Franconia loop trails set for repair

  • The Appalachian Trail along Franconia Ridge. Wikimedia Commons

  • Mt. Lincoln from Mt. Lafayette, New Hampshire, a photograph by Kelly Stevens, is on view at Royalton Memorial Library as part of an exhibition of wilderness photography. Courtesy photograph

Monitor staff
Published: 4/9/2022 9:43:40 PM
Modified: 4/9/2022 9:42:29 PM

One of New Hampshire’s most-used travel routes will start to undergo some serious work this summer – and we’re not talking about I-93.

The Franconia Ridge loop series of trails in Franconia Notch, often recognized as one of the world’s greatest day hikes, will be given upgrades, repairs and reroutes over the next five years under a $1.1 million federal grant.

“We hope to start working on the Franconia Ridge Trail Loop Project the week of August 29,” Appalachian Mountain Club Director of Trails Alex DeLucia wrote in an email. He said six to eight weeks of trail work is planned through the fall on the Old Bridle Path, starting at the boundary between the state park and national forest, then working uphill.

”Additional trail projects will be identified for work to be completed in 2023 to 2026. Some projects in alpine areas will take longer to plan and obtain approval for, while other rehabilitation projects are more straightforward,” DeLucia wrote.

The work is needed because the loop is old – portions were first built as long ago as 1826, and the newest were laid out when Dwight Eisenhower was president – and incredibly well-used. On a summer weekend, at least 1,000 hikers a day may traverse the 11.4-mile loop, made up of the Franconia Ridge Trail, Falling Waters Trail, Greenleaf Trail and Old Bridle Path.

That doesn’t include the people who cross the summits of Lafayette, Lincoln, and Little Haystack mountains on the Franconia Ridge Trail, which is part of the popular Pemi Loop as well as the Appalachian Trail.

Current plans indicate that no trails will be closed during the work, which will range from building or repairing stone staircases to creating entirely new sections of trail with gentler slopes.

The latter is needed because most of the existing trails here, as is the case throughout New England, were built for recreational hikers and take relatively straight routes toward ridges or viewpoints. This leads to erosion when rain or melting snow rushes straight downhill.

By contrast, many hiking trails out west were originally built with horses in mind. They use back-and-forth switchback routes that make for a much longer trail but a much gentler one that creates less erosion.

The popularity of all hiking trails soared during the pandemic lockdowns, with trails leading out of Franconia Notch particularly hard-hit. New Hampshire State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service have cracked down on parking along Franconia Parkway, one of the very few two-lane sections of the interstate highway system. This year, there will once again be a hiker shuttle operating out of the Cannon Mountain parking area once parking lots at the trailheads fill up.

Work will be overseen by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Its professional trail crew will be partnering on the work with Off the Beaten Path, a Maine-based trail design and construction company.

The White Mountain National Forest will have the final say on all plans.

The federal money will be used only on the 8.6 miles of the loop in the national forest. Lower portions of several trails are on New Hampshire state lands and will not be included.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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