Sustainable Trail Work, White Mountains

Open stone culvert along the Mount Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire.
Open Stone Culvert – Tecumseh Trail, New Hampshire

Sustainable Trail Work, White Mountains – Here in New Hampshire, all we hear about is environmental friendly and sustainable trail work. And how important it is to conserve the trails for future generations. As an environmental photographer, I support this approach to preserving the trail system. And up until a few years ago, I have always believed that the organizations maintaining our trails practiced what they preached.

I recently made my monthly hike to Mt Tecumseh to photograph the summit vandalism. I was on the Tecumseh Trail after a rainstorm and was surprised at how many open culverts (water bars) were dry. The purpose of a trail culvert is to drain water off and away from the trail, and the culverts included in this blog article were all dry.

Sustainable trail work, open stone culvert along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire.
Open Stone Culvert – Tecumseh Trail, New Hampshire

Some culverts along the trail were draining water, but I counted approximately 8 to 12 along a short section of trail, all built within the last few years, that appeared to serve no beneficial purpose to the trail, which leads me to think they are unneeded. And this makes me question the organization responsible for this trail. Why are stone structures that serve no real purpose being built along the trail?

Water bar along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire.
Open Stone Culvert – Tecumseh Trail, New Hampshire

Some consider the ongoing stonework along the Tecumseh Trail to be “showmanship work” and since some of the culverts along the trail appear to serve no purpose, I have to agree. If they actually drained water, I would have a different opinion. Building non-functioning culverts along a trail is a poor use of our natural resources.

Open stone culvert (water bar) along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire.
Open Stone Culvert – Tecumseh Trail, New Hampshire

The professional groups and organizations that maintain the White Mountains trail system regularly promote the importance of environmental friendly, low impact trail work. They say the best maintained trails will have little evidence of man, stonework along a trail should look natural, and only needed stone structures that benefit the trail should be built along them. I don't think the Tecumseh Trail passes any of these guidelines.

Stone staircase along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire.
Stone Staircase – Tecumseh Trail, New Hampshire

I have tried to be open-minded about all the new stonework being built along the Tecumseh Trail. But no trail in the White Mountain National Forest needs to be transformed into an endless series of stone staircases and littered with unneeded stone structures. This trail no longer feels like a hiking trail and its shame because this was an enjoyable trail. This type of stonework belongs in the city parks, not here in the White Mountains.

An area along the Mt. Tecumseh Trail in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire during the spring of 2017 that is in desperate need of drainage work. Over the last six years, there has been over a quarter of a mile of stonework done on this trail, and this high priority area has been ignored. Trail maintenance organizations say high priority areas of a trail are first and foremost.
Desperate Need of Drainage Work – Mt Tecumseh Trail

There are areas along the Tecumseh Trail that are in desperate need of drainage work (above), but these areas are not being addressed. Instead, hundreds of feet of stone steps and water bars are being built in areas that have no real immediate problems.

I fully support the trail work organizations are doing in the White Mountains and realize stonework is needed to preserve the trail system. But the stonework along the Tecumseh Trail is way over the top (overkill). And I have never photographed so much questionable work along one trail.

You can license the above images for publications by clicking on the image. And you can view more images of the Mt Tecumseh Trail here.

Happy image making..



My reportage of issues on Mt Tecumseh has upset a small circle of New England hikers. These hikers all have a connection to Tecumseh, and since reporting these issues to Forest Service, they have been bad mouthing my business. I know none of these hikers or the persons working this trail. And no matter what is said on social media, the imagery tells the story.

The information included in this blog article is based on leave no trace principals, low-impact trail building practices, and information from Forest Service. (04/2018)

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