Andy Knight, Waterville Valley blogger laureate and president of the Waterville Valley Foundation, writes about the Foundation’s efforts to help restore the Greeley Ponds Trail following the wrath of Hurricane Irene.
By Andy Knight
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.
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.
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. You can also check in on our Facebook page, Restore Greeley Ponds Trail.
As always, we thank you for your support!