Mt Tecumseh Trail, My Viewpoint – For the last five years, I have been documenting issues on Mt Tecumseh in New Hampshire. In my opinion, what has happened to the Mt Tecumseh Trail over the last few years is a disgusting display of conservation and trail stewardship. The new stonework built along this trail is all about quantity, not quality, and I question what low impact, sustainable trail work is.
In August 2016, for the second time since 2012, the Pemigewasset District of Forest Service, at the request of the Washington Office, inspected the ongoing stonework along the Mt Tecumseh Trail. According to a letter I received from Forest Service Supervisor, Tom Wagner, the stonework is “satisfactory” for Forest Service Trail construction standards. And they did find issues that would be taken care of in the future. The definition of satisfactory is “fulfilling expectations or needs; acceptable, though not outstanding or perfect.”
Last month on my monthly hike to document the summit vandalism, I realized how out of control the stonework is. During trail work season, each month I hike the trail there is new stonework. And I am not talking a few steps here and there. I am talking elaborate, unnatural looking, staircases (above) that overpower the trail.
As of this writing, there is just under a quarter of a mile of connecting stone staircases and structures in one section of the trail (there is a short section within that has no stonework yet). It looks like a bomb has gone off on the sides of the trail (above) from where all the rocks are being taken to build the staircases. I must add that there is more stonework in other areas of this trail. And on top of this, hikers are creating herd paths around many of the staircases.
For every person who believes the stonework along the Mt Tecumseh Trail is sustainable, you will find one, like myself, who believes the work is unsustainable and excessive. The real concern, which is happening, is hikers are avoiding this trail because it has too many stone steps. And an observation I have made is some hikers that like the stonework, only ascend the staircases and avoid descending them by going down the ski trails.
Forest Service has verified that much of the work along the trail is being done by an ambitious volunteer, not a professional trail crew, and this is concerning. Professional trail crews bring knowledge and know-how to the table that everyday volunteers don’t have. The above and below images show completed, messy, stonework.
I also find it concerning that Forest Service is ignoring the safety of volunteers. Regardless if volunteers sign a liability wavier, safety trumps everything. If this volunteer gets hurt, while moving heavy rocks around, members of Search & Rescue are put in harm's way. Professional trail crews work in numbers for safety, but Forest Service allows a volunteer to move rock around by themselves? It is an accident waiting to happen.
I have no idea who is building what along the Tecumseh Trail, nor do I care. But Forest Service is responsible for maintaining and the proper management of this trail. When it comes to conserving the White Mountains trail system, exceptional and professional quality stonework needs to be the norm, not “satisfactory” work.
I am guessing 40 or more hours of trail work is being done a month along the Mt Tecumseh Trail during the trail work season. If Forest Service has a volunteer that is this ambitious, they should have them doing blowdown removal and drainage cleaning along the White Mountains trail system. 40 hours a month removing blowdowns and cleaning drainages would be more beneficial to the trail system than transforming a trail into an endless, unneeded, stone staircase.
The above image of an improperly removed trail blaze best represents the Mt Tecumseh Trail, a free-for-all. This practice of blaze removal is not used anymore because of the impact it has on trees. And yet it still happened along the Mt Tecumseh Trail. But much like the illegal cutting on the summit, no one is held accountable for any of the damage that happens on this trail.
Forest Service is known for doing exceptional trail work, but what has happened to the Mt Tecumseh Trail is awful. Most trails do need stonework, but once stonework overpowers a trail, trail stewardship fails. If the Mt Tecumseh Trail is the future of trail building, I feel the White Mountains are in trouble. My position on the stonework remains unchanged. Only professional trail crews should be doing stonework along the trail system.
The stonework along this trail is only a part of the issues on Mt Tecumseh over the last few years. And all these issues could have been prevented if Forest Service properly managed the trail. In his letter, Tom Wagner says Forest Service is going to redeem stewardship responsibilities. But we will have to wait and see if Forest Service really makes any changes to their current management style of the Mt Tecumseh Trail.
Over the last five years, using photo-monitoring, I have shown Forest Service that some of the work along this trail is not low impact trail work. I have also provided them with many images showing the damage done to this mountain over the last few years. I can do no more at this point, and it is time for me to move on to a new project. However, those who have made complaints to Forest Service, I suggest you continue to do so.
You can license any of the above images for publications by clicking on the image you are interested in. And you can view more scenes of Mt Tecumseh here.
Happy image making..
This is an opinion article. The information included in this blog article is based on my knowledge of conservation and trail stewardship.