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Two Roads Diverged: Bypassed Bits of Appalachian Trail Remain Open for Hiking

  • on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, on the Appalachian Trail near Ponduck Road in White River Junction/West Hartford, Vt.. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kevin "Steelhead" Jacobs, of Syracuse, N.Y., hikes the Appalachian Trail, near Podunk Road, on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in West Hartford, Vt. Jacobs said that he started hiking from Hot Springs, N.C., on April 22, 2017 and tries to hike about 20 miles a day. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, on the Appalachian Trail near Ponduck Road in White River Junction/West Hartford, Vt.. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A trail marker on Podunk Road indicates to hikers that they need to turn left and cross the road to continue to the Appalachian Trail on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in West Hartford, Vt. Podunk Road was a former trail of the AT, but has since been moved into the woods. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kevin "Steelhead" Jacobs, of Syracuse, N.Y., hikes the Appalachian Trail, near Podunk Road, on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in West Hartford, Vt. Jacobs said that he started hiking from Hot Springs, N.C., on April 22, 2017 and tries to hike about 20 miles a day. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, September 02, 2017

While hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 1948, Earl Shaffer followed a stretch of the old King’s Highway in North Pomfret, between a farmhouse and a barn, en route to the White River in West Hartford.

Shaffer was the first person to hike the 2,000-mile trail end to end, and in 1998 he decided to make a 50th-anniversary trek. The route through the Upper Valley presented him with a challenge. When he reached the intersection of King’s Highway and Joe Ranger Road, he couldn’t quite find the way forward.

“A lot of it used to be on jeep trails through valleys,” Shaffer, then 79, recalled that hazy September morning in 1998. “Now they go out of their way to run it over ridges. … This last stretch … was just up and down, up and down.”

Eventually, Shaffer found his way over the spine of nearby Bunker Hill, on a trail just south of and parallel to King’s Highway, then followed the A.T.’s white blazes through and finally out of the Upper Valley and into the homestretch of his expedition.

As much as he and other old-timers missed the former route through Bridgewater, Barnard, Woodstock, Pomfret, West Hartford, Norwich, Hanover, Etna, Lyme and Orford, many stretches have remained passable by foot, affording a hiker with a couple of hours or half a day a wealth of loop routes to follow by combining the old segments with the new.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Green Mountain Club and the Dartmouth Outing Club had relocated many segments of the trail from jeep trails and the farmland of what Shaffer in 1998 called “The Missing Link” of 100 miles connecting Vermont’s Green Mountains with New Hampshire’s Whites.

“I spent years over there, just exploring potential changes that might make improvements, in the interest of hikers as well as the interest of the resource itself, to make everything better, and last longer,” Lebanon native Earl Jette, former director of outdoor programs at Dartmouth College, said last week. “Prior to that, there were a lot of places that were nothing but muck. That was the basis of the Trail in the beginning — following old roads, cow paths, that kind of thing. ... I haven’t been out on the old sections for a long, long time.”

For a leisurely introduction to the old trail, try a loop in Norwich between the outing club’s Happy Hill lean-to shelter to the west and the now un-maintained dirt road connecting Bragg Hill with the Dothan neighborhood of Hartford. My favorite way in is by Dothan Street, which branches off U.S. Route 5 in Wilder just north of Dothan Brook School and climbs through Dothan to Jericho Hill.

Where Dothan Street ends, Joshua Road turns right and runs about half a mile, passing a farm and crossing the Hartford town line into Norwich before ending at a shaded cul-de-sac with room to park a car on the right. Afoot from there, follow Joshua Road, now a gravel way, downhill. Where a private driveway branches right, stay straight ahead and descend a rocky, eroded footway to Dothan Brook, which on the day of the recent solar eclipse was trickling and easy to cross but can be a modest challenge in spring and rainy periods.

Once across the brook, Joshua Road climbs in a few strides to a clearing, near the foundation of an old farmstead. To the left and right runs a dirt road that the Appalachian Trail used to follow along Dothan Brook between Happy Hill and the Class IV extension of Newton Lane.

A left turn onto the old trail here leads the walker on a rolling old road through second- or third-growth forest, with the brook babbling on the left. After a little more than half a mile, the old road ends, and a D.O.C.-crafted footpath branches steeply to the right, away from the brook. Before long it levels off, and in a couple of spots, on older trees, you can still see one of the outing club’s blazes — an orange square with a black, horizontal rectangle in the middle.

Soon the path levels out, passes through a stone wall and over a barrier of birch logs to reach the current A.T., which here is another old road. Turn right here toward Norwich, and in less than a mile the trail reaches a junction, where two vertical blazes of white paint on a blasted tree trunk mark a right turn of the A.T. Now a footpath again, the trail meanders over a series of little ridges and stream drainages for a little more than a mile before ending at Cossingham Road.

