Hikers are wearing down parts of New England’s oldest intrastate hiking trail, the Wapack, especially since the start of the pandemic.
“The trail has been very, very busy – a lot more hiking through the pandemic,” said Rick Blanchette, president of the Friends of the Wapack (FOW), at their annual meeting at the Sharon Meeting House Oct. 16. He said extra wear on the trails lately is due to a significant increase in use since last year, especially at Mount Watatic and Miller State Park.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” is the FOW motto. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the preservation of the 21.5-mile public-access hiking trail from Ashburnham, Massachusetts to Greenfield, New Hampshire, named for its north and south mountain bookends, Pack Monadnock and Mount Watatic.
“We have two goals, maintain the trail and protect the trail,” said Blanchette.
On Sept. 25, their first work day since the start of the pandemic, volunteers rebuilt and improved drainage on the Marion Davis Trail in Miller State Park.
“Trails disappear if you don’t take care of them,” said Glenn Stan, who has been hiking the trail for a long time and has been a Friends of the Wapack member since 2013. “Since I love this trail, I figure I’d better do something. If there’s a work day I’ll go out.”
Since its formation in 1980, the group of hikers, landowners, supporters and volunteers has upgraded the trail, printed maps and developed a plan to permanently protect the Wapack and eight associated side trails.
“We protect it by getting easements or rights of way so that the trail won’t be segmented at some point and then it’s no longer a 21-mile trail over seven mountains and seven towns,” said Blanchette.
The Wapack is preserved by the Mount Watatic Conservation Area, Wapack National Wildlife Refuge, Miller State Park, Temple Mountain State Reservation, The Nature Conservancy, New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), and the Northeast Wilderness Trust as well a few private landowners, such as the Windblown area.
“We cross federal land, state land – in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire – town conservation areas, conservation easements from land trusts,” said Blanchette. “We have to be in touch with all of these entities, plus seven town conservation commissions, so there’s always give-and-take. There’s maybe four or five miles left to protect, some of which is still private but it’s easements. It’s great to have that cooperation of property owners, which is something we’ve fostered for years. It goes back to Frank Robbins’ and Marion Davis’ handshake agreements with property owners.”
The group kicked off this year’s meeting with a hike up the Berry Pasture Trail at Lincoln Davis Memorial Forest.
“Lincoln Davis is an example of good forestry,” said Chris Pryor, the director of forest stewardship for NEFF and the guest speaker at the FOW annual meeting.
Lincoln Davis was NEFF’s first preserve, acquired in 1945. Pryor said it’s an example of exemplary forestry because it uses, “clearly defined metrics to prove their claims of mitigating climate change, providing habitat for the full range of native species, [while] growing and harvesting wood for society’s needs.”
NEFF now owns around 30,000 acres of land in New England. Pryor said, “Hillsborough is one of our highest concentrations of land interests as far as number of properties.”
The trail has a history that includes support from the Harvard Mountaineering Club and the father of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye.
“I have determined with irrefutable evidence that it’s the oldest ski trail in the United States – the first one cleared for skiing,” Blanchette said.
In his most recent FOW newsletter, he said the first ski trails on the Wapack opened in the 1920s and the last one, Windblown Cross Country Ski Area, closed in 2020.
Windblown remains open as a campground for overnight Wapack hikers.
Blanchette says there’s always work to do.
“There’s some views we are losing with the trees growing up,” he said. “I remember views from years ago and I go there now and I can’t see Monadnock any more.”
He hopes to work with Pryor to clear the view again soon.
The next FOW volunteer work day will be posted on its newly redesigned website, wapack.org.
BY EMARI TRAFFIE