Smarts Brook Trail Day Report

By Cecil Maxfield.

For the "unofficial start to summer", 8 men who love the mountains spent a good part of their Memorial Day weekend giving back to the mountains which have given them so much, by working on the Smarts Brook Trail in Waterville Valley, NH.

This trail, adopted by Gay Outdoors President Mike Boisvert and his partner Jon Normand, is a lesser-known way of ascending to the ridge between Sandwich Mountain and its little brother, Jennings Peak.

It sits largely within the bounds of the National Forest, and so falls under the purview of the Forest Service, who, for reasons of budget and time constraints, have not attended to the trail’s condition for years. Enter our intrepid president and his partner, who were looking to adopt a trail and you have the beginnings of our story today.

Mike and Jon have worked on the trail for a couple of years now, attacking the overgrowth on the trail from the top of the ridge and from the bottom of the trail, where even an entrance on to the trail was not in evidence when they first began. The midsection of the trail still needed plenty of work and word had come in that there were some blow-downs from the past winter, as well.

So, Doug, Jon, Mike, Steve, Cecil, and Woody gathered at the Rock ‘N’ River Lodge on Friday night to be ready for an 830 departure next morning. We were joined by Carlos and Kevin on Saturday morning and off we went up an access road. 

Though we had anticipated offering ourselves as blood sacrifices on the Altar of the Black Fly, we were beyond happy that the cooler temperatures and breezes kept those nasties at bay for the bulk of the day, and that made the climb up to the boundary of the National Forest even more pleasant on a spring day filled with dappled sunshine beneath the tender green leaves of a recently-emerged deciduous canopy.

We were delighted to see a plethora of wildflowers, including both white and red trillium, wild oat, golden thread, starflower, lady slippers (yellow!), emerging bluebead lily and the glory of the woodland this particular day, the blooming witch’s hobble (a.k.a. hobblebush), whose blooms filled whole sides of the trail descending down to the brook.

As if that weren’t enough, we also passed through a very magical area of glacial erratics, some of which were as big as houses, covered with moss and ferns, or placed akilter by the glacier in such a way that they formed a generous shelter to which one could escape in less-beautiful weather (something Jon says he and Mike have had to take advantage of before). Topping off this feast for the senses was the call of the winter wren, whose song has to be the most beautiful in the avian world. How such a little bird can sing for so long (its call lasts an easy 9 seconds, with no repetition) is one more miracle to ponder while walking through such a wonderland.

Smarts Brook is beautiful, cascading over more of those glacial erratics and forming small waterfalls with crystal-clear pools below them; they were so tempting that a few of us toyed with the idea of doing a welcome-to-summer plunge, but thoughts of lost breath and shrinking anatomy helped calmer heads prevail.

Once we got to our first set of blowdowns – a large yellow birch – 6 men were on the thing like ants on a sugar cube and its branches were cut back off the trail and deposited off-trail within 10 minutes. It was an impressive bit of work, and an indication of the determination which would help much more be accomplished during the rest of the day.

Another blowdown of moderately-sized spruces was dealt with in the same manner, and while everyone was doing a great job, special mention must be made of Kevin, who lugged parts of trees off the trail, crashing himself and the tree in to parts unknown, all with exemplary enthusiasm.

Beyond these blowdowns, the bulk of what would be our day’s work appeared- hundreds of feet of trail being very quickly encroached upon by fir seedlings. We worked out a system of those with loppers and saws going first, taking out the larger seedlings, to be followed by those with pruning shears and hand-held pruners who took on the smaller seedlings.

To say that these seedlings were thick is an understatement; what had been just a cowpath when we arrived turned in to a veritable boulevard as we passed through, so much so that we occasionally wondered if it would really qualify as a "wilderness" trail. It can be said that it will be a couple of years before that part of the trail needs any further attention (and just as well, as there are other issues which need attending to along the trail, largely having to do with seeps and drainage).

After a lunch break right in the middle of the trail, we worked our way to the ridgeline, eventually coming to the area cleared by Mike and Jon on earlier excursions. At that point, there was nothing for it except to go up to the ridge where Smarts Brook Trail meets the Sandwich Mountain Trail, and where snow was still evident on the trail up to Sandwich.

Where we had seen wildflowers below, it was evident at that elevation (approximately 3700 feet) that the heavy snows of this past winter had not been long gone and the forest floor was still a largely barren landscape of matted leaves and branches.

The trip back to our vehicles was uneventful, but for more chances to appreciate the flora along the way, including the finding of some wildflowers which were unknown to any of us.

We made our way back to the Rock ‘N’ River Lodge, cleaned up and were treated to a sumptuous meal prepared by Mike and Jon of grilled kebabs, potato salad, macaroni salad and green salad, followed by a dessert of cake, berries, ice cream and whipped cream. Wow!

After cleaning up from our meal, Mike treated us to a slide show of photos he had taken during the day, and then most quickly went on to bed, tired from a good day of hiking and trail work in our beloved mountains.

Mike and Jon continued to play the gracious hosts next morning when they made an amazing dish of apples baked in a custard-like batter, to go with our coffee and fruit. Maple syrup and whipped cream on top of that dish made it feel like dessert for breakfast. Much good conversation followed as we lingered over our food, and then slowly we all packed up to take our leave from a wonderful time spent in good company, sharing good work, and feeling the satisfaction that comes from having taken care of another section of trail, among so many which all of us appreciate in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

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