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Learning the True Value of Trails

  • Upper Valley Trails Alliance development director Randy Richardson helps construct a bridge at the Trescott Water Supply Lands in Hanover last month.

  • Richardson on a New Hampshire's North Kinsman Mountain last fall.

Special to the Valley News
Published: 1/21/2017 11:56:47 PM
Modified: 1/21/2017 11:56:50 PM

Trails have provided pathways to nature and both my physical and mental health for most of my life.

I have found myself on trails in profoundly happy moments. I was on a lovely trail at Root Glen in Clinton, N.Y., in 1983, with a light snow falling, the very first time with my wife, Susi. Looking into each other’s eyes, we shared at least a subconscious awareness that we were falling in love.

I still get in trouble for that day not telling Susi her mascara was a mess. My excuse is that I was blinded by love and thought she looked beautiful, even if she did slightly resemble a raccoon.

Trails have also helped me through very difficult times. More than a decade ago, I vigorously ran, hiked and biked just about every day on a great network of trails in Concord. It was a way to cope with the harsh reality of Susi’s breast cancer diagnosis and radiation treatment.

Thankfully, Susi is now a long-term, healthy survivor, and we are blessed to be able to walk local trails in and around Woodstock together.

Despite the profoundly important role that trails have played in my life, I have largely taken them for granted. Like most trail users, I used to view trails as permanent and everlasting resources that I would always be able to access. I simply assumed that the ones I cared about, near or far, would be there for me when I wanted and needed them.

My view started to change when I began doing some trail maintenance back in Concord, and much more so when I started to use and help maintain the Appalachian Trail almost daily over the last few years. As I read about past and present issues surrounding the AT, I learned that even this national treasure is at risk and depends on a literal army of advocates and volunteers to keep it clean, accessible and protected.

However, my eyes have been opened much, much wider since I started working at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance in November. There are many more trails in the Upper Valley and beyond than I ever imagined, some beloved and popular, and others known and loved by only a few lucky souls in the know.

I know realize that many of these trails are vulnerable resources, dependent on the good will of a wide range of landowners and conservation agencies as well as a vast network of professional and volunteer trail advocates, builders and maintainers.

As I have sat in on area town trail committees, the Vermont Trails and Greenways Council, Trail Finder trainings and Upper Valley Trails Alliance board meetings, I have met some of the incredibly dedicated people who work tirelessly to ensure our trails are there for us when we need them. Many of these unsung trail advocates have been generously doing this work for decades.

Unfortunately, most of our region’s trails organizations have very limited staff and financial resources, and many, such as the UVTA, need more support. If you are one of the tens of thousands of people who, like me, regularly benefit from our trails, please find out more about one of your local and regional trail organizations and about how you can help protect and enhance these resources that literally shape, define and connect us and our communities.

If we can fall in love, heal ourselves and connect to nature on trails, they are surely worth our appreciation and investment.

Randy Richardson is Development Director at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance. He can be reached at or 802-649-9075.

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