By: Renee Rosenbaum, New Hampshire SCA/Americorps; Conservation Steward
New Hampshire boasts some impressive trail hiking statistics. For example, Mount Monadnock is said to be the most hiked mountain in the U.S. – amazing! This state has 48 mountains climbing 4,000 feet or higher, including Mt. Washington, the highest peak in New England with a summit of 6,288 feet. Every one is unique and worth the climb. All this attraction is fantastic! Although, with so much public use, constant maintenance is a never-ending task. You may have noticed trail crews at work while hiking in New Hampshire. Believe me, much more goes into these trails than meets the eye.
Recently, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) New Hampshire Corps/Americorps program had the opportunity to work on a trail in Crawford Notch State Park to rebuild a bridge that had fallen into disrepair due to weather and wear over time.
With a steady thoroughfare of enthusiastic hikers, as well as steep elevation and extreme weather, these trails often are in need of a little TLC – trail love and care – in order to be maintained, kept safe and enjoyable. Much of the work, to the untrained eye, may go un-noticed: the intermittent rock water bars, elevation grade dips, and check steps are all designed to keep the trail sustainable. Some of these efforts, though, are more obvious – such as a brand new bridge built recently on the Arethusa Falls trail.
Originally built by a former SCA crew nearly ten years ago, the bridge that crossed the Bemis Brook became impassable and slowly deteriorated over time. In order to continue on the trail, hikers made rogue, improvised bridges using scrap wood from the rotted lumber of the original bridge.
While this was innovative, it was neither aesthetically pleasing nor ideal hiking conditions. Above all, it was not safe! For public safety, the original bridge had to be removed and replaced to accommodate one of White Mountain Forest’s most popular day hikes.
When I got first sight of the dilapidated bridge, I was a bit taken aback. The bridge was way bigger than I expected, and it was about a 1.5 mile hike up from the trail-head climbing 900 feet. How were we, a crew of 6 of us, to get all this cleared and constructed, with all the tasks in between? The answer: Our attitudes and training.
In the beginning weeks of our season, the SCA equipped us with weeks of hands-on and technical training for this type of work. We took classes, had skills training, received certificates of sorts, and learned about the tools and the techniques we needed for the upcoming season. During that time, somehow, off the books and instruction, we also developed a core community sense of duty, pride, and inspiration that really contributes to a job well done. Working, living, eating, and socializing with one another has instilled a group conscious of care and awareness. In turn, we relay this notion in the work we do. We are not co-workers, we are family.
That is the component which really makes our SCA projects come to fruition.
The new bridge was a four week project. From start to finish, this included demolishing the sturdy foundation of the existing dilapidated bridge, removing the debris and lumber , leveling both sides of the brook, setting new foundation made of rock baskets, bringing in new lumber, measuring, calculating and cutting that lumber, and finally the bridge assembly.
All of this was to be done by hand and mostly manual tools. Old lumber was carried down on our backs using frame packs, and new lumber was carried up in a similar fashion.
The new bridge was built from scratch, therefore, the entire original foundation needed to be removed using single and double jack sledge hammers, hack saws, rock bars, pick mattocks, Pulaski’s, timber-carriers, single bit axes, pry bars, and slings. After removal, the construction required more complex tools including drills, circular saws, and chain saws.
Above all, the most important components of constructions were the sweat, strength and passion of the SCA crew.
When planning your next hike, please add Arethusa Falls trail to your list. Once you are near the top, you may need a water break. The new bridge makes a perfect pit stop and offers beautiful photo ops! I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we enjoyed being a part of this project. Happy trails!