Collaboration Drives Trail-Building Efforts

  • Cooperative efforts from volunteer trail crew groups, left, helped the Upper Valley Trails Alliance complete work on a trail to Enfield’s Smith Lake and the accopanying Little Dog Falls, above, Courtesy photographs

Special to the Valley News
Published: 9/29/2018 11:59:28 PM
Modified: 9/30/2018 12:00:09 AM

It is easy to take our Upper Valley trails for granted. They often look and feel as if they have been in place for years, decades or even generations, and we might assume they will be there forever, with little to no intervention from us.

However, trails do not magically appear and take care of themselves. Each one has its own story and is only built, maintained and conserved with the passion, generosity, commitment and hard work of countless members of our Upper Valley community.

The Upper Valley Trails Alliance works on many miles of trails every year, and we were involved with one trail project at Smith Pond in Enfield that illustrates this kind of community investment and teamwork.

As is the case with virtually all beautiful, sustainable and publicly accessible trails, the story starts with a landowner willing and able to provide public access. Thankfully, the Upper Valley Land Trust stepped up in 2015 to lead the effort to conserve the 1,000-acre Smith Pond Shaker Forest Conservation Area for the benefit of all Upper Valley residents. Smith Pond is now at the center of 5,000 protected forested acres sitting between two New Hampshire Fish and Game wildlife management areas.

There are a number of carefully planned trails at Smith Pond, and the UVLT has been diligently working to build, improve and maintain this trail network. UVLT stewardship director Jason Berard contacted the UVTA to help improve an eroding and somewhat dangerous section of one of the trails. While we always consider a reroute when a trail is steep and slippery, we all agreed that the trail needed to stay where it was to ensure hikers have a view of the stunningly beautiful Little Dog Falls waterfall. We agreed that the safest and most sustainable solution was a stone staircase built with rocks quarried on site.

As Jason and the UVLT gathered funding, our UVTA team — led by trails program director Sean Ogle and executive director Russ Hirschler — started to plan the stair-building project. Quarrying and moving large rocks in a remote area is a somewhat complicated and labor-intensive effort requiring a griphoist, a hand-operated hoist-winch capable of moving rocks that weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Both Sean and Russ have been trained to safely operate a griphoist and set up the necessary high-line system of pulleys and steel cables attached to trees.

Once the stones have been moved with this system, the final step placement is done with muscle and a variety of trail tools, including rock bars.

Once funding was in place and after multiple meetings, site visits and careful planning, it was time to determine the best sources for the many hours of required labor. Our UVTA team decided this was a perfect multiday project for our high school trail corps and Tuck Builds programs.

The high school trail corps is a UVTA program made up of students from more than 10 different Upper Valley schools. Each crew works with us for a full week on multiple trails, and the program is designed to care for trails while training and inspiring the next generation of trail stewards. The Tuck Builds program is a partnership with Tuck School of Business, matching incoming Tuck students with local nonprofits for 4 days of learning and work. Our Tuck Builds version of this program is built on our trail corps model and geared toward graduate students.

Combined, the willing, able and ambitious participants in both programs devoted almost 250 hours of labor to what became a beautiful staircase.

Two of our high school crews spent full days quarrying the rock, prepping the site, setting up the high line system and moving the rock near the site. Thanks to this work, our Tuck Builds crew was then able to move and set the actual stepping stones into place in just one day.

Jason and UVLT volunteers then quickly stepped in with several more hours of work to put the finishing touches on the staircase, including the necessary gargoyles (“ugly” stones set at the sides to hold the steps in place and keep hikers on the trail).

This is one project on one trail in the Upper Valley. There are hundreds of other trails and projects waiting for funding, volunteers and teamwork to ensure they are conserved, maintained and publicly accessible.

When you are out on the trail climbing some stairs, crossing a bridge or simply traveling without obstructions, we hope you will consider playing a role in the next Upper Valley trail story.

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

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