I took a deep breath, stepped back, and paused a moment to gather myself. I could hardly believe that only several months earlier I had eagerly accepted this position, that of the outdoor wanderer, the transient do-gooder, a member of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s Roving Crew. Surely instances such as this, while not entirely pleasant, were to be expected, even foreseen. Yet there I stood, eye to eye, with the crescent of an Adirondack Box Privy.
There are some outhouses that require a certain mental fortitude to enter. This happened to be one of them. The door, with sections of wood flaking off as easily as the weathered brown paint, stood slightly open to expose a rotting interior with the walls wasting away in a similar fashion.
But it was the floor that stands so vividly in my memory. What once were wooden boards now more resembled a pulp mesh. It was clear that even the weight of a small child would have sent the visitor plummeting into the pile of visible waste below. Though it was not an ideal situation, nevertheless there was no clear alternative with which to answer nature’s urgent call, and so, acrobatically, I stepped in.
I do not, fellow paddlers, mean to cast a grim shadow on the privies of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, nor the Adirondack Park. In fact, I would call this particular privy atypical of both. This article works to highlight those interns, staffers, and volunteers who see to it that this is so.
It all started in early June, sitting around the campfire during intern training week in Highgate, Vermont. Walter, NFCT’s trail director, had gathered us round to give his infamous “poop talk.” There we first were taught the difference between a standard pit privy, a moldering privy, and your standard porta-potty. It was that fateful night when we realized that perhaps privies were to be a larger focus this summer than we had foreseen.
Here is one such experience.
The Roving Crew, made up of myself, Hannah, Alyssa, and the regional field coordinator for Vermont, Noah, journeyed to the Nulhegan River near Bloomfield, Vermont. The first several days of our work week we spent grappling with the restless sun, which beat ceaselessly in some malicious attempt to knock our group’s morale, and we were no doubt fatigued.
But the focus of that week, the work site and its accompanying Waterway Work Trip, was a culmination of countless hours of Noah’s hard work, and it was our assignment to turn his vision into a reality. Despite the heat, our team was committed to meet the challenge, and so we chipped away at each project just as one might try to convince their elderly parent that driving might not be such a great idea anymore, methodically and with persistence.
When we hold Waterway Work Trips in sites without standing privies, the construction of the outhouse becomes a priority (hopefully the reason as to why is obvious). However, the daunting number of projects that Noah had planned forced our attentions elsewhere and so, much to the chagrin of some volunteers, the privy was only one third complete as the weekend began.
On Friday the volunteers began to file in, bringing with them a much needed pep in their step. No doubt our crew fed off of their vivacity, determination, and passion for the trail, because, after introductions and a night of campfire stories and star gazing, before you knew it a day later there appeared our double wide moldering privy.
In hindsight I can hardly recall how it all happened. In my memory there are only flashes. First there was Bill, carpenter by trade, wielding a nail gun in one hand and a measuring tape in the other, a wicked smile on his face as he jumped from one piece of siding to the next politely assuring me that he, a carpenter by trade, thought my talents could best be applied to other projects.
Next there was Noah and Tim, scaling the side of the incomplete privy to throw on a roof. All the while Lelia, Myles, and Ray worked diligently under the guidance of Alyssa and Hannah to assemble signs, picnic tables, and blaze the mile-long trail system Noah had envisioned. Finally, there was everyone, all hands on deck, as we used our collective strength to move the finished cabin onto the previously constructed base.
At the end of the summer, the Moose River Bow Loop interns Ryan and Collin likened our crew to the three hunters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn. But it was projects like these that made us feel like the Goblins tolling away deep in the Misty Mountains.
What we came to realize through waterway work trips is that each of us plays a small part in the evolution of the trail. It is the volunteers, maintainers, paddlers, and communities that support the trail year after year and validate all of our hard work, and for that I thank them.
Lastly, if you’ve made it this far through my ramblings then cheers! Certainly you deserve to know where some of the finest outhouses on the trail have been constructed:
Brownway Campsite, Enosburg Falls, VT
Bin Privy with Evaporator
It’s brand new, it’s composting, and it lies on the fringe of a floodplain and so must be easily removable (as a result it’s slightly wobbly). Don’t worry about it too much though, just go ahead and let the ebb and flow of the outhouse ease your cramped bowels.
Yaledale Campsite – Alex’s Place, Derby, VT
Double Chamber Moldering Privy
While we might have installed a brand new lean-to this summer, the real gem of this campsite is it’s privy. Equipped with a new pee guard, this throne lies on top of a steep portage overlooking the Clyde River. A great place for anyone to put down their gear and lighten their load.
Nulhegan (not quite) Hut and Trail, Bloomfield, VT
Double Wide Moldering Privy
Imagine, if you will, a restroom apocalypse. Toilets across the land saying no to your scat. “We’re finished with your flushing!” the protest signs read. Where will you go? What shelter will you seek for your stool? Well, the innovative design of this double wide privy has room for you and your family. Bring some extra T.P., because once you enter you’ll never want to leave!
Seriously though, when you’re cursing the Nulhegan for being so low as you portage along VT 105, check it out! Noah is working hard to put up a hut this fall to accompany the privy. Be sure to stop in for a visit next spring.
Highgate Falls, Highgate, VT
A loo with a view! And not just of the river, a view of you, too! That’s right, Roving Crew intern Alyssa Andrews says, “Yeah, I saw some random person walking down the trail by the river. I think they were fishing. I saw them, but they didn’t see me!”
These are just a few of the fantastic campsites and privies of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Please, if you know of any others don’t hesitate to post a short review in the comments section.