Radio Field Trip: Maintaining N.H. Trails in Newbury

May 30, 2018

While recording this week’s Radio Field Trip, Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley and producer Mary McIntyre got a little lost in the woods...

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(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

It’s a sunny spring morning, and we're hiking along the Andrew Brook Trail in Newbury.

It’s the perfect wooded scene with a canopy of towering trees, a choir of birds and a babbling brook. But we've run out of trail, and we're a bit turned around.

We're looking for a crew of volunteers who are preparing this trail for the spring and summer seasons.

After a few minutes, we find some rocks to get me across the brook and we see that the trail continues on the other side.

We keep moving until we reach a group of five trail workers dressed from head to toe in expert hiking gear.

These are members of the Cardigan Highlanders Volunteer Trail Crew. They travel around the state to work on trails that need help, and Craig Sanborn is their leader.

He says they’ve stopped here to clear a drain.

“This is the most important job of a spring patrol,” Craig says. “We rake the drains and re-dig the drains to carry away the water.”

Craig says downpours will destroy trails faster than anything else. But this crew will do everything they can to prevent that from happening.

They’ll be working on dozens of drains on this day, making sure visitors have clear, dry paths to hike through.

It’s hard, physical work – raking, shoveling, sawing the trunks of fallen trees, then lifting those trunks to clear the paths. And then there are other challenges to deal with.

“The black fly regards you as their personal smorgasbord,” Craig says. “And here we are looking rather tasty to them.”

These annoying, small flies swarm all around. I bat at them with my hands.

But one of the volunteers, Rich Marcucci is prepared. A mesh mask covers his face, protecting him from the bugs. And it’s only his first day.

I ask him if he plans on sticking with volunteering.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah,” Rich says. “It gives me an opportunity to be out in the beautiful New Hampshire countryside, which is always a great excuse.”

It’s not much of a surprise, but all the volunteers here today are avid hikers who’ve spent countless days on trails all throughout the state.

Volunteer Randy Richardson says he appreciates the opportunity to keep them well maintained.

“Literally I credit the trails with my physical and mental health almost completely,” Randy says. “So being able to give back is just part of it, because it is fun. It’s getting to work out here with people who have similar values around the trails and how important it is.”

Randy says most of the people out working the trails with him are older and retired.

“It’s usually a bunch of old fart men with beards,” Randy says.

Volunteer Donna Dearborn is the only woman on the crew here today. She says there are some paid trail crews, but there are very, very few.

All the crew members here agree it’s difficult to find people who are willing to help out. Volunteer Bob Humphrey says for the amount of people using the trails, there’s not enough of them pitching in.

“I say that if everyone that hikes would put in one day of trail work a year, the trails would be beautiful,” Bob says. “But that’s not happening.”

The crew continues up the trail, looking for more drains to clear.

We come across a stream that flows down a hill over large boulders. The trail continues on the other side of the water, but there’s a giant, fallen tree blocking the path.

The crew works together to saw the trunk in half and then lift it out of the way.

And that’s just one example of the teamwork it takes to keep these trails clear. Donna says it’s really rewarding to be able to look back and see the work they do together.

“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment,” she says.