Vermont's 2020 Hiking Season and COVID-19The answer you’ve all been waiting for: Yes, the Long Trail System’s trails will open tomorrow, May 22. However, it’s not as simple as that statement. With both a late snowpack and COVID-19 as dominant concerns this hiking season, we are asking hikers to take a few extra precautions to both protect public health and protect the public resource of our beautiful trails.
Hiking is the ideal outdoor recreational activity for these times since you can get outside for exercise and fresh air while still adhering to social distancing and hygiene guidelines, but let’s be smart about it, and above all, let’s be sensitive to trail conditions and courteous to other hikers itching to get out just as much as we are.
Trail Conditions and Backcountry Facility ClosuresDoes this mean winter conditions are gone? Nope. If you are hiking at higher elevations, there is definitely still snow and ice, with the snow line at anywhere from 2750′ to 3000′ depending on your location. The Mount Mansfield snow stake is showing 41″ of snow still present (versus 15″ for this date in an average year). The snowy treadway is undermined in many places where drainages and streams are running, creating the potential for bad post-holing and the risk of ankle injuries. All of the alpine zones are exposed at this point, but you definitely need microspikes to get there. If you are hiking to these areas, please be prepared for winter conditions (with traction, layers, and experience) or consider staying below the snow line for another couple of weeks.
Does this mean muddy conditions are gone? Also nope. According to GMC field staff, the mud is still pretty significant in a lot of places since the snowline is so low. It depends on the location, but people will see mud at every elevation on the Long Trail System this weekend. If you encounter muddy conditions, please either turn back or be prepared to walk straight through puddles and mud to avoid damaging the surrounding vegetation.
Trails on state and federal lands are open, but caution is still needed: staff and volunteers have not been able to perform the normal levels of spring trail maintenance or assessments. GMC volunteers were delayed in starting their spring trail maintenance due to COVID-19 restrictions and late-season snowpack. They are still working on clearing trails and hikers should expect to encounter areas of blowdowns from the winter. We will also be operating with very limited field staff this season and will need your help in stewarding the trails.
Here are a few tips for early season hikers:
Primitive camping along the trail can be difficult. Not only can it be hard to find a flat, clear spot for a tent in the rugged terrain of the Green Mountains, but it’s complicated because the rules vary depending on who the land manager is:
Planning a thru-hike or overnight hike? Check out our thru-hiker FAQ.
New COVID-19 Trail EtiquetteOut-of-state visitors are still being asked to self-quarantine for at least 14 days after arriving in Vermont and before engaging in any activities. For more information about health and safety precautions, please visit the Vermont Department of Health.
As with all outdoor recreation activities, hikers should go out only if you’re healthy, have not been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and/or have not recently traveled from a location with a CDC-issued travel advisory. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently, don’t touch your face, and embrace a “Park, Play and Move On” mentality.
If you are heading out on the trail, please follow the updated COVID-19 trail etiquette below:
For more hiking information and recommendations you can talk to GMC’s visitor center staff by calling 802-244-7037 or emailing email@example.com. GMC offers waterproof paper maps and guidebooks for sale on the GMC online store, and digital maps of popular trails in Vermont through the Avenza Maps app, available in the App Store and Google Play. You can also chat with other hikers and see others’ trip reports in GMC’s Facebook Group.
We wish you a happy and safe hiking season!
Reed is a long time resident of Bennington. He moved here with his family in 1979 to begin a science teaching job at Mount Anthony Union High School. He had recently finished a 2 year tour of duty as a education volunteer with the Peace Corps in what was then called Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to that he taught middle school science in White River Junction, Vermont for three years. He spent the school year 2000-2001 teaching at a high school in Oslo, Norway as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher. Upon retiring from MAUHS in 2005, he taught AP Biology and International Baccalaureate Biology at George School in Newtown, PA until retiring from all paid work in June 2011.
Reed has been a member of the Bennington Section of the GMC since about 1991 and served as president of the section from 1996 to 2000. He's been an active participant and leader of numerous trips. He also is a long time member of, and occasional leader for, the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). He is also a member of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, where he is a certified trip leader for hiking, cycling, and paddling. As this suggests, he loves to be outdoors hiking, biking, cross country skiing, and paddling. He has hiked most of the hikes in the area near Bennington many times. His adventures farther afield include 4 days backpacking on the Inca Trail in Peru to Macchu Pichu, 8 days ski touring hut-to-hut in Norway, and most recently a week of cycling in Italy last fall. He is glad that his time in Italy was then, and not now.
