Trailwork is teamwork. Just about every stone step I placed this summer weighs more than I do. I learned this lesson early on, after an attempt to move a stone solo deposited the rock in the opposite direction of where it was intended and landed me and a dolly sprawled on the hillside! I can confirm that, both literally and figuratively, the things we build are bigger than ourselves.
While it feels funny to frame the Northern Forest Canoe Trail as centered around people, considering the wonder of the soft light at dawn on Flagstaff Lake or the canopy of silver maples that gracefully arch over the Raquette River, it makes sense that paddling is about the collective. There’s a closeness on the water that comes from the shared experience of moving through a place together.
The very concept behind the trail’s maintenance is about community; these places are worthwhile and need to be cared for so that others may enjoy them too. I think back to the numerous conversations the crew had as we designed and built projects, keeping in mind how we could best serve not just thru-paddlers portaging up the stairs but also the grandfather and grandson walking down hand-in-hand to go fishing.
Our trail community manifested itself in smaller moments, too. I recall the sense of camaraderie at meals shared and during the volunteer projects completed over the season. I still can’t believe how incredible NFCT volunteers were, often showing up with a six-pack and an eagerness to work. Rare is the breed that gladly agrees to camp out for a couple days and spend hours shoveling concrete and hauling rock, but our volunteers were often covered in mud and still smiling! Our hosts were equally inspiring, opening up their campgrounds, cabins, backyards, and inns to share food, drink, space, and time with us. Incredibly, this summer we somehow feasted on lobster, salmon, and venison thanks to the generosity of those we met along the trail.
So despite how magical it is to watch fireflies or hear a loon call, I can only conclude that the most beautiful part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is the people. It may be a sappy thing to say, but as the personality test I took at the beginning of the season revealed, I believe “relationships make all the difference.”
Still, it’s a bit ironic that people should be the highlight of a summer spent outdoors, when usually we retreat to the woods to escape. Instead of finding an easy outlet, with the NFCT I found a way to deepen closeness with others — other people, other creatures, other places. The trail allowed me to expand rather than contract, and that is what made the season so special.
As one volunteer told us, no matter how many indoors there are, there’s only one outdoors. It is heartening to know that so many are doing their best to take care of it. Count me as part of the team. Hopefully, I’ll see some of you out there again in the future!