Fellowship of the Trail

As we start laying the third stone step for the Union Falls access, a car pulls into the dirt lot across the street. Out pops a spry older man, with a plaid shirt tucked into his khakis, a baseball cap framing his face, and a trimmed snow-white beard from ear to ear.

We pause our rock maneuvering as he walks over. He introduces himself as he surveys our work. His name is Dick Jarvis, a previous volunteer, and long-time supporter of the NFCT. He is thrilled that we are improving this access, mentioning that it was a long time coming.

Throughout the day he continues to pop back in, monitoring our progress. The second time he brings a friend of his and we all sit together by the water’s edge and share stories over lunch. We ask them about their previous work in natural resource management, and they regale us with the pitfalls and successes of their storied careers in conservation. The third time Dick pops by he invites us to come up to his house after work.

We drive up, sweat-drenched and sore, and he gives us a tour of his beautiful home. We then sit out on his deck which overlooks the vast, dark green wilderness of the northern Adirondacks, as we drink beers brewed just down the street. We swap stories of moose encounters and Dick tells us his favorite places to paddle and ski. “I just love it out here,” he says.

It’s the people I’ve met, while working on the canoe trail, that stick with me. While we certainly visited many gorgeous spots — the Moose River in western Maine, Vermont’s Nulhegan and Clyde Rivers — it’s the local folks and trail community, and everyone’s various quirks and eccentricities, that seem to produce the most potent flavor of place.

There’s Jeff Parsons, a naturalist and paddler, who talked about his weekly bird counts for rare warblers on the top of Mt Mansfield — during a training week, he gave us an overview of the ecology of the Northern Forest, and then paddled with us down the Missisquoi River, commenting on the dynamic floodplains comprised of silver maples, and pointing out dancing otters and wading herons.

In Jackman, Maine, we met Carl, the talkative greeter for Attean Lodge, who we ran into each time we put in our boats to paddle to our campsite. He recounted stories of inexperienced paddlers and their mishaps, and expressed concern about overcrowding on the lake and overuse of its amenities. He seemed to enjoy our company and wished us well when we packed up our truck and drove off.

Each of these people, and many others that we met throughout the summer, share a deep passion for the outdoors. And it isn’t just the physical beauty of the landscape they are attracted to, but its histories, its communities, its unsung wonders. And these people are all connected by this sometimes invisible network of waterways, woven through mountains, valleys, villages and farm fields. A long distance trail brings people together. It’s the personalities I’ve been introduced to that have helped me understand that broader landscape mosaic, stitched by the rivers and lakes of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. I feel fortunate to have met them all.