White Mountain Trail Collective

The 8.5-mile Crawford Path, the oldest continuously maintained trail solely for the sake of recreation in the northeast that goes from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mount Washington, is getting a thorough face lift. Work began last summer and will continue this summer. It is being done by the White Mountain Trail Collective.

Who are the White Mountain Trail Collective? On April 20, I went to their pre-season trail gathering at Merrill Place on the Plymouth State University campus to find out myself having been informally invited by U.S. Forest Service Saco District trails manager, Cristin Bailey.

Eight-two people were present at this all-day event that included a lunch. They were representatives of 37 different organizations, many of them trail clubs from all over New England, a mountain bike collaborative and a backcountry ski club. Many in the trail clubs had spent time working on the Crawford Pat last summer and would again be working on the Crawford Path this summer.

The meeting was set up so as many people as possible would be able to meet and network. People shifted from one round table to another to meet others as different lectures were given to the whole group.

After a message from the White Mountain Trail Collective executive director, the first two talks were by Cristin Bailey, Forest Service Crawford Path trail work manager (a temporary detail) for the summer of 2018, and Matt Coughlian, White Mountain Trail Collective Crawford Path trail work manager for the upcoming 2019 season. Their talks were aided by maps and photos of this popular trail.

Many other talks were given as the day progressed. Those about the collective included marketing and development, trail projects in the future, and more. There were interesting talks about the future of the AMC Camp Dodge and the interface between trail users and maintainers.

This summer, the Crawford Path project will be completed. The following year, the collective will begin working on certain trails in the Mount Washington Valley, including hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing access trails.

Back when I worked for the AMC Huts in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was an AMC Trail Crew, Forest Service Trail Crew, and various old trail clubs with volunteers. On April 20 in Plymouth, it was amazing to see a gathering of skilled people from such a wide variety of New England organizations to have come together for a common cause and to work together on specific trails.

A few days later, I asked Bailey how this had come about. After Hurricane Irene, there was a shift at a critical moment, when massive amounts of trail repair and work needed to get done. At that time, the National Forest Foundation were conducting a “Treasured Landscape Campaign” around the country, raising funds to get needed repair work done in important wild areas, and “working to increase the collective capacity of local groups to engage in hands on stewardship and recreational infrastructure improvements." They helped fund various hurricane repair projects in the White Mountains, and encouraged a trail collective.

The non-profit White Mountain Trail Collective officially started in 2017. Current funding comes from various places including the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Recreational Equipment Incorporated, private individuals and donations. It has a paid staff and the trail clubs are also paid. It is part time operation now, but will be full time in the future.

Like the Franconia Ridge Trail, the highly popular Crawford Path has increasingly needed major work and protection of the surrounding ecosystems. Last year, the trail was divided into four branches to work on. The first went from Route 302 in Crawford Notch to Mount Pierce.

After three days of training, including rock rigging taught by Jed Talbot of OBP Trailworks, the section below timberline was done, including rock steps.

“Hopefully these will be good for 100 years,” said Bailey.

On Branch 2 to Mount Eisenhower, 100 feet of bog bridges were flown in by helicopter. This summer, another 300 feet will be flown in. Further up, the Crawford Path around Mount Monroe was closed so rock barriers could be lined on both sides of the trail to protect alpine vegetation and to keep the trail on one track. This is one example of a new dimension of trail work: rocks were bagged on an open slope south of AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut and flown to the trail by helicopter.

“We hadn’t flown rocks before,” said Bailey.

Botanists worked alongside trail crew to insure no alpine plants and ecosystems we harmed, including the rare dwarf cinquefoil which grows between Lakes of the Clouds and Mount Monroe.

On Branch 4 to the summit, a lot of rock work was done. Tripods needed to move large rocks were brought up on the Cog Railroad and Jed Talbot showed how to use them.

Last summer, the first and fourth branches were emphasized, and this summer, more work will be done on the second and third branches.

Anyway, anytime of year is a good time to hike on the Crawford Path. Also this summer would be a great time to see the great work being done. I would recommend climbing Mount Pierce on the Crawford Path. To get to there, drive up through Crawford Notch on Route 302, and across from the AMC Highland Center take a right on the Mount Clinton Road. In a few hundred feet, take a left into the trail parking lot and take the Crawford Path Connector out to the main trail.

The White Mountain Trail Collective will be offering work and volunteer days for those who would like to help with trail work. On Aug 31, there is an all-women’s work day, July 7 is a public volunteer day and  Aug. 3 is a trail club volunteer day. Go to wmtrailcollective.org for more information.

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