campfire games while snacking on what Dylan calls, “Garlic Bombs.” It consists of sharp cheddar cheese, a piece of raw garlic, and a couple drops of hot sauce. So simple yet so savory!

Throughout the season, I have learned to value a lot in the process. Overall, I value what I have learned hands-on and how much work is put into the trails. I never thought I would try carrying a generator and tools over my back walking down a mountain, but I did (although not too long)!

I value what goes on behind the scenes of this organization. Melanie Luce, the executive director of the WMTC, put in so much work to make sure we had a smooth path. Going to school for Recreation Management and Leisure Planning Management, I have learned the basics for managing programs and through everything she has helped us with and managed for us – it makes me look up to her as a super woman.

Given this is the first year of hosting Americorps volunteers, there is always room for improvement, and I know with the people running the WMTC that next year will be even better with the plans they are making. I am so happy I chose this as my internship, as I have learned so much and made so many memories.

Meet Mike Stonebraker - Founder & Treasurer, WMTC


Location: Moultonborough & Boston

Start date with WMTC: From inception in 2017

Why I’m involved with the WMTC: I started hiking the 4000-footers in 2008 in earnest, and I finished the last of them in 2011, when I was 67. Having climbed all 48 of the 4000 footers, I observed that the trails are in terrible condition. It’s fairly obvious to see that many of the trails are eroded and washboarded and many of them follow the fall line, which hastens erosion. In a perfect world, all trails would be rerouted to have switchbacks. In the years following my completion of the 48, it took some effort between the WMNF staff and me, but we eventually determined that the best mechanism for me to help fund projects would be through development of what is now the WMTC – a nonprofit organized around a “collective impact” philosophy.

Interests/activities: Hiking, playing bluegrass banjo, bike riding (road bikes)

Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in: Hiking

Favorite trail in the Whites and why: Edmunds Path is wonderful mostly because it doesn’t go straight up the fall line – it’s not horribly eroded. It’s pleasant to walk

Favorite piece of outdoor gear: My backpack – I’m also a huge fan of having a camelback water pack integrated into the pack.

Favorite color: Red

Something most people don’t know about me: The Turing Award is essentially the equivalent to a Nobel Prize in computer science, awarded annually to a person for lifetime contributions in computer science. I won the award in 2014, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery in San Francisco.

Best meal I’ve ever had while camping or out on the trails: Lunch on the top of the mountain. Lunch generally consists of sandwiches, fruit, trail mix and water.

Three words that describe how I feel when I’m out on the trails: Goal oriented – hiking by nature is goal oriented in that you aim to “get to the top” Sense of accomplishment.

Life before the WMTC: I was the architect of the INGRES relational DBMS and the object-relational DBMS, POSTGRES. These prototypes were developed at the University of California at Berkeley, where I was a Professor of Computer Science for 25 years.

More recently, at MIT, I co-architected the Aurora/Borealis stream processing engine, the C-Store column-oriented DBMS, the H-Store transaction processing engine, the SciDB array DBMS, and the Data Tamer data curation system. I also serve as Chief Technology Officer of Paradigm4 and Tamr, Inc.

Trail Maintenance 101: Flagging

By Olivia Carle

Have you ever seen these little, brightly colored pieces of plastic in the backcountry and wondered what was going on? This is called flagging, and it’s an important tool for trail workers. Two common types are flagging tape, which comes in rolls, and pin flags.


Photo credited to Joe Klementovich


Some examples of flagging tape use:

  • to demarcate where to cut corridor (and sometimes where to build tread) when building a new trail/trail reroute
  • to signal to trail workers where work needs to be done on an existing trail, like a waterbar or bog bridge that needs repair
  • to indicate specific trees that need to be felled or hazard trees, and
  • to mark helicopter drop sites

Some examples of pin flag use:

  • to mark the critical edge, center, or uphill edge where tread needs to be built on a new trail/trail reroute, and
  • to delineate initial trail placement in an area with no trees or shrubs

Next time you’re out in the backcountry and see flagging, there’s probably a cool project in the works!