Getting Over It

On October 13, 2012, in Uncategorized, by admin

I don’t remember exactly when I first had my dream, but it’s one of the very few recurring dreams I’ve had in my otherwise richly populated but poorly remembered nightscape. I suppose it was sometime in my late teens, because it involved skiing along a narrow, sinuous trail that followed the contours of a big mountain that most definitely wasn’t Pats Peak. In the earliest versions of the dream, it was Great Eastern at Killington. Later versions featured Bear Claw at Loon, and later still, Oblivion here in the Valley.

Setting that aside, the dream is always the same: bright sun and deep packed snow, eventually morphing to glorious spring corn. In my dream, I am always with friends — first my high school ski pal, Todd, but later a precession of other great friends — and we’re always skiing along and laughing when we round the bend and the snow abruptly ends, leaving us to sadly remove our skis and walk through the muddy grass, the delight of ski season crashing down to an untimely end.

My recurring dream came perilously close to reality last March when, after a decidedly dicey season, winter came to an unceremonious end after days of bright sun and unseasonably warm temperatures. One weekend, we picked our way down Sunnyside, carefully steering around ever growing brown patches, till the brown patches had grown to the width of the Gema headwall, leaving one turn’s worth of suspiciously greyish-white cover on the far skier’s right. We shifted to the front side, then to Northside, seeking shadows and snow that didn’t splash with each turn. The only refuge was the very narrow lee of the trees on Tyler, and in our heart of hearts we knew it was all but over.

Rumors circulated that the Resort was going to hold out for two more weeks, that they’d secretly been banking snow and really wanted to honor commitments to late-season skiers coming in from the UK. We watched the brown patches grow bigger each day and shook our heads. We were going down hard. By the last Saturday in March, we knew it was over, even if the lifts were still turning. Nancy, Nathan, Ellie and I called a few friends and met in the seasonal locker room for one more morning of skiing. We were rattled by how much snow had disappeared under the lift. The Chute was more granite than snow. At the top, we skied off the lift and made our way over to the top of Northside.

We all set off down Tippe, carefully threading our way though the bare spots. Incredulous that it was all grinding down so far, so fast, we took the lift up one more time and tried Tyler. Same story, different book. Surprisingly, the best snow and the best turns of the day were to be found over on Valley Run, where the low angle and occasional shade kept things somewhat wintry, at least till you hit the frightening cravasses at the top of the Valley headwall.

And so it ended, with hugs and handshakes and a sense of disbelief for a season that almost never was. I don’t think I could identify it at the time, but somewhere down inside, I felt cheated and angry. I tossed my skis into the our locker unceremoniously and stashed my boot bag in my cubby at home without much further thought. If winter wanted to abandon me, I could do perfectly well without winter. Let the mountain biking begin. My bad skiing dream had finally come true.

The spring and early summer passed without much ceremony. I was busy with work and family commitments. Somewhere down inside, I was still angry. When I had ski dreams, they all ended in patches of dirt and snow so slushy it was no fun to slide on. Every dream was like reliving the worst last day I could remember.

Finally, something broke, like the fall weather finally turning cold and the snow guns lighting up on High Country. I woke to the early August sun streaming through my bedroom window, and realized I’d had a mid-winter dream, one of high snow banks and smooth trails and gliding at top speed. I was getting over it. Within a few weeks, I had ordered new skis on eBay and booked a ski week out west with my family. Sometimes it takes a while, but we skiers are nothing if not resilient by nature.

Today was a typical stick-season day in the Valley. The morning sun revealed a surprise dusting of fresh snow on Tecumseh, coating the trails all the way down Sunnyside. Blustery winds blew occasional snow showers about, and the faithful, or slightly ski-addled, took each big flake as a portent of great things coming. Last season sucked. I can say that now. I know the season to come will be much, much better.

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If you’re a fan of Waterville Valley, you’re probably a fan of the Greeley Ponds Trail, too. It stands for many of the best things about life in the Valley: family hikes, the enduring beauty of nature, and the hardscrabble history of loggers and farmers who realized the real value of the land was in welcoming visitors looking for peace and a connection with the mountains. The Greeley Ponds Trail was, for all intents and purposes, scrubbed from the map by flood waters from the remnants of Hurricane Irene in August, 2011. Now, the Waterville Valley Foundation has joined forces with the Waterville Valley Athletic and Improvement Association, the National Forest Service, and the National Forest Foundation to restore this historic trail. To find out more, please visit restoregreeleypondstrail.org.

 

A Walk Through Time

On October 3, 2012, in Uncategorized, by admin

When the Waterville Valley Foundation last met in early September, we parted excited at the prospect of our biggest project ever.  We each went back to our families and our weekend duties.  Later in the day, though, WVF treasurer Mike Furgal and I found ourselves footloose and duty-free, and decided to go for a hike.

