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On the trails: Giving back to community with stewardship

  • Craig Sanborn, leader of the Cardigan Highlanders, right and Randy Richardson, left, development director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, lead a group Upper Valley High School Trail Corps participants in assessing the work needed to build a stone staircase to reduce erosion and make the trail safer near the summit of the Newbury Trail on Mount Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., on Aug. 1, 2019. (Upper Valley Trails Alliance photograph) Courtesy photograph

Special to the Valley News
Published: 6/16/2022 1:39:26 PM
Modified: 6/16/2022 1:37:11 PM

It is not surprising that many of us take our local public trails for granted. Given that they are generally made of earth and stone, we might imagine they are permanent and indestructible.

Most of us do not have to think about the fact that access to over 70% of our public trails depend on the generosity of private landowners and protective state laws. We will rarely see the mostly volunteer work crews as they meet, plan, gather early in the morning to hike and work with heavy tools through the bugs, dirt and heat. They do this stewardship work to ensure that these local trails are accessible, safe and sustainable for us.

You have likely never heard of the Cardigan Highlanders, but this volunteer trail crew has been helping to care of the trails on and beyond Mt. Cardigan in Orange, N.H., for almost 40 years. Led by the incredibly dedicated and somewhat eccentric Craig Sanborn, this crew brings great skill along with a Scottish tradition and flare to their work. Crew members receive a unique tartan bandana when they have contributed enough hours to battling the challenges of erosion and foot traffic. In addition to many necessary and technical projects every year, Craig insists on best practice standards and a strict schedule to keep all of the trail-related drains clear and maintained. Drainage work can be tough, but it is also vitally important, particularly on steeper trails like those on Mt. Cardigan.

Community support for these groups is crucial – not only active membership and funding, but also recognition. Phil Bryce, director of the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, clearly understands the value of the Highlanders based on his appreciation for their work in 2021: “The work by you and your volunteers is a significant contribution to the stewardship of state lands and the safety and experience of our visitors. But it is even more than that. The volunteer work of the Highlanders is an inspiration to all of us here in the Division.” 

As you hike the beautiful Upper Valley sections of the Appalachian Trail, you are unlikely to knowingly encounter a member of the Upper Valley Ottauquechee (UVO) Section of the Green Mountain Club. However, we should all be thankful that this altruistic and hard-working group of volunteers are regularly scouting and working to keep the trail open and safe for thru-hikers and locals alike. UVO work includes clearing downed trees and brush, maintain water bars in addition to a range of trail and shelter maintenance and repair projects. This very well-organized and trained team divides their 46 miles of the AT into more manageable sections for monitoring and regular maintenance. They often work alone, but regularly team up for special projects. And in their “spare” time they offer a wide range of fun club activities that usually involve even more time on the trails.

These are just two of the many committed volunteer groups that form the backbone of our Upper Valley trail stewardship network. In addition to the work of many town-based committees and conservation organizations like the Upper Valley Land Trust and Hanover Conservancy, heroic local volunteer trail groups include the many mountain bike and snowmobile clubs and larger trail network organizations like Ascutney Outdoors, Rivendell Trail Association, Cross Vermont Trail Association, and many others throughout the region. All of these groups are doing important work to support the critical infrastructure connecting more of us to nature and the benefits of outdoor recreation.

While we are thankful to these dedicated local trail stewards, there are gaps in the network and much more work to be done. The need has only increased with changing weather patterns and the dramatic increase in trail use in recent years. Please help keep our local trails beautiful, safe and accessible by supporting your local trail organizations.

Randy Richardson lives in Woodstock and is development director at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance. He also serves on the Billings Park Commission and Ottauchquechee River Trail Committee. He can be reached at  

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