His other interests include gardening, beekeeping and woodworking. The woodworking has proven to be a good way to spend “stay at home” time during the pandemic. Gardening is starting to gear up at his partner Kathy's house in Pennsylvania where he's been since the lockdown found him in March. Beekeeping is also happening again after a hiatus of a few years, as two swarms of bees just decided to move into his two empty hives there.
Reed's three adult children now live with their own families, in Westwood, MA , Jericho, VT, and Morrill, ME. He has 5 and 8/9 grandchildren, with the sixth one (a girl) due to arrive on the scene in early June.
Photos below by Kathy Kindness...and the dog is Rosie.
At this writing the Appalachian Trail - Long Trail remains closed to hikers. It has been opened for trail work and maintenance in order to ready the trail for upcoming hikers when the ban is lifted. The Bennington Section is responsible for the trail from Harmon Hill, south of VT Route 9 in Woodford, north to the top of Glastenbury Mountain. We also take care of the Nauheim shelter (Maple Hill, near Route 9) and the Goddard Shelter (Glastenbury Mountain).
Every year the trails must be cleared of blown down trees and branches, the dreaded hobblebush must be trimmed, water bars are cleared so water runs off the trail, blazes are refreshed, and any other problems taken care of. Different crews of volunteers have tackled various sections and side trails while maintaining all the safety guidelines from the Green Mountain Club.
Below are some of the outings that have occurred - there may be some work that has been accidentally omitted, but we thank all volunteers for their work to keep our trails in good condition.
Battery pack under aqua bike bag, display monitor in center of handle bars
In 2019 Hamilton began researching the possibility of our buying bikes with electric pedal-assist capabilities. He found that the least expensive start at around $1700. I thought I preferred to wait until I got old before resorting to an electric-powered bike. Once I was persuaded, though, there was still the negative impact of having two more bikes to store in our garage. We already had as many bikes as kayaks, one less than half a dozen of each.
Consulting Peter Hall of Highlander Bicycle and discovering that we could purchase electric battery packs that Peter could install on our existing bikes… caused a re-orientation in our thinking. Peter ordered the “E-BikeKit” (Electric Bicycle Conversion Kit System) battery packs, $1100 each, and installed them on our hybrid bikes, recommending against having them put on a thin-tired road bike. Hamilton’s bike required more modifications and more time than did mine because of previous modifications that Peter had done for Ham. When Peter unpacked a $5000 bike built with electric assist already installed, he commented to us that our bikes with batteries added were at least as good, at a much lower cost. Later, Hamilton investigated and bought on-line a RAD-bike, which has especially wide tires.
My first ride was from Highlander Bicycle up the hills towards our house and the first hill made me a convert – it was such fun climbing even steep hills with so little effort.
Controls on left (“M” on/off button with power level switch above); monitor at right
The bikes have a monitor screen on the handle bars that shows the level of power, the speed and the distance traveled. The bike’s computer can be set to give various levels of power. Initially, Peter set ours with five levels, five being frighteningly fast unless you are on a steep uphill. Bicycling with our friend Tim Marr who was on a non-electric bike, we found one level too slow and the next up too fast for Tim’s pace. We took our bikes back to Highlander and Peter adjusted them to make nine levels, with less difference between the levels, and level nine equivalent to the previous level five. After each ride, we plug the bikes into their chargers in our garage.
These bikes have let us travel further than we could previously, in trips up to 25 miles, exploring new roads and hills that had made previous routes prohibitive.
by Lorna Cheriton
As PJ Beaumont hands the leadership of trails and shelters maintenance over to Matt Vezina, here’s a profile of a past Co-ordinator of Trails and Shelters for our Bennington Section of the Green Mountain Club.
Hamilton doing trail work in snow, April 2020
Hamilton Topping studied forestry at Paul Smith’s College in upper New York state and, after working as a surveyor, took the New York state civil service exam, passed that and began his career as a forest ranger. He served most of his career in the Catskills region of New York State, living in Tannersville and raising two daughters there. His duties as a law enforcement officer included building trails, fire control, responding to calls of disorderly campers, search and rescue for missing persons, and recovery operations after plane crashes. Much of his work was solitary, with freedom to determine his own schedule and activities, but he was usually accompanied by his dog.
