Long Trail maintenance grows challenging

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(Host) Each year 200,000 people use Vermont’s Long Trail, which stretches from Canada to the Massachusetts border.

Protecting and maintaining the 270 mile trail is the job of the Green Mountain Club. And the task is becoming more challenging and costly.

Now, as the club gets ready for the thousands of hikers who will hit the trail over the next several months, it’s also preparing for the next 100 years.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Rose) "Watch your head!"

(Zind) Ben Rose takes the long, swift strides of a hiker as he shows a visitor around the headquarters of the Green Mountain Club just off a busy stretch of Route 100 in Waterbury Center.

(Rose) "These tools are just starting to head out into the field: Grip hoists and pick mattocks and all sorts of training tools "

(Zind) Rose is the club’s Executive Director. His tour of the facilities includes the spot where the club’s hiker center once stood until it burned down in early 2003.

A crisis has a way of focusing the mind, and Rose says the fire caused the club to take a step back and take stock as the Long Trail approaches its 100th birthday.

The result of the club’s soul-searching is the Second Century Campaign – a multi-million dollar fundraising drive aimed at making sure the Long Trails lasts for another 100 years.

Saturday in Manchester, the club launched the public portion of a campaign designed to raise at least five and a quarter million dollars.

Washouts, swarms of hikers and ravenous porcupines aren’t the most significant threats to the Long Trail: Rose says money is the real issue when it comes to maintaining and protecting the trail.

(Rose) "It has gotten harder to do that job, incrementally, over the past decade. This campaign is the club’s effort to make sure that we’ll be able to continue to do that job for decades to come."

(Zind) The Green Mountain Club has ended the past two years in the red. State and federal dollars are a key source of the club’s funding, because much of the trail is on public land, but

(Rose) "The public dollars are not necessarily there in the future."

(Zind) Club membership is also growing very slowly. Most of the trail’s users are young hikers with little disposable income. They’re not likely to pony up the $35 membership fee.

Rose says the club’s Second Century Campaign has several goals. One is to protect the remaining 12 miles of the trail that are on private land where the club has no guarantee the owners of the land won’t one day tell them to leave.

Secondly, the club wants to build an endowment to make sure that money is always there to maintain the Long Trail. Finally, the club wants to replace the building lost in the fire.

Although the public part of the campaign is just beginning, the club has already raised $3.7 million – much of it from foundations and businesses.

Rose says the five and a quarter million dollars is a minimum goal. He hopes that by the time the Long Trail’s 100th anniversary rolls around in 2010, the Green Mountain Club will be able to announce that the future of the footpath is secure for its second century.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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