On the Trails: It’s never too late to learn how a trail comes to be

By Ethan Ross

Looking back on my upbringing in the Upper Valley, I have only one regret; that I didn’t hear of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance (UVTA) sooner.

I have always been immersing myself in outdoor activities since a very young age, whether it be mountain biking, hiking, alpine skiing, you name it. But there was one thing that was always lacking, my appreciation of these trail systems. When I was younger, I had no idea how those trails got there, who built them, or the countless hours it takes to create these trails; I thought it was relatively simple and not time consuming whatsoever.

In hindsight, 10 year old me was very naïve.

My first hands-on experience with trail building was through mountain bike camp, where we would go out in groups and rid trails of cumbersome branches and leaves. On the off chance that we had the opportunity to cut new trail, it was done by scratching the surface enough to expose the soil beneath a plethora of leaves. At the time, this is what I thought it took to build all of the single track I had ever ridden, and of course as time went by I began to understand more and more of what it took to build them, but I was still lacking the aspect of appreciation for whoever constructed those systems of trails.

I spent this summer as the summer crew leader for the UVTA, working with high school students and the UVTA staff to create such trails that I had no concept of 10 years prior. These past few months, I have been exposed to the intricacies of the world of trail building and how important this experience is for the youth in our community from an educational perspective.

I think that one of the most beneficial aspects of the Upper Valley High School Trail Corps program is not only the acquired trail building skills, but the connectivity to nature that develops over the time spent outdoors. It is one thing to go for a hike or ride your bike for an hour or so, but to be improving trails in and around your community provides an experience like no other.

I’ve found through my trail work this summer that I have never been more connected to nature and I haven’t had this level of appreciation for all of the trail systems in and around the Upper Valley, even though I grew up in the area. Like with anything, the more of a personal connection you have to it, the more likely you are to care about it, which is why I believe establishing and developing a strong relationship with the environment is abundantly critical, especially given the current state of the climate.

It was invigorating to be a mentor and a leader to the kids who were involved in the trail corps program, being able to witness them connect with the outdoors and to be part of that process with them made me wish I had that experience when I was their age.

As envious as I may be, I am glad I had the opportunity this summer to inspire high schoolers to get outside and become more involved in the outdoors as well as their community.

Written by Ethan Ross, 2022 Summer Crew Leader for the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, and published in the Valley News 09/17/2022.