On the Trails: Upper Valley Trails Alliance still growing strong at 25

Written by Russell Hirschler

Imagine it’s February 1999.
Some Upper Valley residents are sharing top songs on Napster (if they can find a reliable internet connection), some have started to worry about the end of the world due to the impending Y2K computer crash, and about 50 others are huddled in the Tom Dent Cabin on the Dartmouth College campus discussing the challenges, threats and opportunities for trails in the Upper Valley. Out of that meeting came the following strategies:

■ Convene an Upper Valley Trails Alliance.

■ Inventory and map current trail resources.

■ Host trail events.

■ Promote trails in the Upper Valley.

Twenty-five years later, the Upper Valley Trails Alliance is continuing its mission to advocate for the use, maintenance and development of trails in the region. A lot has happened since that initial meeting. With a staff of five and working with over 50 organizational members, UVTA strives to create an extensive, accessible and integrated Upper Valley trail system for use by all residents.

In addition to the many miles of trails that UVTA has built, maintained and improved over the years, our programs, projects and events have an even deeper community impact.

Students who complete the program become Polar Bear Achievers. Since the program was launched, more than 50,000 students have participated, helping them gain a lifelong love of winter activities and physical fitness.

Billed as “first job meets summer camp,” UVTA developed the Upper Valley High School Trail Corps as a way to engage with local teens, help generate the next generation of trail stewards and add needed capacity to support the growing demand for our trail building services. What started as a one-week program in 2013 has expanded to five weeks every summer.

Through Trail Corps, more than 400 local students have engaged in 8,000 hours of service, improved 500 miles of trails and served 50 alliance partners. In addition, many of our crew members have used their experience to find jobs in the outdoor and recreation fields — including three who came back to work as UVTA staff.

The Tour de Taste Pedal Picnic began in 2007. The event, which takes place annually on the Sunday after Labor Day, offers a tasting menu from more than a dozen local restaurants and food donors at scenic stops along three routes for 400 cyclists. This year, the 25th anniversary Tour de Taste Carnival will include games, family activities, food and live music after the event, which is planned for Sept. 8.

Providing maps and an inventory of trails has always been a strategic principle of UVTA. For many years we compiled hundreds of trail maps, and even created our own drawn maps and trail guides. (Does anyone remember the Go Walking guide?)

In 2008 Trail Finder (trailfinder.info) was launched, with UVTA as one of the initial organizations adding trail data to the site. What makes Trail Finder a unique resource is that all of the trail postings have been approved by trail managers, so users can rest assured that the information provided is the most comprehensive and up-to-date.

As we hit the quarter-century mark, we ask you to celebrate with us. In addition to the Tour de Taste Carnival, we are hosting a 25th anniversary dinner celebration at the Lake Morey Resort on Nov. 14. Tickets will be available starting this summer. Finally, UVTA is creating the Silver Hemlock Fund, with the goal of raising an additional $25,000 above our annual fund.

Over the course of 25 years, we’ve found that limited funding is the largest obstacle to creating and maintaining safe, sustainable trails. The Silver Hemlock Fund will provide immediate support to our Upper Valley communities by closing funding gaps and making these vital trail projects possible.

I invite you to visit our website at www.uvtrails.org to view a historical timeline of UVTA’s activities over the years, read testimonials from UVTA friends and access links to our trail guides.