A stroll to the left on Cossingham for about 100 yards leads to a wide-open meadow and reveals the walk’s one expansive view — north and east to Holts Ledge in Etna, Smarts Mountain in Lyme and Orford and Mount Cube in Orford. For long-distance A.T. hikers heading north, those are the next big obstacles before the White Mountains.

For the homestretch of this day hike, return to Cossingham Road, turn left and follow it south over a low ridge. With stone walls on either side, the old road ambles in about half a mile to a fork, where a right turn onto another old road leads shortly to the old A.T., which rambles with minor ups and downs along Dothan Brook back to Joshua Road. In shady patches along the way, expect to find a couple of mudholes where the pawprints of raccoons, coyotes and the occasional deer usually outnumber the tread marks of off-road sneakers and hiking boots. At the Joshua Road junction, turn left and cross Dothan Brook for the final push back to the car.

For this and other loop hikes around the Upper Valley, it’s a good idea to pick up a copy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s guide to the Appalachian Trail in Vermont and New Hampshire — usually available at Eastern Mountain Sports in the Powerhouse Mall and the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover. Also, drop into Dartmouth College’s Robinson Hall in Hanover and ask for current maps of outing club trails.

It also helps to peruse, and keep in the car, a copy of the DeLorme’s Atlas & Gazetteer of Vermont and New Hampshire (now in one volume; previously, DeLorme published one for each state) to locate roads that lead to trailheads.

Among the busier former links to the A.T. is the easternmost mile and a half of the Cross Rivendell Trail in Orford. It starts on Baker Road, about a mile from Route 25A between Orford and Wentworth, N.H., and, after a couple of steep pitches leads quickly to the wide-open, flat summit of 2,900-foot-high Mount Cube, with its 360-degree view encompassing the Green Mountains, the White Mountains and the Connecticut River Valley.

Around the same time that the Dartmouth Outing Club rerouted the Appalachian Trail over Cube, it also changed the approaches from the north and south sides of 3,200-foot Smarts Mountain, leaving old roads and ravines behind and following the ridgeline of more than eight miles.

For a few years after the relocations through this area, time and vegetation and erosion obscured the former northerly route up Smarts. Then in 1993, the Dartmouth Outing Club rededicated the 3.2-mile path as the Daniel Doan Trail, in honor of the Orford-born author of the guidebooks 50 Hikes in New Hampshire and 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire. Growing up in Orford, the then-teenage Doan hiked this route with a friend, and later incorporated a description in one of the guidebooks.

“I’m so glad that Dan was still alive when we had that dedication,” said Ruth Doan MacDougall, of Center Sandwich, N.H., who took over the revising of the guidebooks after her father’s death in 1993. “He was really pleased. He was so modest about these things, but he was deeply, quietly pleased.”

To reach the Doan Trail, follow Quintown Road 1.7 miles from Route 25A in Orfordville to its intersection with Mousley Brook Road. Turn right here onto what is another former route of the A.T., and drive another seven-10ths of a mile to a gate, where a rectangular orange D.O.C. sign reads:

DANIEL DOAN TRAIL

TRAILHEAD PARKING

SMARTS SUMMIT 3.2

From here, follow the now-private road, marked by paper signs reading “private way” and “hikers welcomed” for about half a mile through a couple more gates, keeping close watch for blue blazes on trees on the right side of the road. Soon you’ll reach another orange D.O.C. sign, with an arrow pointing straight ahead to the Doan Trail and another arrow pointing right to Smith Mountain Road, which traverses the western flank of Smarts on the way to Dorchester Road in Lyme Center. The Doan Trail ascends for 3.2 miles, partly along a branch of Mousley Brook, sometimes steeply, before emerging at the former fire-warden’s cabin near the fire tower and the junction with the current A.T.

In recent years, Doan’s granddaughter, Syracuse, N.Y., resident Thane Joyal, and her husband and their son have been working with Upper Valley trail volunteers and the outing club to keep the trail open. Joyal also does much of what her aunt, MacDougall, now 78, describes as the “legwork” for revising the White Mountains guidebooks.

“My first hike up … was a memorial hike shortly after (Dan Doan’s) death with a group of family and friends,” Joyal, now in her 50s, recalled last week during an exchange of emails. “At the time the hike seemed to me to be a reclaimed, eroded ski trail. The early family trail work weekends that I organized many years later were primarily brush clearing and erosion management. Since then the excellent work of the trail adopters has transformed it into a real trail and a delightful hike.”

One of these days, Joyal hopes to ascend Smarts on the Doan Trail and descend on one of the “new” routes.

“I haven’t done those hikes yet,” Joyal wrote, “but you’ve whetted my appetite!”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.