The 2.6-mile section of the Moat Trail up South Moat (2,770 feet) is very popular with locals as well as visitors to the area. During the last few years, especially during the pandemic, its use has grown dramatically.
When it comes to trail maintenance, Cristin Bailey, trails supervisor for the Saco District of the White Mountain National Forest, prefers to do preventative trail work rather than only reacting to damage and continuing as before. This has been the spirit of the trail work done on South Moat this summer starting in early August. Nine relocations have been done on the trail, some relatively short, others longer.
It is interesting to hike up a trail that you have done many times, and see new relocations on it. Such was my hike this Wednesday up the Moat Trail on South Moat.
The first 1.3-mile section of the lower trail is a relocation done a decade or more ago. In a unique innovation, a Bobcat tractor was used to help carve a wide trail out of the slopes. It has been a great section of trail to hike on over the years, but evidently erosion has occurred on its sides, as I passed a number of new relocations.
Instead of the abrupt left-hand turn after 1.3 miles where that old relocation met the original trail, a new longer relocation continued east, then rose in small switchbacks. It was fun to hike. This eventually reconnected with the old trail, which continued another half mile or so.
Then, right before a notoriously steep section of sharp rocks and wet ledge, a new relocation took a right to avoid it. It went directly up a field of sharp boulders. It looked hairy but, as I moved upward, I encountered a hidden series of stone steps skillfully placed between the rocks. They were a welcome surprise.
The trail then veered left and returned to the old trail. I continued further to a wide ledge with a great view south. I had turned back there before with friends, and decided that instead of the cold windy summit further on, it was enough.
The next morning at 8 a.m., I called Bailey. She was already part way up the trail on South Moat with her trail crew. It was the last day for the Saco District seasonal trail crew, and they had a few things to finish on the trail. She said they might have a barbecue later that day to celebrate the end of the season.
“My small trail crew did the majority of work on this trail," she said, fitting it in as well as other projects around the national forest. “However, for a couple weeks out of the 10 we’ve been working on it, a crew from the North Woods Stewardship Center in Vermont came over to help. That was partly paid for by the White Mountain Trail Collective. Also for a day the Pemigewasset District trail crew helped.”
Bailey emphasized the modern trail crew focus on prevention. Steepness had been a problem causing erosion, detached rocks and exposed roots, and the new relocations minimized or prevented it.
On the longer relocation with small switchbacks, the trail is narrow with a low angle, preventing erosion. The second longer relocation higher up simply avoids a steep eroding section with loose sharp rocks and wet ledge, and skillfully does it by fitting stone steps up through a boulder field.
“Next year, we have three other relocations to finish up on the trail," she said.
I could tell she was in her element, out on a mountain with her crew. She mentioned that the application period for next year’s seasonal jobs with the U.S. Forest Service is now open online. For anyone interested in joining her crew.
Just a note about the plentiful rocks on South Moat. Geologist Brian Fowler told me that part way up the trail, the rocks transition from granite to “welded tuff,” part of the Moat volcanics.
This started forming 170 million years ago when a volcano spewed out larva. This landed on the ground in a super-heated state and welded together. After millions of years of erosion and weathering, the sharp rocks on South Moat are the result.