I am a volunteer trail maintainer for the US Forest Service in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, one of many other hikers who work to keep our local trails open despite a lack of federal funding to maintain our trail system.
But volunteer trail maintainers lack the where-with-all to repair the extensive damage to the White Mountain Trail System caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011. The role of volunteer trail maintainers is to clear trails of vegetation and clean water bars, not to create or rebuild trails that have been deeply eroded, suffered landslides, or had their bridges washed away.
While some Irene-related trail repairs have been completed since the storm, many trails are still in very rough shape. Out of concern, I called the local Ranger station where my volunteer crew is coordinated and talked to a local Forest Service official if there was anything I could do to help speed up their repair efforts.
What she said, chilled me to my core.[quote]We have a lot of trails in the White Mountains, but we may have to close some of them because we can’t afford to maintain them. [/quote]
It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. There are a lot of trails in the White Mountains that have been closed or lost (see the White Mountains Lost Trail Project) over the years. Trail closure and change is a natural part of the any trail system.
But I can’t help feel that more could be done to harness the goodwill of the local hiking community to revive some of the trails damaged by Hurricane Irene without resorting to official closures. The truth is that there are more people who want to maintain trails in the White Mountains than there are trails available for them to maintain.
I suspect that many of these volunteers would be interested in learning or volunteering to perform the heavier form of maintenance provided by the professional trail crews that work in the White Mountains today including crews from the Appalachian Mountain Club, The Wonalancet Out Door Club, the Randolph Mountain Club and the Waterville Valley Athletic and Improvement Association.
I’d certainly be interested in volunteering to perform heavier work as long as I didn’t have to pay for a “volunteer vacation”, and I suspect other people would as well. I wish the Forest Service would organize an effort like this or co-sponsor it with one of the local crews mentioned above. I think there’s a significant degree of pent up demand for a stewardship initiative like this in the White Mountains and that a lot of good can come from hikers taking an even bigger role in maintaining the trail system. In the absence of federal funding, there’s really no alternative except to close more trails.