By Ally Scholtz
The Cranmore Connector trail is a 1.8-mile section of trail that connects the summit of Cranmore Mountain to the junction of the Black Cap Trail and the Hurricane Mountain Road parking access trail. It is a popular family day hike, and in the past was used as a mountain bike trail. The Cranmore Connector trail follows a naturally occurring forested ridgeline and heads northeast up to the junction of the Black Cap trail. Several popular downhill mountain bike trails start near the top junction of this trail. Because of the heavy use from hikers and mountain bikers and because the trail was built on top of a ridgeline, the trail now faces many drainage problems like deep puddles and erosion, as well as gullied-out sections and loose soil.
Before starting the work on this trail, there were no structures of any kind, not even a single drainage structure! The evidence of the lack of structural integrity is abundant. When it rains, the trail flows with water, and the water gets trapped within the treadway, meaning the trail simultaneously erodes and forms deep mud puddles during rainfall.
The goal of the Cranmore Connector project is to improve the overall state of the treadway by (1) adding rock water bars to help the trail drain water, and by (2) adding check steps to help retain soil in the sections that are gullied. Because this trail will still serve as an uphill bike route, special care is being taken to make sure the new trail structures remain at a low angle as to not disrupt bike traffic. Bikers and hikers alike can help ensure the long term wellbeing of the trail by riding and hiking over the new trail structures and not going around them.
This project includes two small trail relocations. The first one will be relocating the beginning of the trail on the Cranmore end to create a more sustainable and less steep section right at the trailhead. The next relocation is just up trail and relocates around a very steep gully. This relocation will be longer than the original trail route, but built with sustainability and hiker/ biker ease in mind.
The Cost of Trails
By Melanie Luce
Ever wonder what it costs to maintain your favorite trail? Or maybe that thought has never occurred to you, and honestly, you wouldn't be alone. As a new organization working to protect the trails in the White Mountains and surrounding region, the White Mountain Trail Collective has been working to figure out what exactly it costs to maintain trails and how we can work with our partners to fund this work.
As WMTC started out in our mission to “protect the trails, preserve the legacy” one fact became abundantly clear... no one really has a true grasp on what trail maintenance costs. In fact, the last time the White Mountain National Forest studied the cost of trail maintenance was in 1985 when Herbert E. Echleberger and Harriet H. Plumley wrote “Anatomy of Backcountry Management Costs.”
Back then the average cost ranged from $200 to $1,500 per mile to maintain trails. Costs generally increase with elevation and use levels (based on number of visitors), which means more use equals more maintenance. Even more interesting than the cost is the reality that we are still facing the same problem as we were 36 years ago, when the article’s authors identified “over-use” as an issue. The report even states that:
“Before the 1960’s relatively few people ventured in the remote forest lands seeking recreation...but since visitation has increased 15% per year...these 20 years of heavy use have had an impact. Many trailheads have been expanded and in some cases PAVED to accommodate increased use.”
Echleberger and Plumley go on to make the connection between increased trailhead capacity and use of the trails.
So where does that leave us today?
Unfortunately, not much progress has occurred. Public agencies are continuously being asked to do more each year with fewer dollars, and while the Great American Outdoors Act has been a significant catalyst for change, that funding is still not sufficient. As of 2017, the White Mountain National Forest recorded an astounding $35MM needed to address the backlog in maintenance. We can assume that the need has grown since 2017, especially with the increased outdoor recreational use brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an organization, the WMTC is pulling together data sets to help create cost codes based on the maintenance level required and activity involved. While the data we are collecting will continue to inform our figures, here are some average cost examples:
Annual Maintenance per mile for Level 1/Volunteer Maintenance: $250 per mile
(includes clearing blowdowns, clearing drainages, brushing/cutting back overgrown vegetation, repairing/building cairns)
Trail Construction/Rehabilitation costs per linear foot for Level 2 and 3 maintenance:
Water Bars: $25-$45
Rock Steps: $125-$250
Scree Wall: $50-$100
Rock Tread: $25-$50
How do we put these numbers into perspective?
In 2018 and 2019 WMTC funded and managed the Crawford Path project, which required just over 15,000 trail crew hours to repair 80% of the 8.5-mile trail. The total cost was $300,000.
