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Students Learn Trail Repair

Woodsville High School junior Josh Burke, of Pike, wipes his face during a break along Black Mountain's Chippewa Trail in North Haverhill. Burke and eight other Woodsville High students were performing maintenance on the trail this week with the Appalachian Mountain Club as part of a summer program. 
Valley News -- Jared Pendak

Woodsville High School junior Josh Burke, of Pike, wipes his face during a break along Black Mountain's Chippewa Trail in North Haverhill. Burke and eight other Woodsville High students were performing maintenance on the trail this week with the Appalachian Mountain Club as part of a summer program. Valley News -- Jared Pendak

North Haverhill — Beginning near North Haverhill village, Black Mountain’s Chippewa Trail culminates with sweeping views of the White Mountains.

A new partnership between Woodsville High School and the Appalachian Mountain Club is inspiring kids to see even farther.

As part of the New Hampshire Jobs for America’s Graduates program — a state-funded nonprofit whose mission is to affect positive change in young people — nine Woodsville students joined AMC staff this week for four days of maintenance work on Black Mountain.

Performing vital tasks such as drainage-ditch digging, brush clearing and water-bar building, students joined AMC trail crew leaders Alana Scannell and Madison Vlass for what Woodsville teacher Kim Spaulding hopes will help build leadership and cooperation skills.

Next week, they’ll rendezvous with Scannell and Vlass for similar work on Cannon Mountain’s Kinsman Ridge Trail in Franconia Notch, N.H.

Students are paid minimum wage and earn one-half of a school credit for their efforts. Perhaps importantly, the program provides them with an opportunity to revisit Black Mountain, an iconic part of the Haverhill landscape at 2,830 feet.

“Most of them have climbed Black Mountain before as part of a field trip in eighth grade,” said Spaulding, a youth specialist at Woodsville High who teaches the NH-JAG class. “There is a lot of value to trail building, a lot of skills involved there that you would use in a career. Plus, it gets them outside, gets them on the trail. In the North Country, we’re surrounded by these beautiful mountains and this allows them to be exposed to it.”

That’s never been a problem for Woodsville senior-to-be Jessica Bowman, who regularly visits the trail with her family. That made this week’s cleanup and maintenance excursions all the more meaningful.

“This trail has personal significance to me. It’s right in our backyard and it’s a special place,” said Bowman, who lives in the Mountain Lakes section of Haverhill. Asked if she could see herself pursuing a career in stewardship, she paused.

“Probably not,” she said. “I really want to open a pet store with my best friend, but I could definitely see myself (performing volunteer trail work) in the future.”

The group patched up important aspects of the trail that are easy to take for granted, such as drainage ditches that provide a necessary diversion for fast-flowing water. Without them, saturation on well-worn portions of the path leads to erosion that can wipe out vegetation, damage root systems and disrupt the integrity of soil.

Wielding hazel hoes — heavy duty scalping tools with six-inch blades — NH-JAG students repaired many of the drainage ditches along the path. Many were either partially, if not completely, filled in with dirt and rock as a result of weathering and neglect.

Water bars made from stone or timber were also placed along the path to help divert water runoff.

“Basically, it’s a constant battle against what we call ‘erosion dragons,’ ” said Vlass, who attends Fort Lewis College in Colorado. “There’s a big difference between most of the trails in New England and the trails out West. Here, a lot of them were a matter of people just basically deciding they wanted to get to the top of a mountain and just setting out into the woods, clearing paths (without much thought toward erosion prevention). In Colorado, a lot the trails are much more designed to minimize impact.”

Using loose brush and branches, the group covered up wayward routes created by hikers who either avoided muddy areas or failed to realize that the poorly blazed trail is turning. A few areas in particular were exceptionally worn in by hikers presumably confused about which way the trail leads.

The NH-JAG group filled in as many of the faulty gaps as they could, but refrained from re-blazing.

“The trail is owned by three different groups — it starts on private land, then goes into land owned by the (nonprofit) Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and then enters the White Mountain National Forest,” said Scannell, a recent University of New Hampshire graduate. “That makes it hard (to coordinate blazing).”

With limited hiking experience among students, there were plenty of rests along the way for snacks and water. Scannell and Vlass emphasized “leave no trace” guidelines, especially packing up all trash.

The students also learned about “fooing,” a verbal system of alerting those ahead of you on the trail through a series of “Foo!” chirps.

“ ‘Foo’ is the loudest sound a person can make with their mouth,” Scannell said. “Two foos means you’re stopping for food and three foos is the international distress signal. You don’t want to shout three foos unless you’re really in trouble.”

It was the second straight summer the class has connected with AMC, with two NH-JAG members, Bowman and Dane Lalmond, having participated both summers. Lalmond has been happy to be a part of it.

“It’s a great job opportunity,” said, Lalmond a junior this fall. “You get to come out here, learn about the forest, help the trails and meet people. It’s fun.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.