How volunteers help keep Vermont trails ready for hikers

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 3:56 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 28, 2021 at 6:25 PM EDT
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DUXBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - For the last year, hundreds of miles of Vermont hiking trails have been busy according to the Green Mountain Club. Our Ike Bendavid went to see how they keep the trails ready for thousands of hikers.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: I’m joined by Mike DeBonis of the Green Mountain Club here at Camel’s Hump State Forest. First, explain what you do.

Mike DeBonis: So, we manage the Long Trail system. The Long Trail is the longest long-distance hiking trail in the nation. It’s 273 miles from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. If you add in all the side trails, it’s about 500 miles of hiking trails that we manage about 70 overnight sites. We have about 20,000 members and thousands of volunteers.

Ike Bendavid: We saw a lot of people in 2020 social distancing. What were the trails like looking back last year?

Mike DeBonis: They were busy. We saw 35% use across the board. All the busy spots-- Camel’s Hump, Mount Mansfield, Mount Abe-- those were busy. All the secret, quiet spots-- those were busy, too.

Ike Bendavid: I noticed you didn’t mention those secret quiet spots there.

Mike DeBonis: Well, we can’t mention those-- no-- people really got out there. I think people really used the outdoors as an escape. It was a way to help manage COVID. It was something that you could do. And that’s one of the great things we have in Vermont-- there is tons of recreation resources-- but we really saw a lot of folks on the trail. Overall, I think the trails are in pretty good shape. We had a lot of volunteers and partners that worked really hard and staff to keep it in good shape. But you know things are feeling it. Where we are here on Camel’s Hump you can tell there has been a lot of use here.

Ike Bendavid: What is the state of hiking now that we are in 2021? What’s the bigger picture looking like hiking in Vermont?

Mike DeBonis: I think we are going to see this trend continue. Last year we usually have about 300 end-to-enders, folks that hike the whole trail in one year. It was double that. I think we are going to see it continue. We might see it drop off a little bit but I really look at it as a next wave of hiking boom really. We had one back in the ’60s and ’70s, I think we are going to have one again. So, it could be a whole new generation of folks that are introduced to the outdoors, whether it’s their local park or the Long Trail. So, it’s a really wonderful opportunity but it comes with some management challenges, too.

Ike Bendavid: And that’s it. You said you can see some usage, you guys are the ones that manage the trails. Explain the work that happens behind the scenes so when you park and hit the trail it’s ready for Vermonters and anyone that wants to visit.

Mike DeBonis: It’s really a partnership. Right now, we are on land that is owned by the state of Vermont. It’s Camel’s Hump. It’s techinically the state park and they own the mountaintop and we work cooperatively with them to manage it. And the southern part of the state is almost all owned by the federal government, U.S. Forest Service. The Appalachian Trail coincides with the Long Trail for about 100 miles, so we work with the Appalachian Trail. So, it’s really a partnership with public landowners and private landowners to make sure that the trail is there. And then we have thousands of volunteers that get out there early in the spring, clean out water bars, they get the trail ready and they maintain throughout the year. And at the end of the year, they will go put it to bed and get ready for the next year.

Ike Bendavid: What’s your advice on trail etiquette? I know going back to last year, it would be a tight part of the trail and you want to keep your distance. Now that we are at that 80%, most people vaccinated, any advice on trail etiquette?

Mike DeBonis: I always say when I pass someone on the trail I always stop. One, it gives me a break and I can catch my breath. But I think that’s just a common courtesy when you see a group coming through-- get off to the side of the trail and let them pass. I think during COVID it was fine to get off the trail, you’re not going to cause that much damage, and give people space. Now, as most folks are getting vaccinated and things are really opening up, it’s just your common courtesy on the trail. There’s plenty of trail for everybody but you might hit some spots that get congested and just stepping off and letting people go is just fine.

Reflecting on hiking a year ago, people we spoke with now say it has been a big shift in how we interact with others on the trail.

“There was very little COVID in Vermont but every time you passed someone on the trail, they would turn away and it was really a sad kind of feeling given knowing how Vermonters usually are, and today everyone is just, ‘Hey, how are you?’ Talking, it feels like we’re coming into a whole new phase,” said Dorothy Novick of Philadelphia.

A reminder from the Green Mountain Club: Dogs are allowed on the trails but they ask that you leash them and also pick up after them.

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