Writing and Photography by Charlie Reinertsen
It is a crisp fall morning in Braintree, Vermont, complete with mist-shrouded valleys, crunchy leaves littering the ground, and woodsmoke pouring out of chimneys. After a few introductions, greetings and handshakes, I pile into the back of a pickup truck with a motley crew of people armed to the teeth with loppers, handsaws, and provisions. We bounce and jostle up the vertical trail on New England Forestry Foundation’s Braintree Mountain Forest, and after bottoming out a few times and dodging a few branches, we tumble out of the truck, ready for a day full of work and camaraderie.
Paul Kendall and Sharon Rives lead the charge, delegating tasks and setting the tone for a fun and productive day of trail work. Not only did Kendall and Rives donate Braintree Mountain Forest to NEFF in 2013, permanently conserving 1,547 acres of working forestland, they also volunteer as Forest Stewards, taking care of the trails and organizing workdays. Today, a group of their close friends are joining them to lop, saw, and clear branches and debris to maintain the pristine trails in the forest.
As the group works, they banter back and forth, telling stories of hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing on Braintree Mountain Forest. Kendall removes a branch with his pole saw, explaining through a sideways smile that he is making room for the perfect ski turn on the edge of the trail.
We break for lunch on top of Thirty-hirty, the tallest of four peaks on the property. The view is expansive—a pair of binoculars reveals the edge of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. After fueling up on sandwiches, mountain views, and Rives’ secret stash of dark chocolate, we continue working and follow the ridgeline to Skidoo Mountain. At the top we can hear a larger group of people further down the slope. While we have been clearing trails, another group has been working diligently to cut and maintain backcountry ski glades.
Zac Freeman, Braintree local and Vice President of Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA), leads the volunteer group of backcountry skiing enthusiasts. Like many RASTA members, Freeman lives to ski—when the snow flies, he is the first to make fresh tracks. His typical routine after a big snowstorm is to ski up the mountain by headlamp, and turn his skis downhill when the sun is barely above the horizon. These early mornings inspire Freeman and others to maintain and expand backcountry skiing opportunities at Braintree Mountain Forest.
Freeman works closely with NEFF, the forester on the property, and Kendall to ensure that the glade work fits within the woodland’s management plan. Since 2013, RASTA volunteers have cleared trails and glades, built and maintained a parking area and trail kiosk, and renovated the Bell Gates Cabin at the base of the glades. Volunteers will help clear glades on Twin Peaks in October 2016, opening up a new skiing area in the forest. Their work demonstrates that forestry and backcountry skiing form a natural partnership. Because of this, Braintree Mountain Forest has been heralded as a model for backcountry skiing in New England.
When we reach Freeman’s group at the Bell Gates Cabin at the base of the glades, they have finished work for the day and are celebrating with bowls of chili and a warm bonfire. We join for the celebration and swap stories about the day’s work. With the sun setting below the trees and cold air settling around us, we share a common excitement for the coming snow and all the adventures that will come with it.
Interested in volunteering to help clear additional glades on Braintree Mountain Forest?
Join Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA) for a weekend of glade work at Braintree Mountain Forest! Volunteers will help clear new glades on Twin Peaks’ north-facing slope on October 22nd and 23rd, 9 am- 3 pm. Earn your turns and RSVP to Zac Freeman: email@example.com.