Do you ever hike in the Green Mountains? Have you noticed the well-maintained trails, steps, bridges, water bars, shelters and privies? Ever wondered how this happens? Meet the Green Mountain Club (GMC).
The GMC and its cast of nearly 1,000 volunteers maintain the 445-mile Long Trail System (the Long Trail and its side trails), the Appalachian Trail from Killington to Norwich, and 20 miles of recently completed trails in the Northeast Kingdom—for a total of about 500 miles. In 1910 a group of volunteers began building the Long Trail with the goal of making “the mountains of Vermont play a larger role in the life of the people.” More than a century later degraded natural resources, development pressures and overuse have led the GMC to expand its portfolio to include land acquisition, maintenance, building and conservation, and protection of this vast network of trails. In 2018 the GMC had 9,500 dues-paying members who contributed 13,000 volunteer hours to the club.
Rich and Sheri Larsen of Essex are GMC volunteers. For about 15 years they have served as adopters of a section of the Long Trail from Lincoln Gap north to Battell Shelter on the slopes of Mt. Abraham. “We visit the trail three or four times each year and do any maintenance necessary to get the trail in shape for hiking season,” Sheri says. “We bring loppers to cut overhanging branches and saws to remove blowdowns. Once or twice a year, with shovels and hoes, we clear mud and leaves from the water bars. When the job is too big for volunteers—building steps or moving boulders, for example—we ask GMC trail maintenance personnel for help.”
An astounding 200,000 people enjoyed the Long Trail System in 2018, with more than 50,000 visiting the summit of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Equally impressive are the nearly 22,000 who hiked Camel’s Hump—the only way to get up the Hump is on foot!
Why adopt a trail? “We know that the club relies on volunteers,” Sheri says. “We love hiking Mt. Abe. When we learned that GMC was looking for an adopter we signed up. We try to bring friends along—more fun for everyone and the work is shared.”
In addition to trail support the Larsens lead GMC hikes. They have also served on various committees and the board of directors. Shelburne resident Tom Candon is currently president of the board. Like both Larsens, Candon is an End-to-Ender, having completed the entire Long Trail by sections rather than thru-hiking. Candon is quick to celebrate other volunteers. “Vermont Air National Guard provided 20 volunteers to carry heavy wood up a mountainside to build new tent platforms,” he says. “Volunteers have designed and rebuilt shelters; worked on trails, shelters, and privies; served on committees and the board; and led hikes—all to fulfill the mission of the GMC.”
A recent GMC newsletter cited the labors of a trail crew repairing a spot on the Long Trail known as the “Mud Pit.” To paraphrase: The crew searched a nearby hillside for the right-size boulders that then needed to be safely moved down a 30-degree hillside to the correct spot in the Mud Pit. They set up a specially designed 250-foot-long rope, known as a highline. This system takes four crew members to operate safely: three members who control the height and speed of the rock, and another who carefully guides the rock along the 250 feet of the highline. Once the rock reaches the bottom, tension on the rope is slowly released, and the crew guides the rock into position.
All of this so that we can all enjoy and be safe on Vermont hiking trails!
How might you support the trails you love to hike?
Join the Green Mountain Club. Membership supports all aspects of the extensive trail network: $45 individual, $60 family, $25 student or senior.
Volunteer for a morning or a day. Consider spending a week on a summer volunteer crew, working and living on the trail. You’ll learn useful skills and contribute to the maintenance of the trail network.
Learn to be safe and responsible on the trail. GMC classes include Leave No Trace, Wilderness First Aid, Map and Compass, Vermont Ecology, Women’s Backpacking, Yoga and Hiking, and Trail Maintenance.
Join an outing and experience the wonders of nature out on the trail.
Make sure to get outdoors this fall and savor the beauty of Vermont!