New Hampshire’s most-climbed mountain could use your help this month.
Mount Monadnock and Gap Mountain are traversed by 40 miles of maintained hiking trails including the most popular 2.2-mile “White Dot Trail,” the shortest and steepest ascent to the popular summit.
How popular, you ask? Monadnock claims to be the second-most frequently climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan. Monadnock is climbed by an estimated 125,000 hikers annually. That’s a quarter million boots per year treading trails that require both periodic maintenance and continual improvements.
The Forest Society’s largest forest reservation is the 4,519-acre Monadnock Reservation. It surrounds the 1,017-acre Monadnock State Park headquarters on the southeast side of the 3,165-foot tall peak.
More than a century ago — in 1915 — the Forest Society conserved its first tract of 406 acres on Mount Monadnock, beginning the long-term effort to protect the integrity and natural beauty of the mountain and its surroundings. Since then, the Forest Society has acquired over 5,000 acres at Mount Monadnock and adjacent Gap Mountain in the towns of Dublin, Jaffrey, Marlborough and Troy.
Today, the Forest Society and New Hampshire State Parks partnership is formalized via a recreational lease of the Forest Society’s Monadnock tracts to the state as part of state park operations. Monadnock State Park includes hiker amenities: parking lots, restrooms, information kiosks at trails that access expansive views from open ledges surrounding the bald summit. The state park also includes designated family camping at the Gilson Pond Campground from May 4 to Oct. 16.
Summer of stewardship
“The Summer of Stewardship” could be a wholly different take on the fabled “Summer of Love.”
In June, the Forest Society hosted a “Leave No Trace” education campaign at busy Mount Major in Alton, where an estimated 80,000 hikers climb the peak annually.
This month, the Forest Society with partners at New Hampshire State Parks will host Monadnock Trails Week from Friday, July 19, through Tuesday, July 23, in Jaffrey. The annual event tackles multi-day projects matching volunteers with seasoned trail work experts to maintain and improve well-loved trails. Giving back to popular hiking trails on the busiest peaks in New Hampshire is an opportunity to engage hikers of all ages in thinking about what it takes to care for and maintain public recreation access to public and private conservation land.
Trails Week volunteers will meet daily at Monadnock State Park headquarters, working from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each morning, Forest Society staff provide coffee, snacks, introductions and safety instructions at Monadnock State Park headquarters. Trail crews then carpool to specific trailheads.
Various trail improvement projects are planned for areas located all over the mountain during the weeklong event. No particular trail work experience is required, but physical fitness and a sincere desire to give back to the hiking trails on the mountain is helpful. Conservation professionals will lead smaller teams of volunteers to complete trail maintenance and improvement projects.
One multi-year focus includes ongoing work to upgrade the historic White Arrow Trail, accessed from the Old Toll Road and site of the former Halfway House, once the epicenter for hiking Monadnock prior to the establishment of the present-day state park headquarters.
Water runoff and heavy hiker traffic create erosion or mud. Trail work typically includes cleaning and ditching drains located downslope from stone or timber water bars, which are features designed to divert water runoff from trails. Other tasks include dragging brush and available dead logs to close off access to braided trails and to create visual barriers to keep hikers from wandering and widening the trail treadway.
Perennial tasks include replacing or installing sections of peeled logs as bog bridges to span wet or muddy sections of trail. Other improvements include heavier rock work to install stable, sunken stone steps to harden the treadway or to install check steps designed to divert water and prevent future erosion.
A different satisfaction
Working collectively on trails builds a unique camaraderie. Trails Week does not include hiking to the summit of Monadnock, but day hikers passing through work zones often express gratitude while ascending and descending.
Many volunteers say that they had hiked for decades before making a commitment to complete maintenance and improvement projects that keep hiking trails in top condition. Working on trails becomes a different mindset, occasionally an obsession. I know volunteers who no longer focus on bagging summit views or looking at trees and birds but instead make mental notes of trail conditions. Seasoned volunteers say they derive more satisfaction from the physical challenge of trail work than from hiking alone.
Join the Forest Society and Monadnock State Park in giving back. Plan to arrive with a daypack, water, snacks, lunch, work gloves, bug repellant and appropriate layers of clothing for the predicted weather. Closed-toe shoes or sturdy hiking boots are required. Extra work gloves, eye protection and all tools will be available.
You may volunteer for a single day or the entire 5-day event. Volunteers should arrive ready to work, share and learn about tool use and best practices for trail building.
Children 13-15 are welcome with an adult guardian/supervisor present. Teens 16 and 17 must have a signed parental permission form/waiver in order to participate.
To sign up, interested volunteers must register in advance on the Nature Groupie website at naturegroupie.org/experiences/monadnock-trails-week-2019.