Since completing Crawford Path, the WMTC has invested another $800,000 into trails (2020 and 2021).
Here is what we know. The love and use of our trails are unlikely to decline, while funding and other resources are dwindling steadily. No one organization can tackle the challenge in isolation. For these reasons, partnerships are imperative to keep our trails in good shape. We need to revisit the siloed approach to maintaining various ranges and sections of trail and pull together resources to realign stewardship and the maintenance of all of our trails.
The White Mountain Trail Collective is working to do just that! If you want to learn more about our work, reach out any time to the WMTC's Executive Director, Melanie Luce.
Meet Terri Potter - Director of Development
Location: Holderness, NH
Start date with WMTC: August 2020
Why I’m involved with the WMTC: As a Midwestern transplant, when I landed in central NH in the early 90s, I knew I’d hit the jackpot as far as my surroundings. What an outdoor playground! I became a hiker and snowshoer and took a NOLS course in ANWR to learn more about LNT and backcountry preparation. As a result of that course, I started Plymouth State’s first White Mountain Orientation for incoming first-year students and taught hiking as a “gen ed” for 8 semesters. It’s just awesome to be able to weave my outdoor interests with my administrative skill set to give back to the Whites. The mountains and these trails have truly shaped who I’ve become. HIKEWMT has been my license plate for 25+ years!
Interests/activities: Kayaking and paddleboarding, hiking and snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, road biking, and reading
Favorite muscle powered activity to partake in: Kayaking
Favorite trail in the Whites and why: Mount Willard – I would take PSU’s orientation leaders up there every August before school started as part of their team building, and I always loved to watch the reaction of first timers when they would break through the narrow tunnel of trees and see the expanse of Crawford Notch around them. It’s a fabulous beginner trail for the uninitiated, with a very scenic reward.
Favorite piece of outdoor gear: My Kahtoola microspikes – they have saved my butt (literally) on any number of occasions when out in the winter. I can’t even remember how I survived icy trails before they were out on the market – I think I had sheet metal screws embedded in a pair of old boots!
Favorite color: Orange
Something most people don’t know about me: I was captain of the drum line in high school.
Best meal I’ve ever had while camping or out on the trails: Beef Bourguignon (the real deal) while camping on a remote island on Lake Umbagog. A very generous friend had prepared it for us in advance of our trip and bagged it all up for us so that assembly and heating was all that was required. It was decadent and delicious!
Three words that describe how I feel when I’m out on the trails: Grounded, Grateful, Present
Life before the WMTC: My background is in higher education administration, and my first 24 years in NH were spent working at Plymouth State in various roles within the division of student affairs. After leaving there in 2016, I spent time working with the Bridge House Homeless Shelter, NHTI (Concord’s community college) and Grafton Regional Development Corporation. I have loved learning about so many different types of organizations since leaving higher ed. Working with the WMTC, there is a lot to learn about management of our natural resources, as well as the missions of all our partners. There’s never a dull moment.
Trail Maintenance 101: DrawKnife
By Ally Scholtz
Traditionally, a drawknife is used as a woodworking tool. It is used to slice away thin strips of wood or bark to achieve a desired shape, or to debark timber. It consists of two main parts: the blade of the knife, and the handles on either side. This tool is used by applying downward pressure on the blade and then pulling it back towards the user, peeling up the bark or wood as they go along.
In trail work, drawknives are typically used as a debarking tool. The reason timbers need to get debarked for trail work is to help preserve the logs and keep them viable for as long as possible. One good example of a common timber trail structure would be a check dam (a piece of peeled log installed into the tread way that looks like a step but acts as a way to retain soil and slow erosion). Can you think of any examples of timber check dams that you have seen on a hike lately? How were they holding up? Most timber structures in trail work only last 10-20 years, and that is why it is so important to make sure the logs are peeled and bark free. When the bark is left on, the timbers will usually rot faster because the bark will hold moisture next to the wood.
When using this tool out on the trail, make sure to have the proper PPE (personal protective equipment). Gloves are a must while handling drawknives. As always, be sure to have a helmet on for trail work too. The maintenance for drawknives consists of regular sharpening with a file or whet stone, and sanding and oiling the wooden handles to keep the wood smooth and prevent them from drying/cracking.