Elizabeth Bassett, contributor
A few years ago, New Hampshire lost its Old Man of the Mountain when a slab of the iconic granite formation slumped to earth. Charlotte is more fortunate. We have our own Man of the Mountain, Pete Hiser.
Born and raised in town, Hiser’s knowledge, skills and workmanship have driven the elaborate project that culminates this spring in a network of steps and walkways on Mt. Philo.
The state park now hosts an intricate and highly-engineered trail system constructed over three seasons. The 394 granite steps and gravel walkways are being joined this spring by an additional 30 stairs connecting to the campground, the final installment in this multi-year project.
Through two summers, Hiser has worked with a rotating crew of workers with the expectation of finishing the job this month.
“Matt Hawes, a stonemason with more than 10 years of experience, and I have been the leaders,” said Hiser. “I learned the craft by working for several years with Hinesburg stonemason Paul Wieczoreck and then with Charlotte’s Churchill Landscaping.”
Hiser grew up on Quarter-Mile Road in Charlotte. His late mother, Betsy, who worked as a nutritionist at Eating Well magazine, died when Hiser was a child.
“My mother’s memorial service was held on Mt. Philo, so being able to work on this project is very special to me,” Hiser said.
The 250 to 300 tons of granite for the steps and building stone were sourced from two quarries in Whitehall, New York.
“Most of the building was done with the assistance of a mini-excavator,” Hiser said. “But one section, which we call the Grand Staircase, was too steep. We had to use a grip hoist, winch and rigging, attached with steel cables to large trees, to set 84 steps by hand. This is a well-known technique for building trails in the backcountry, but certainly not an everyday event on Mt. Philo.
Timber and Stone has overseen this project. The company’s work may be familiar to Charlotters, as it constructed the boardwalk at The Nature Conservancy’s Raven Ridge Preserve. Guiding principles of Timber and Stone are sustainability in construction to provide users with a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience that is inclusive rather than intimidating.
The new trail network at Mt. Philo is built to last. Grades are no greater than 10 percent and the design avoids water damage. The trails weave across the terrain, avoiding steep slopes that invite erosion and wear. Because of the hardened tread gravel and stone, even heavy use should not degrade the trails over time.
“Basic maintenance of the gravel should be all that is required to keep the trails sound over time,” Hiser said.
So, when you huff and puff up the Grand Staircase — also dubbed Stairmaster or Stairway to Heaven by breathless climbers — be grateful to Charlotte’s Man of the Mountain and a team of workers, funders and visionaries for this wonderful addition to our beloved state park.
No Mow May
If you are looking for an excuse to scamper up Mt. Philo or otherwise enjoy a spring day, here’s your permission slip: No Mow May. By not mowing your lawn during May, you are giving flowers (you may think of them as weeds but bees consider them lunch) more time to mature. Local pollinators, including bees, can savor dandelions, ground ivy, clover, violets and wild strawberries, all of which may be mingling amongst the grasses in your lawn, as they do in ours.
According to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, lawns make up two percent of land area in this country, feeding no one — including wildlife. This simple, energy-saving gesture helps wildflowers to produce seeds, thus increasing biodiversity, and can increase the overall health and carbon sequestration capacity of your lawn. Win-win!