On the Trails: Helping Maintain Trails Needn’t Change Routines

Spring has sprung, finally. With snow as a (not too) distant memory and mud season in the rear view, now is the time that many in the Upper Valley revisit some of their favorite trails. One may find that the long winter has left these paths in need of some spring cleaning. Whether it’s a tree fallen over a trail in one of the winter’s gusty storms, a washout from melt mixed with torrential rain or something more substantial like a bridge torn from its foundation and pushed downstream, almost anyone can help address these issues without much effort or breaking their normal routine. Construction, maintenance and assessment are words that can sound arduous, specialized or off-putting, causing many to abandon any attempt to do so, but it might be surprising to learn that the easiest tasks are often the most needed. Every year, conservation organizations in the Upper Valley complete thousands of hours of service improving trails and wild spaces during successful, pre-planned volunteer events with a myriad of fantastic groups and individuals. However, there is an untapped resource that could increase these numbers by a magnitude or more – any and every trail user. With a little bit of education and awareness, absolutely anyone who visits a trail can provide valuable service without breaking a sweat, schedule an event or even coordinate with another person. In the spirit of stewardship; here are the things almost anyone can do while taking your normal stroll:
  1. Make a trail report: Chances are if you are a trail user, you have your favorite routes and destinations. Who better to take note of the status of the places we visit most frequently? Consider filling out a trail condition report of what you saw during your visit. Many towns and organizations make use of these simple forms to help keep track of the conditions of their trails and address needs quickly. Hanover, the Cross Rivendell Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail all make use of these reports to work on their trails. Some, such as the town of Hanover, even have trail adopter programs to designate reporting duties to the individuals interested in specific trails in their area. No one can improve a trail if no one knows there’s an issue.
  2. Clear debris and the corridor: Small problems left unaddressed will become big problems. Some trails have been covered with snow for months, and all of that accumulated matter that didn’t melt away is sitting right in the middle of the trail, waiting to trip someone or create an immovable dam when it converges with a few seasons worth of leaves and pine needles. Kicking a stick out of the way without breaking stride on a walk may be all it takes to avoid problems that will take hours of labor and dollars of investment later on that could have gone to something more pressing. If you have the wherewithal to remember a small handsaw, clearing the worst of new growth in the corridor and an occasional larger fallen branch will make all the difference in the world and keep your favorite trail looking world-class.
  3. Clear drainages: Drainages and waterbars are the unsung structural heroes of trails. Without them, steeper sections of trails would be unsustainable chaos, the lower edges of trails would disappear and trail users would twist their ankles a lot more. They are designed to catch water and debris flowing through the trail during rain events and, if they are doing their jobs, they may start to overfill with detritus and become ineffective. If you pass one of these subtle structures that are full of leaves and sticks, feel free to kick them out with a few jabs of your boot. This simple exercise can save countless hours of work reconstructing entire sections of trail that would have been perfectly fine if the drainages had been maintained even once a year.
These three simple tasks can easily be completed without training, investment and even breaking a normal trail user’s routine. If you find yourself anxious to give back to the community but don’t know how or cannot make the time, it really is the easiest way and it just so happens that the works is invaluable. Reach out to your local trail to see how you can help. Even if you don’t, do one of the things listed above and you will be helping anyway.   Written by Sean Ogle and published in the Valley News on Sunday, May 19 2019.