We started out with a simple mission in mind: tramp out the remnants of the Greeley Ponds Trail to survey the damage and take a few pictures.  With Cliff the Wonder Dog in the lead, we hiked out through Depot Camp and turned onto Greeley Ponds Trail.  For the first few hundred yards, very little had changed.  The footway was flat and relatively smooth, and we made good time walking side by side along the old trail.  Quickly, though, we ran into signs of storm damage from Irene.  In places, the middle of trail was scoured out where the nearby Mad River had spilled its banks and run along the trail.

This is was just a movie trailer for the real destruction, though.  Soon, we reached long stretches where all that remained of the trail were two foot-wide tracks of newly packed earth straddling chest-deep scars where the trail used to be, lined with boulders and uprooted trees.  Even on foot, you had to pick your way along in places.

We clambered up the side of a huge water bar, and stopped to study scraps of what appeared to be a logging drag-sledge unearthed by the heavy machinery dispatched to turn the river back toward its original course.  We were reminded that the modern Greeley Ponds Trail follows a much older path blazed by loggers and woodsmen a century ago.  As we looked around, it wasn’t hard to imagine the land around us clear-cut and tangled with slash; we were glad we’d missed that scene.

By the time we reached the site of the former Knights Bridge, Mike and I were both feeling a bit depressed by the reality of the destruction that Irene left in her wake.  Looking across the river, where my namesake bridge once stood, and seeing the rutted trail beyond, we realized how much it was going to take to bring back one of our favorite trails.

We turned back toward the Valley, but it was clear that Cliff wasn’t ready to go home, and instead of heading back, we turned right and headed up the Timber Camp Trail.  In conversations with Dan Newton and Harry Notowitz of the Waterville Valley Athletic and Improvement Association, we’d learned that the most likely path for a reborn Greeley Ponds Trail was along the existing track for roughly the first mile, then turning up the bluff and away from the riverbed on the venerable Timber Camp Trail, then turning along an older, abandoned path, the Greeley Brook Trail.  As usual, Dan had described the scene well, and we knew what to look for as we climbed away from the river and up a steady grade.

Unlike the old track of the Greeley Ponds Trail, which followed the course of the river and climbed gradually (though at times over rough and rooty patches), the Timber Camp Trail reminds you where your leg-muscles are as you climb away from the valley floor.  Soon enough, we caught glimpses of the far wall of the Mad River Notch, a panorama of steep mountain shoulders relieved by a few open rock faces.

The cut-off to the Greeley Brook Trail isn’t particularly hard to find if you are looking, though I bet thousands of hikers and mountain bikers have gone by over the years without giving it a second thought.  Mike and I saw it right away; it was evident by two essential features:  first, the sharp drop-off on the right side of the trail finally transitioned to a flat, continuous ridge, and second, the hardwoods that made up the forest along the steep bluff suddenly changed to a line of dense young firs.  We shimmied through the line of boughs and immediately found ourselves on a flat track following the contour of the ridge.  Cliff the Wonder Dog took off ahead of us, threading his way through ferns and hobblebush just taking root on the old trail.

We plodded along steadily for a few hundred yards till we encountered a wall of young spruce reclaiming what was once an open meadow.  We stopped and scanned for a path – even Cliff wasn’t sure which way to go – until we finally decided to plow straight through the trees to see what was on the other side.  I took the first few tentative steps until the trees grew less dense and we were sure we were back on the old path, then let Cliff and Mike break trail through an astounding number of sticky, creepy cobwebs.  Finally, the spruce grove was behind us and we were trucking along Greeley Brook Trail once again.

I had studied a map briefly before we left, so I knew – roughly – where we were and where we were headed.  The old Greeley Brook Trail follows the contour of the ridge, slightly up and slightly down, until it meets a branch coming in hard from the right (the eventual continuation of the Greeley Ponds Trail, returning to the river bed on an old logging road).  We continued on straight, though, as the trail angled up and through a wet section, where we took to the woods on the high side, hoping to keep our feet dry.  A few hundred feet more, and we came to Greeley Brook, a pretty stream tumbling down the steep mountainside over a rocky, mossy bed.  We studied the remnants of an old logging bridge – several thick, moss-covered peeled trunks, probably hemlock, spanning the brook and stripped of bridge decking by the ravages of time.  We’d gone as far as we would go today.  Even Cliff seemed ready to turn for home.

As we headed back the way we’d come, we were both glad we’d gone the extra mile.  It had been a while since we’d had time to just hang out, but more to the point, in a little over an hour, Mike and I had managed to span more than a century of time.  We’d seen evidence of the region’s history along the Greeley Ponds Trail and in an old, neglected path; we’d seen the ugly reality of the trail’s present, etched deeply by Irene’s flood waters.  We had also glimpsed the trail’s future as we trudged up the Timber Camp Trail and out along the old Greeley Brook Trail.  It wasn’t quite time travel, but for a cool, fall-like Sunday afternoon, it was plenty close enough.