His first dog, Streak, came into his life when he was six years old and had just returned from the doctor after a cousin smashed Hamilton’s finger with a mallet. The puppy, given to him for comfort by his mother, hid under the buffet and the little boy, hurting, also crawled under the buffet with the frightened pup.
As an adult and serial dog-owner, Hamilton owned an Airedale (Hector), a husky (Aspen), and Sam, all large dogs that accompanied Ham in his forest ranger truck. One would not let an assistant into the truck to get the equipment Hamilton had asked him to get; the resourceful assistant resorted to simply opening the door and the dog jumped out to run and join Hamilton, letting the assistant easily obtain the equipment.
Working in the woods, the dogs were sometimes unable to resist chasing porcupines; the resulting removal of quills from the dog’s muzzle was always painful. But, even after enduring removal of a mouthful of quills, one dog stood quivering with indecision on seeing his next porcupine, finally unable to resist chasing it and getting a second mouthful of quills.
During his career as a forest ranger, Hamilton volunteered for numerous forest fires in the western US, serving as leader of a troop of men. Perhaps the most extreme incident occurred when he watched from a distance in horror as a huge tree fell directly on one of his men who had been unable to tell what direction the tree would fall. Rushing over, Hamilton and his men found that the man was uninjured, having fallen where a large rock protected him from certain death.
Later in his career, Hamilton was promoted to captain and accepted a position on Long Island, New York. There he supervised other rangers and, as a law enforcement officer, investigated reports of unauthorized activities such as burning without a permit and issued appropriate tickets. Earlier, in the Catskills, he had needed to approach a noisy and disorderly group of camping bikers. Approaching them alone but with his night stick, he realized the night stick might be turned against him so wisely turned and left the night stick in his truck, and dealt with them unarmed except with the authority of his words.
Always an outdoors man, he enjoyed hiking and canoeing. In his 40s, he took up running, joining an informal club and entering races, including five marathons (New York and London, England among them).
Late in his career, he took a leave of absence from work to through-hike the Appalachian Trail, starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia and hiking half the 2200-mile trail before a serious muscle tear forced him to leave the trail.
Besides running and hiking, Ham took up contra dancing at the urging of a colleague and later English Country dancing in New York City. At a dance weekend in New Jersey, he met Lorna Cheriton; their first dates were hiking, canoeing the Esopus Creek during spring flood, and contra dancing.
Hamilton took early retirement in 1994 after 34 years as a forest ranger. His first goal was completion of his Appalachian Trail hike. He and Lorna traveled to West Virginia and began the second half of the trail, hiking north through forests where hordes of gyspy moth larva, seeking cooling breezes, hung from the trees, nipping the skin of hikers who bumped into the dangling worms. Then through the Pennsylvania section, notorious for rocks standing on edge and making hikers’ feet very sore. After one fall, he lay on the ground, certain he had broken his wrist which would have ended his second attempt of the AT. Another time, a black-faced hornet flew into his forehead and stung, the pain almost making him pass out. One eerie occurrence was the darkening of the sky in mid-day; away from news, he had not known an eclipse was expected and could appreciate the mystery it had been to native Americans.
After standing atop Mount Katahdin in Maine in triumphant completion of the AT, Hamilton accepted an assignment in Guatemala with the Peace Corps to which he had applied before retiring. During his year living in the old colonial city of Antigua, he volunteered with the God’s Child Project, leading teams of American volunteers in building concrete floors in kitchens to protect crawling children from the parasites and infections so rampant in poor people’s dirt floors.
Returning to the US, Hamilton chose Bennington for its proximity to natural forest and because it was close enough to his aging parents for him to help them, without being so close that he would be always at their beck and call. He quickly became involved in the Bennington Section of the GMC, hiking, skiing, paddling, leading outings and doing trail work. Among the trips he led was the yearly and challenging cross-country ski to Heartwellville, until the route became impassible because of blowdowns from a hurricane.
Becoming Co-ordinator of Trails and Shelters for our Bennington Section of the Green Mountain Club, he planned and led spring and other trail maintenance projects. He continues to do trail work, to volunteer as a community member on Restorative Justice panels, has served as deacon and trustee at Second Congregational Church, and uses his 1996 truck to pick up vegetable donations from Mighty Food Farm and deliver them to the Kitchen Cupboard.
Keep up with the happenings around Bennington !
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