Risk, reward highlight 2020 stewardship season

Like many trail organizations, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) thought long and hard about what our season should look like in 2020. Just like how we manage the dangers of operating chainsaws, driving in moose country and moving 500-pound rocks, COVID-19 became a new risk to manage. Thankfully, New England states and trail organizations provided concrete guidance, and I’m thankful we live in a region and have a community that has taken this threat seriously. With our waterways seeing record use this summer, stewardship work was certainly needed.

I’m thankful for our team of volunteer waterway stewards who found ways to safely open the sites at the beginning of the year, and keep us informed about conditions and needs. We have over 40 volunteers who help with this. Thank you all!

Stay at home orders lifted just in time to allow us to bring in our stewardship crew for a 10-week season. Our first project, building a privy for the North Branch Cascades Trail, was opportune, as thousands soon flocked to this new recreation destination. I’m thankful that our new field coordinator, Matt Entwistle, brought extensive carpentry skills with him as well as the empathy, communication and team work prowess needed to lead our stewardship interns — Clara Silverstein, Rebecca Etman and Ernesta McIntosh — in this ambitious project. With their budding carpentry skills, the crew then worked along the Lamoille River, constructing an impressive 16-step removable access staircase for the Talc Mill River Access and a box privy for a new Lamoille River Paddlers’ Trail campsite.

Along the Missisquoi, we completely rebuilt the Davis Park access steps, with the Richford road foreman Scott Coons joining us as an honorary crew member. The Doe Campsite saw a new privy, signage and an improved access trail, and the Leatherneck Landing now has a stage and benches for the library to use for riverside programing. Across the border, the Mansonville kiosk got brand new interpretive panels — installed by our partners at Canoe and Co.

Saranac River Campsite and Carries, our first waterway work trip, was a success. Our waterway steward and NFCT campsite host Craig Von Bargen served as host for our crew and volunteers, who spruced up the Forest and Field Campsite with a privy, sign-in box and new table, as well as completed a much needed rehab of the Separator Rapids carry, and stabilized a put-in below the McCasland Bridge.

Over in New Hampshire, our work focused on the Upper Ammonoosuc, where we developed formal portages around the Red Mill and Wassua dams, complete with stone steps, an innovative geogrid matrix landing designed to mitigate erosion and signage.

In Maine, we tackled projects along the North Branch of the Dead River — needs identified by our 2019 GIS interns. This under-appreciated river finally has the portage trails it deserves, with steps, signage, corridor clearing and even a stone retaining wall.

Finally, in partnership with Maine Huts and Trails, we spent two weeks at the Dead River’s Grand Falls. The crew rebuilt the Dead River access used by thousands of whitewater enthusiasts, constructed a fabulous new campsite on what we are calling the Island of the Giants and replaced a rotten trail bridge. This last project involved setting concrete grade beams, moving three 25-foot I-beams and transporting two “pontoon canoes” worth of lumber. Quite a feat to pull off in the remote Maine woods!

This summer was a team effort, and we are thankful for the volunteers who were able to join us. Tim Hille has now set a record for the number of work trips in one season – six! Thank you for bringing your good cheer, hard labor, community spirit and sweet van, Tim. Other volunteers who brought new energy and talents included William Kenyon, Bill Wright, Craig Von Bargen, Griff Keating, Beth Sangree and William Duncan, Kevin and Alyssa Whelan, Ann Breyfogle, Peter Kaurup, Stacey McCluskey, Pam Mitchell and Bill Connor. Thank you all!

We are appreciative of the donors, partners and landowners who made this work possible:

  • Trail Fund Donors
  • Champlain Valley Heritage Partners
  • Lake Champlain Basin Program
  • Upper Missisquoi Wild and Scenic Committee
  • Maine High Peaks Initiative
  • Maine Recreational Trails Program
  • Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund
  • Vermont River Conservancy
  • Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund
  • Neil & Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
  • RiseVT
  • Ampersand Energy LLC
  • Maine Huts and Trails
  • Town of Richford
  • Longfellow Mountain Heritage Trails
  • American Forest Management
  • Vermont Fish and Wildlife

Here is wishing for a more safe, sane 2021. May the woods and waters of the Northern Forest continue to bring joy and solace to all. Thanks for your continued support of this work.