Trail Magic: Many Hands Keep Hikers' Feet Moving

Courtesy Dick Welsh A volunteer with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club cuts a tree that was blocking the trail near Barren Mountain last September.

The Leeman Brook Lean-To, built alongside the Appalachian Trail near Monson, Maine stands only three miles from the southern terminus of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, yet when my buddy Phil Plouffe and I tramped past it years ago on the first day of a week-long hike we encountered a scruffy crew whose forward progress had stalled.

We soon learned the merry band, which appropriately called itself The Loud Crowd, had spent several days trudging back and forth between the wooden shelter and the village package store, lugging cases of beer and partying hearty long into the night.

One of the hung-over celebrants gave me a note to leave on a tree in 60 miles or so, informing friends they would be late for a planned rendezvous en route to Mt. Katahdin.

I remember shaking my head doubtfully but dutifully carried that note for days, and damned if we didn't run into The Loud Crowd again, way up near Potaywadjo Spring. Not surprisingly the revelers had abandoned their hike, but somehow they hitched a ride and hacked their way back into the wilderness from the other direction.

"Wow, you guys made good time!" one of the Crowdsters cried out when he spotted Phil and me with our backpacks.

I often think about that first day in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness – not just because of The Loud Crowd, but also because of the hairy stream crossings, my nervousness about not being able to resupply food or gear over the next 100 miles, and about finding room to sleep in shelters because we left a tent behind to save weight.

One aspect of the hike I did not consider was the path itself. This, after all, was the fabled Appalachian Trail, which extends some 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, and I took for granted that even though the path rose and fell sharply with the undulating terrain – we took to calling these sections "MUDs and PUDs" for "mindless ups and downs and pointless ups and downs" – it would be cleared and well-marked.

All too often hikers, myself included, forget that countless dedicated but unheralded volunteers toil laboriously to maintain thousands and thousands of hiking trails from sea to shining sea.

The other day I spoke with one of these workers, Dick Welsh of Quaker Hill. It turns out Dick, who spends a fair amount of time in Maine, helps maintain those first seven miles or so of the AT from Monson, past the Leeman Brook Lean-To to the 60-foot Wilson Falls, one of the highest cataracts on the entire trail.

"I enjoy giving back to the community. Some people give to the United Way, but I'm not just sending in 50 bucks. I'm giving my time, something that's meaningful," he said.

This year Dick has volunteered about 80 hours of time working on the trail – clearing brush, cutting trees and otherwise making the path passable for pedestrians.

An avid hiker who often backpacked with his son, Dick joined the Maine Appalachian Trail Club 12 years ago. He and his wife, Marie, built a summer home on Lake Hebron in her native Monson, and during vacations there they often hiked the trails he now helps maintain.

Dick earned his sawyer certification from the National Park Service — a requirement for anyone using chainsaws in nationally preserved lands — and in September he and fellow MATC volunteer Patty Harding hiked three miles up Barren Mountain to clear blown-down trees from the trail.

"I was the donkey," Dick said, meaning he agreed to carry the saw, tools and other equipment.

After they finished cutting up two fallen trees that had blocked the trail, the pair hiked to a bog between Fourth Mountain and Barren Mountain, where they joined other volunteers who were clearing trees and debris.

That's where Dick snapped the picture accompanying this dispatch.

"It was a horrible, drizzly day," Dick recalled, so he borrowed Patty's waterproof camera.

The MATC judged Dick's photograph the best in a contest the club sponsored on its Facebook page.

I agree its worthy of a prize, not just for photographic excellence but also by illustrating that trails don't magically stay clear for hikers.

Founded in 1935, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club is an all-volunteer, donor-supported nonprofit that manages and maintains 267 miles of the AT in Maine. It is one of numerous organizations performing similar chores along the entire AT corridor. These groups are always looking for volunteers and financial support.

More information about the Maine club is available at www.matc.org. Additional information also is available from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org), which works with 31 individual clubs, including those in Connecticut and other New England States, to manage the entire AT.

Thanks, guys and gals, for a job well done.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Rocks In My Head, Part 37,482

Descending New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in a blizzard some time ago, a friend and I briefly strayed from the ice-encrusted Lion Head Trail – not all that surprising considering wind-whipped snow reduced our visibility to...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

How to freeze your - - - off in four easy steps

I know you’ll find this rather shocking, but all those white things in the new picture of me aren’t really snowflakes – they’re feathers from an old pillow, which we thought would be a clever way to illustrate a...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

Forget San Juan Capistrano – If You Want to See Hundreds of Thousands of Swallows, Check Out the Lower Connecticut River

Like the first snowflakes of an approaching blizzard, a small flurry of tiny birds flitted across the slow-moving water of the Connecticut River earlier this week, just as the sun began to dip below the western bank in Old Saybrook.

Celebrating the Spirit of Johnny Kelley, as We Dedicate a Statue in His Memory

Participating in weekly runs with legendary marathon champion Johnny Kelley back in the 1970s was a lot like attending a religious service.

Pink Gloves Save The Day At The Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon

Paddling a tandem kayak in the second leg of the Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon in the Berkshires of Massachusetts is a lot like competing in a combined NASCAR, Formula One and Demolition Derby race, what with every manner of vessel...

A Three-peat Victory, Redemption and Inspiration at Norwalk’s Lighthouse to Lighthouse Race

As Ian Frenkel and I stealthily steered our 22-foot tandem kayak toward Greens Ledge Lighthouse on Long Island Sound off Norwalk Saturday, we closed in on our good friend and arch rival Phil Warner, who was racing in his 24-foot two-man...

The Elegance (and Pain) of a White Mountain Presidential Traverse

Most hikers traipsing among New Hampshire’s White Mountains consider peaks in the Presidential Range – Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower – a worthy day hike, and many break up ascents of the more...

Superior Kayaking in Minnesota

Over the years I’ve heard many sounds while kayaking – roaring rapids, crashing waves, rumbling thunder, whistling wind, pelting rain, quacking ducks, barking seals, crying loons, splashing whales, screeching eagles –...

You Can't Mess With Mother Nature (But That Doesn't Stop Me From Trying)

In his book "The Control of Nature" John McPhee chronicles such futile human efforts as spraying fire hoses on a volcanic lava flow that threatened an Icelandic fishing village, building dikes along the flood-prone...

For the Ultra Athlete, Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

At 5:40 Thursday morning the sun had yet to poke above the horizon, but Laura Ely of Stonington and Pam Dolan of Mystic already had begun a 20-mile cycle through the hills of southeastern Connecticut.

A Fox in the Blueberries and Other Garden Surprises

    When my wife returned from the garden the other day, somewhat breathless and empty-handed, she announced, "You’ll never believe what’s trapped in the blueberry enclosure."

At Last, Kayaks Overpower Jet Skis

While launching my kayak on Maine’s Rangeley Lake the other day I took a short detour to avoid a particularly annoying personal watercraft rider who had been buzzing around in circles, seemingly oblivious to loons, humans and other...