Club makes Long Trail a Vermont gem

One of my favorite summer outdoor pastimes is hiking to the various alpine ponds along Vermont’s Long Trail. These overnight trips combine my enjoyment of backpacking and my passion for fishing, while providing almost enough exercise to burn off the copious quantities of trail food I consume on the hike.
Even when fishing gets slow in the Champlain Valley rivers and streams, I can usually lure a trout up to the surface to take a fly on the higher ponds in the late evening or early morning, or find one hanging out near some cold spring along the shoreline.
What makes these trips possible is the hard work of the Green Mountain Club, which in 2010 is celebrating its centennial year. Every year, the GMC oversees more than 800 volunteers working on their 445-mile-long network of trails, which runs from the Massachusetts border north all the way to Canada.
As GMC Executive Director Ben Rose said in a recent interview, when you consider the tremendous amount of work it takes to keep the trails in shape, and to maintain the shelters, “it’s an annual miracle that there is a trail at all.” He went on to say that if the GMC stopped maintaining the trails, they’d be gone within a couple years.
In addition to more well-known Long Trail ponds, like Sterling Pond on Smuggler’s Notch — which is one of my all-time favorite hikes in Vermont, even if it does get a little crowded on weekends — there are many lesser known gems along the trail. Stratton Pond is another of my favorites, and I’ve enjoyed overnight hikes to Little Rock Pond (Wallingford) and the area around Griffith Lake and Long Hole (Mount Tabor).
Counting the Bread Loaf section of the Long Trail, which runs from the Sucker Brook Shelter up to the Emily Proctor Shelter, there are 14 total sections, all of which are autonomous and largely volunteer-run. Rose won’t promote any one particular “favorite place” of his own, for fear that it might overburden that location, but he does note that the eastern edge of Addison County is a real beauty.
“The eastern rim, that whole stretch of trail, is a bit more rugged than some other spots, and it’s not for everybody, but it’s really beautiful. Maybe it’s lacking charismatic rocky peaks, but it’s remote and has a character all its own. That remoteness of the Joseph Battell Wilderness area will continue to get more precious in years to come,” he said.
Some of the alpine pond sites, including Stratton and Sterling ponds, have shelters. (If you carry a float tube or waders, along with fly gear and a sleeping bag, it’s nice not to have to lug a tent, too.) The GMC manages roughly 50 shelters on the Long Trail. Only 12 of these — those hosted by caretakers — have a fee. The rest are free.
Where do the finances come from to manage all the good work of the GMC? Rose says it is a rather “complicated pie chart of revenues” that provide the $1.5 million budget they work with. The biggest component, ranging from 40 to 50 percent of the revenue, comes from fees that the GMC is able to charge for service.
Both federal and state governments pay the GMC for work done on their lands, which is usually matched by GMC volunteer labor. Another 25 percent comes from membership fees. The small $5 fee charged for sleeping at a shelter when a caretaker is present doesn’t even cover a third of the actually nightly cost incurred by the GMC when a guest stays at a shelter.
Still, Rose would like some time to fill even that gap, perhaps with some endowed fund from a thankful through hiker, so that no fee at all would have to be charged.
For those interested in learning more about the GMC and the Long Trail, including information on many sponsored programs and events, GMC’s website at www.greenmountainclub.org is a great resource. Check out especially the various activities planned to celebrate this centennial year. And then, of course, check out the Long Trail itself. Bring a fly rod and a swimsuit.

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