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Something Wild: Trailwork on Mount Monadnock

Digging rocks on Mount Monadnock during last year's Monadnock Trails Event.
Photo Courtesy of Jesse Zacrow NH State Parks
Digging rocks on Mount Monadnock during last year's Monadnock Trails Event.

New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock may be one of the most hiked mountains in the world. And with over 125,000 people climbing it every year, that’s a lot of wear and tear.

“Monadnock'' originally comes from the Abenaki word for “mountain that stands alone.” While it might stand alone, it also stands as a symbol of the community - bringing people together to make the mountain even more welcoming and accessible. This is especially true during Monadnock Trails Week, the 16th annual event hosted by the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests and N.H. State Parks.

The week-long series of events runs from July 22 to 26. It is designed to invite more people to experience New Hampshire’s outdoors — no matter their experience hiking or otherwise. This year’s event will include volunteer opportunities, hikes, social gatherings and more.

“We want to bring in the community, the hikers, the visitors, the people who love the Monadnock region to work on the trails that we all love and benefit from,” said Forest Society Stewardship Projects Manager Andy Crowley, the event’s organizer. Once people start having fun outside, Crowley said, they might become more curious about the natural world — and more interested in protecting it.

“We find that curiosity leads to passion. And when someone's passionate about a project or a location, we don't have to ask them,” he said. “They'll come to us with the solutions.”

Jess Kowalski traveled from northern New Hampshire to participate as a Trail Crew Leader for last year’s event, and was also encouraged by the spirit of community found there. While leading a group of LGBTQ+ hikers, she said she enjoyed “getting to see people feel safe and comfortable enough to be vulnerable and grow as a group and go out of comfort zones and learn skills that they may not otherwise feel safe to learn in other settings.”

A group of people in hard hats near a muddy bridge in the woods.
Courtesy/Jess Kowalski
Jess Kowalski and her trail crew from Monadnock Trails Week 2021.

No experience is required to participate in the trail maintenance. “I honestly didn't feel like I was incredibly skilled around how to do trail work,” they say. “I was more than comfortable to ask the crew, ‘Oh, what do you think would work here?’ Let's figure it out together. And it allowed us to problem-solve and grow closer and feel more accomplished at the end.”

It also reinforced a key lesson for them: To make people feel more comfortable on the trails, it’s also important to encourage them to feel more comfortable with themselves. One of the Forest Society’s goals with the event is to help make New Hampshire's outdoors more welcoming, broadening the diversity of outdoor users.

“The simplest way I can think of is just acknowledging who you are, how you stand in the world, and being open to hearing different experiences and not judging based on first glance,” Kowalski said.

That could mean not judging yourself for having to ask questions about how to do trail work, she said, or not judging a fellow hiker for doing something differently on the trails than you would.

“You have to develop this compassion with yourself, that you are also learning and growing,” Kowalski said. “I think it's important to be kind to yourself, as well, in your pursuit of being kind and welcoming of others, too. It's a journey and we're all learning.”

The work is varied according to the interest and abilities of the volunteers. “Some folks will hike halfway up the mountain with specialized equipment and move heavy rocks using rigging equipment and teamwork and lots of leverage,” says Crowley. “Other folks can join our trailhead improvement crew that travels around the base of the mountain, sprucing things up by cutting back overhanging branches, cleaning up the kiosks and repainting the area, making it much more welcoming.”

Crowley said there are also opportunities to experience the trails in new ways: a history hike that follows a path taken by Henry David Thoreau, a family-friendly hike aimed at identifying different kinds of trees, and more. They’re also hosting a talk by Earl B. Hunter, Jr., of the group Black Folks Camp Too, on building unity in the outdoors.

The Forest Society is the majority landowner of Mount Monadnock, holding more than 4,500 acres in the public interest. Forest Society-owned lands on Mt. Monadnock are leased to New Hampshire State Parks and together the organizations manage the park.

To learn more about Monadnock Trails Week events and volunteer opportunities, check out the Monadnock Trails Week page on the Forest Society website. Crowley also recommends checking out the NH Trail Workers facebook page for finding similar volunteer opportunities on trails around the state.

Something Wild is a partnership of New Hampshire Audubon, the Forest Society and NHPR, and is produced by the team at Outside/In.

Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.
Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Jessica previously worked as a producer for NHPR's The Exchange, wedging in as many discussions as possible about the environment, wildlife, and the outdoors. You can hear her occasionally as a substitute host on NHPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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