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Senators press for extra funding for Appalachian Trail

  • U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan talks to Matt Stevens, left, conservation resource manager with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Ethan Goldman, center left, with Dartmouth Outing Club, and Kevin Donohue, right, director of the Dartmouth Outing Club trail crew, while Ben Belanger, senior policy and projects assistant with the senator's office, pets Hassan's dog Chip during a hike on a section of the Appalachian Trail in Etna, N.H., on Friday, July 2, 2021. Sen. Hassan is rallying her colleagues to allocate an additional $1.9 million in federal funding for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Alex Driehaus

  • U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan walks onto the Appalachian Trail with her dog, Chip, followed by Matt Stevens, conservation resource manager with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Hawk Metheny, northeast regional director with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Etna, N.H., on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/2/2021 9:44:01 PM
Modified: 7/6/2021 12:05:56 PM

ETNA — U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., met with Upper Valley trail advocates and officials on a rainy Friday morning to walk a stretch of the Appalachian Trail and promote a bipartisan effort to increase funding for the popular stretch of national parklands.

“It’s important to about 3 million hikers a year through the length of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also a major economic driver, as well as a real resource for people who enjoy the great outdoors and enjoy recreation and it really gives them a chance to connect with the environment,” Hassan said before the 40-minute hike.

Hassan signed a letter encouraging the Senate Committee on Appropriations to include an additional $1.9 million in federal money for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Federal funding for the trail has remained stagnant over the last 10 years except for some limited COVID-19 relief. Several lawmakers who represent states along the AT, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also signed the letter, as did U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

“Southern, Northern, Democrat, Republican, everyone is really committed to this,” Hassan said.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors has increased by 100% in the past decade, according to Hassan’s office. The senator said the extra funds would go toward safety and law enforcement, accommodations for new visitors, and maintenance and resiliency efforts.

“The funds will increase the base funding for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Some of it helps with resource management, but not much of it because there isn’t much of it,” said Matthew Stevens, resource manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. With more federal dollars, he said, managers of the trail can do more to restore habitats in the Upper Valley.

Representatives from various groups that work together to manage the trail — the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Forest Service and Dartmouth Outing Club — joined Hassan and her black Lab, Chip, on the 2-mile hike on the AT off Etna Road.

The group wound through a stretch of the trail that the Outing Club maintains, and then regional managers from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy gave the senator a tour of Bent Field, where they have been transforming an old hay field into a mosaic of rare habitats.

Stevens told Hassan that the conservancy “wants to keep it open and manage an uncommon landscape along the trail.”

The low meadows provide a home for insects and rodents, the native wildflowers attract at-risk pollinators, and the young trees offer nesting space for migrating songbirds. He said grasslands are a “diminishing habitat.”

Appalachian Trail Conservancy regional director Hawk Metheny told Hassan that the trail was “the preeminent carbon sink.”

“You don’t have to build it, you just have to love it,” the senator responded.

Hassan, who is up for reelection to a second term in 2022 and may face a challenge from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, said that earlier in her career, critics would ask her why she put birds over people when she championed conservation efforts. She said that preserving open land is “all about our air and our water” and also stressed the importance of combating climate change.

“There is an effort to help people understand that their farms and gardens need pollinators,” Metheny added. He said that conserving the trail is a question of “more than just aesthetics.”

On the way back to the trailhead, Hassan talked to two members of the Dartmouth Outing Club as the rain began to fall more heavily. Both Kevin Donohue and Ethan Goldman joined the club almost as soon as they matriculated. Dartmouth students clear and maintain a 50-mile stretch of the trail, and Donohue, who just graduated, is leading the DOC trail maintenance crew this summer.

“I learned as much from the Dartmouth Outing Club as my classes,” said Donohue, who said he has come to “feel ownership and responsibility” for the trail.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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