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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Ben Cosgrove carries a rock dug from a spot undergoing improvement on Mount Monadnock’s White Arrow trail on Friday.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Aaron Horner, who moved from Michigan to New Hampshire four days prior, rests before hiking down the mountain. He said his experience working on the trail was "perspective shifting." Horner had never climbed a mountain before the trip Friday.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Dave Anderson carries a heavy load of equipment up Mt. Monadnock's White Arrow trail Friday, July 13 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Graffiti carved on Mt. Monadnock's White Arrow trail Friday, July 13 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Ruth Ward pauses while carrying lumber on Mt. Monadnock's White Arrow trail Friday, July 13 2012. This is Ward's third year volunteering to help fix trails.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Dave Anderson's leaf tatoos
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Chandler Coggins, 16, and her sister Brianna, 13, of Lancaster, MA, carry pressure-treated lumber up the arduous White Arrow Trail to the work site on Mt. Monadnock Friday, July 13 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Old photographs of people atop Mt. Monadnock are displayed at the Half Way House trail head.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Safety equipment was handed out at the state park as volunteers gathered for the day of trail work.
Sunday, July 15, 2012

Volunteers help keep Mount Monadnock trails in shape

It may not sound like the best sign when volunteers show up and the organizer gleefully refers to them as “mules,” but that’s what to expect when you’re helping to maintain hiking trails.

“We need to get the tools and supplies up there, that’s the main job,” said Carrie Deegan, of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, gazing at the 22 people who answered her call for the initial day of Monadnock Trails Week, then gazing upward to the peak of Mount Monadnock.

“You guys will be the mules.”

Mules we were Friday, slogging more than a mile uphill while hauling picks, shovels, pry bars, axes, lumber, a chain saw, straps and other outdoor accoutrements.

They were all necessary to create bog bridges and steppingstones to help hikers through a muddy low spot in the White Arrow trail, one of the most hiked routes on one of the world’s most hiked mountains.

Working through early afternoon, we pulled up stones with bare hands and various tools; felled a spruce tree, stripping the bark and cutting it up to create bridge pylons; bashed rocks into gravel with a sledgehammer; and hooked a mechanical grip-hoist to a pine tree so two teenage sisters could haul a 1½-ton granite stone out of the mud.

“We aren’t sure what to expect,” Chandler Coggins, 16, had said three hours earlier in the parking lot as we prepared to head out, although it’s safe to say she didn’t expect to be the human engine on a device suitable for a granite quarry.

Chandler and sister Brianna, 13, from the Lancaster, Mass., 4-H club, were brought to the seventh annual Monadnock Trails Week by their mother, Becky Rovinelli. Like a number of the people who showed up Friday, Rovinelli has hiked Mount Monadnock many times. She used to leave home at 5 a.m. to get in a summit climb with friends before the day’s events intruded, she said.

When Rovinelli heard of Monadnock Trails Week, organized by the society and Monadnock State Park, she thought it would be a good idea for the family to help the mountain that had given so much pleasure, even though none had ever done trail work before.

Ben Cosgrove, of Rindge, had the same idea. He’s now a self-described “itinerant musician,” but Cosgrove said that when he was settled in the area, he climbed Monadnock too many times to count. So when he saw a poster for the trails week, he decided to show up.

“I feel like I owed it to the mountain,” he said. “I love it here.”

Lots of people love Mount Monadnock, which is the problem.

While it probably isn’t the second most climbed mountain in the world, as is sometimes claimed, the spectacular vistas from its treeless summit draw at least 100,000 people annually, according to Monadnock State Park. That’s well over the population of Nashua scrambling up and down the slopes to the 3,165-foot summit, causing erosion with every step.

Enlisting volunteers to dig drainage ditches, move boulders, cut up fallen trees, block impromptu shortcuts and otherwise keep those trails in reasonable shape isn’t unique to Monadnock.

Plenty of organizations, as big as the Appalachian Mountain Club and as small as your local conservation commission, do it. Many go so far as to hold classes to teach good trail techniques. Otherwise, would you know how to build a proper flood-channeling water bar?

But the volunteer push has become more urgent in this recession. At state parks, budget cutbacks have shrunk staffing, and Park Manager Patrick Hummel said his park and others are trying to be more systematic and formal in organizing volunteers.

“We can’t thank people enough for doing this,” he said. “It makes all the difference.”

Hence, the value of Monadnock Trails Week, started by the Forest Society, as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is usually called.

The Forest Society has long organized volunteers to help keep an eye on the million-plus acres it protects. Notably, it has designated many “land stewards,” experienced hikers who keep an eye on certain areas or trails. More than a half dozen of them showed up Friday to be part of the team, including Ruth Ward, of Stoddard, a land steward for Pierce Reservation – and, like many stewards, of retirement age.

“I like to be outside, so you might as well do some work,” she said.

Many others in the group had extensive experience, including Ray Jackson, president of the trail-building volunteer group New Hampshire Trailwrights, who has been doing this work for 24 years even though he lives over the border, in Townsend, Mass.

David Anderson, of the Forest Society, was also there. Although he’s the group’s education director, most people know him as the voice of New Hampshire Public Radio’s “Something Wild” show and an outdoors columnist for the New Hampshire Sunday News. (“There’s not a lot of audience overlap between those two,” he said.)

Others had less experience, including this reporter and his wife, who have gone on a few such outings. We have found there’s always plenty of unskilled labor needed in trail-maintenance work.

The five-day Monadnock Trails Week runs through Tuesday. It also will build bridges and do other work on a variety of trails. The jobs it does depend on the need; after the 2008 ice storm, for example, all five days were devoted to clearing trails of fallen trees.

“We spend all year preparing this,” Hummel said.

If you can’t make it this year, there are plenty of other opportunities around. There’s always a need for more mules.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or