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A Magic Wand in the Woods: ‘Trail Angels’ Give Appalachian Trail Hikers a Hand

  • "Trail Angels," from left, Greg Cook, Corlan Johnson, and Candy Miller, all of Norwich, listen to Norwich resident Betsy Maislen's advice at the Norwich, Vt. Public Library, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, on how to prepare for the influx of Appalachian Trail hikers as the weather warms. The volunteers from communities bordering the trail sometimes provide food, lodging, showers and rides to hikers as they work their way through the Upper Valley. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Outside her home in Norwich, Vt., Betsy Maislen welcomes Daren Jackson, of Atlanta with a fist bump as he and Spencer Hughes, of Satellite Beach, Fla., pass Maislen's home while hiking the Appalachian Trail south from Maine on July 30, 2015. Maislen puts food and information out for hikers passing her home. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Appalachian Trail hikers help Besty Maislen, third from left, stack wood delivered to her Norwich, Vt., home, on Aug. 4, 2015. From left are Josh Devon, of Baltimore, Chris Karcz, of Montville, N.J., Maislen, Clint Boaz, of Virginia Beach, Va., and Alex Studd-Sojka, of Fairfax, Va. In exchange for staying at her home, hikers frequently offer to help with chores. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College president Phil Hanlon, left, and junior Spencer Chu perform a ceremonial opening cut with a cross cut saw at the 69th annual Woodsmen’s Weekend on the Dartmouth Green in 2015. Dartmouth hosts the 72nd edition of the event on April 28-29, 2018. (Dartmouth Outing Club photograph)

  • Spencer Chu and his younger brother, Jon, compete in a fire building event at Woodsmen's Weekend in 2015. (Dartmouth Outing Club - David Kotz)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Norwich — As hiking season begins in earnest, an already far-reaching network of trail angels in the Upper Valley is hoping to spread its reach more widely.

Embracing the concept of “trail magic” — spontaneous acts of kindness put forth by strangers to benefit thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail — a Norwich- and Hanover-based group known as the Appalachian Trail Trail Angels is in its 12th year providing services. Most offer free, overnight stays at their homes, while others may give rides or advice about staying in the area for “zero days.”

Led by founder Betsy Maislen — whose Norwich home is one of the first northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers see after exiting the woods at the top of Elm Street — held an informational meeting at Norwich Public Library on Tuesday evening to help recruit more participants.

Maislen expects up to 20 individuals or families in the network this year, which would be about five more than a year ago.

“It’s the longest portion of paved road on the trail (about 3.4 miles), from the top of Elm Street to where it re-enters the woods behind the Hanover Co-op,” Maislen said. “A lot of them are looking for a hot shower and a place to stay.”

That’s what Maislen and her husband, Bill Schults, have been providing since 2007. They’ve hosted hundreds of them in a finished room in their basement over the first 11 years and helped grow a network that has put up an estimated 4,500 thru-hikers in all.

“It’s important to keep the group alive, because people come and go and sometimes (participants) move away from the area,” Maislen said.

“We have at least three (new) parties who are interested this year, which is exciting.”

Corlan Johnson, of Norwich, was among those who attended Tuesday’s meeting to get a better idea of what she might be able to offer.

“I’ve seen these hikers for years, coming in and out of town,” said Johnson, a former street vendor and store owner in downtown Hanover. “I wanted to learn more about (the trail angel) network and what the possibilities might be.”

Those possibilities are far-ranging. Etna couple Ted and Lois Frazer do not lodge hikers, but logged 1,900 miles last year transporting them from trail heads to various destinations. Most in the network offer to host two to four hikers at once, while Maislen and Schults have had as many as 15 stay over on a single night.

“It’s incredibly rewarding,” said Maislen, who was inspired to start the network after her son, Karl Schults, was AT thru-hiking and received a ride to a hospital to treat an infection, among other generosities, from a stranger. “People have no idea of the kindness of strangers. … There’s plenty of room for magic.”

Woodsmen’s Weekend at Dartmouth: Hanover will be a hub of forestry skills this weekend as Dartmouth College hosts the 72nd Annual Woodsmen’s Weekend on and around campus.

Thirty teams of six people each from 14 schools will be on hand to compete in competitions related to timber, including canoe races, team and individual sawing events and a packboard relay, where runners will transport materials and start a fire as quickly as possible.

The event is being run by Dartmouth team captains John Brady and Lauren Mendelsohn, both juniors. Dartmouth hosts the event every three years.

“I’m thrilled both to be on the team and to help organize it,” Brady said. “These events help you appreciate all of the hard work and time (wood workers) put in to make so many of the materials we use in society.”

The competition kicks off on Saturday morning with canoe races at Storrs Pond Recreation Area, including one involving a portage and a relay. Saturday afternoon shifts to Fullerton Farm Field for scoot load (loading logs onto a platform-style sled), log roll and pulp toss competitions, the latter involving the heaving of seasoned pulpwood about 16 feet into a 4-foot-wide target.

“That’s what (woodworkers) would do with wood that couldn’t be made into 2x4s, for example,” Brady said. “A lot of the events try to simulate what would actually happen.”

Beginning at 3 p.m. on Saturday are collegiate qualifiers for STIHL Timbersports, featuring six disciplines of chopping and sawing techniques. One is the underhand chop, simulating the cutting of a felled tree.

Saturday’s festivities conclude with the packboard relay race, then rekindle on Sunday morning on the Dartmouth Green with team crosscut and bow sawing.

Singles and doubles events thereafter include a test of endurance called “crosscut to death,” chain and axe throws, a pole climb and precision-based events. The latter includes disk stack, where woodsmen attempt to stack as many small cuts as possible on a vertical log without them toppling over. The weekend wraps up with triples splitting and chopping from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday.

“The STIHL Timbersports on Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday at Dartmouth Green, will probably be the most spectator friendly,” said Rory Gawler, the assistant director of Dartmouth’s Outdoor programs. “We hope people will come check it out. It’s a student-run event and it’s a really good time.”

Visit outdoors.dartmouth.edu for a complete schedule.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.