To learn more about efforts to bring back the Greeley Ponds Trail, please visit restoregreeleypondstrail.org.

 

Restore Greeley Ponds Trail

On October 2, 2012, in Uncategorized, by admin

In the four or so years I have been involved with the Waterville Valley Foundation, we have always been very proud of our charter — supporting the people and traditions that lend distinction to life in Waterville Valley, and those things that make Waterville Valley unique.  We are equally proud of the local organizations we have been able to support through their fledgling phases.  We pride ourselves on being careful stewards of your donations, and are grateful for your ongoing support.

At times, though, we as a board have discussed the need for a bigger project, a greater calling if you will.  In August, 2011, that opportunity quite literally fell from the sky when Hurricane Irene stomped her way through the Northeast, dumping a deluge of rain in a few short hours.  Meteorologists refer to a “hundred year storm”, an event that is likely to happen but once in a century.  In terms of sheer volume of rain in very short order, Irene was all that and more.

If you were around the Valley in the weeks after Irene, you spent a lot of time shaking your head at the sheer destruction Mother Nature can wreak when fully unleashed.  Portions of Route 49, the principle route into town, were washed away to the yellow center line, and long steel span bridges were washed a quarter mile downstream on the Mad River Trail. The Mad River — which literally defines the geography of Waterville Valley — changed course in a number of places.

While the destruction on Route 49 required instant attention by federal, state, and local officials, the area’s ancient network of hiking and recreational trails by necessity took a back seat.  Among the most heavily damaged trails was the popular Greeley Ponds Trail, which ran from the Livermore Road near Depot Camp, along the Mad River by gentle grades, all the way to the scenic Greeley Ponds in Mad River Notch, and then on to the Kancamagus Highway high up above Lincoln.  I say “ran” advisedly, because long sections of the trail simply ceased to exist when Irene blasted the Valley and the Mad River burst its banks.  The first mile or so of the trail is still — barely — passable, though erosion damage has left only narrow foot-wide monorails along deeply eroded trenches that look for all the world like a dry riverbed.

Man stands in deeply eroded section of hiking trail.

WVF Treasurer Mike Furgal inspects damage along the Greeley Ponds Trail September 2012

Beyond the popular Scaur, Goodrich Rock, and Timber Camp trails, the Greeley Ponds Trail is closed altogether.  At the first river crossing, Knights Bridge was swept away by the raging floodwaters, and north of the river, the trail is almost entirely washed away.  There is no access the Greeley Ponds, the Kancamagus Brook Ski Trail, or the Kancamagus Highway beyond.  The Greeley Ponds Trail as we knew it, once an important logging route but lately popular with hikers, cross country skiers, and adventurous families looking for a not-too-challenging walk, no longer exists.

Image of river and bridge footings where bridge was torn away by floodwaters

Site of the destroyed Knights Bridge, washed away by floodwaters during Irene, cutting off the upper section of the trail

Early this summer, I joined Waterville Valley Foundation board members Mike Furgal and Bill Powell for a cautious mountain bike ride, balancing precariously on the narrow band of trail left in places along the washed out Greeley Ponds Trail, teetering on the edge of a nasty drop onto boulders in places (“single track with consequences” we joked).  We were stunned at what we saw.  Throughout the summer, we had an ongoing conversation about the trail and its future.  In August, a casual conversation with WVF Vice President Bob Fries led to a chat with the National Forest Service about the possibility of supporting restoration work on the trails.  A day later, he received an enthusiastic call back from his Forest Service contact: not only would they be interested, but the National Forest Foundation might also be willing to match funds.

If we as a board wanted a bigger project, and one where your donations could be leveraged to do even greater good, we knew we had found it.  For us, the Greeley Ponds Trail has it all: historical significance, the beauty of the White Mountains, and important recreational opportunities.  By joining forces with the Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, and the Waterville Valley Athletic and Improvement Association, we can bring back this great trail for the enjoyment of generations to come.

The Board of Directors of the Waterville Valley Foundation has committed $10,000 out of our reserves, and has pledged another $10,000 we intend to raise from our annual fund.  These funds will be matched by the Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation for a total budget of at least $55,000. This will go a long way toward restoring the trail, rerouting major portions, and building a new bridge at a safer crossing point higher up on the river.

We hope you will consider this a worthy endeavor and lend your support as well.  Watch this space for further updates, or visit our special project website at http://www.restoregreeleypondstrail.org.  You can also check in on our Facebook page, Restore Greeley Ponds Trail (https://www.facebook.com/groups/423895211007534/).

As always, we thank you for your support!