Back from the brink, thanks to you

On November 3, 2013, in Uncategorized, by admin

In late August 2011, the remnants of Hurricane Irene — still a strong tropical storm — stomped their way through Waterville Valley, causing historic damage all throughout the Mad River watershed. The floodwaters chewed away parts of Route 49, nearly isolating the town, damaged and destroyed bridges on the roads and forest trails, and threatened homes along the river’s edge. The raging waters also destroyed long stretches of a popular hiking route, the Greeley Ponds Trail.

The storm’s power took out key bridges and eroded five-foot deep trenches where the river spilled its banks and ran along the trail instead. The Forest Service was forced to close the segment of the trail from where Knightsbridge had spanned the first major river crossing all the way to the Ponds. The trail has been closed for two years.

When the Board of Directors of the Waterville Valley Foundation considered the devastation Irene left in her wake, we decided that to pledge our support to the restoration of this popular trail. We committed $10,000 immediately, and pledged another $10,000 from our 2012 annual campaign. Our offer was matched by the National Forest Foundation and the Forest Service. The Forest Service has worked hard to patch together funding from a variety of other sources — challenging at best given the political climate in Washington — and, thanks in large part to your generosity, we’re well on our way to a restored and renewed Greeley Ponds Trail.

Yesterday, my daughter and I worked our way through the woods (avoiding the currently-closed — also for repairs — Livermore Road) and picked our way — semi-illicitly — along the rejuvenated Greeley Ponds Trail. The transformation is not much short of amazing.

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The trail, still closed, has been graded for the entire distance from the Livermore Road to the junction with the Timber Camp Trail. What had been rocky footing for many years is now smooth (somewhat squishy in places) walking.

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Where the old trail used to be straight for long stretches, skirting the very edge of the river, now several sections have been relocated dozens to hundreds of feet farther toward the bluff, along slightly higher land.

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A few critical feet of elevation could make all the difference in a future flood. An added benefit: the relocated sections meander pleasantly, adding interest to the walk.

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In places, you can see the old trail a few feet off to the right as you head out. In other places, the new trail follows the higher contours closer to the bluff. When the relocated section rejoins the historical trail, you can look back along the old path and see the scarred old way.

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The rerouted trail will now follow the Timber Camp Trail up the ridge, before cutting off on the defunct Greeley Brook Trail to run along the flanks of Osceola. By moving off the valley floor, the new trail no longer runs the risk of washouts in future extreme weather events. Ellie and I were amazed at how quickly the old trail beyond the junction is filling in.

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If you do venture past the Timber Camp junction, in a few hundred feet, you reach the site of the old Knightsbridge. When you look across the river, you can see the old trail — badly eroded and trenched by the storm. Seeing that, you know moving the trail up high was the right choice.

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The reconstruction work on the Greeley Ponds Trail is well on its way — thanks in large part to your support. As my daughter and I walked back along the steadily rushing river, enjoying the cool fall temperatures and peaceful woods, we felt the power of nature all around us. Nature made this beautiful place — and nature continues to shape it every day in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The reconstruction work that you’ve helped support acknowledges that power in ways the old trail builders never did — and will once again make it possible for us all to enjoy the splendor along the Greeley Ponds Trail.

Thank you, Waterville Valley.