A summer well spent on the NFCT

Sam listens to caretaker Gary Valentine at Raquette Falls in the Adirondack Park. Photo by Mike Lynch

I was lucky to stumble upon the job posting for NFCT stewardship crew leader position this spring while I was applying for work in the east. After a couple seasons of conservation and trail work in the west, I was excited to explore the north woods—and by canoe! What could be better? For my first day of work in late May, I met Noah at a random, gravel roadside pull-off somewhere in Maine—classic Noah, I would soon discover. As we scouted project sites together that week, I became more and more excited to spend the summer teaching and working alongside my crew in a great variety of locales, engaging with members of the community along the canoe trail, and listening to the rivers’ dance as I drifted off to sleep each night in my tent.

After introductions and gear packing, we started the season with a hearty whirlwind tour of the concepts and skills we would need to complete our work for the season—from carpentry and rock work to backcountry living and cast iron cookery. Our wheels never quite stopped spinning after that. We traveled from our base in Waitsfield, Vermont, to the Canadian border town of Richford for our first week, and then traveled west to the lovely Raquette Falls in the Adirondacks where we met the incorrigibly charismatic taco-making steward of the falls, Gary Valentine, who generously motor-boated in our supplies for the week. We canoed in toe, enjoying the sights and sounds of families of mergansers and mallards, bald eagles, beavers, and the hypnotizing elegance of grass flowing fluorescent green like river’s hair below the water’s surface. From there, our work took us slowly east to Maine. We gratefully rested our heads in NFCT executive director Karrie Thomas’s yurt on the weekends and enjoyed the thriving farmer’s market in Waitsfield, read books on the rocks along the river, and cooled off as often as we pleased in the region’s many fantastic swimming holes. And we ate lots of ice cream, which Vermonters have a curious habit of calling “creemees.”

The crew hauls lumber on the Bow Loop in Maine.

The cherry on top of an excellent field season, we paddled the iconic Moose River Bow Loop trip in Maine during our last two weeks. We began by lashing many hundreds of pounds of lumber to a makeshift pontoon raft of two canoes in parallel, then dragged that contraption 4.5 miles upriver with two canoes while Noah balanced on the pontoon raft, poling to aid our upstream progress—another vintage Noah/NFCT experience. The next few days we made camp by the rapids downstream of Holeb Falls, enjoying our favorite meals from the season—tortellini and broccoli, mac and cheese, and chicken stir fry with peanut sauce, accompanied one evening by some homemade pepperoni brought by our favorite two-time volunteer, William Kenyon. The next week we were tasked with clearing log jams, cleaning and bucking up fallen trees in campsites, and reporting back on potential future projects along the Bow Loop. It was a fitting conclusion to a season full of carpentry and trail work aimed at improving access to the waterways of the north woods that we had the privilege of paddling the scenic Moose River and the grand, loon-filled ‘ponds’ (lakes) that connect it into a loop. We ended the season with a strong sense of accomplishment, confidence in our skills, and deep gratitude for the opportunity to steward and paddle parts of the NFCT.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is, to my eye, the most dynamic recreation experience in the northeast. It brings the willing paddler through a wandering system of diverse waterways, passing by many small towns, and carrying boats and passengers—and sometimes, passengers carrying boats—deep into some of the wildest remaining spaces in the country. And to top it off, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is stewarded by an energetic staff of outdoor enthusiasts who are committed to invigorating economies in the northeast by improving access to the NFCT and integrating the canoe trail with the communities it passes through.

Sitting here, as the late summer insects sing of the coming fall in these hills of southeast Ohio, I think back on my many memories from my summer working with the NFCT, the friends I made and the good times we shared, and a smile lights up my face. I will cherish my time spent in the clear waters of the northern forest among the welcoming, enthusiastic, often goofy, and adventurous spirits who call that land home. Thank you to all who support and share the vision of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail!

Apply to be part of the 2019 Stewardship Crew. Deadline March 1

The NFCT crew after finishing a job at the new Errol access on the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire.