While Earth Day, celebrated every year since 1970 on April 22, is a time to reflect on our gratitude for the wild spaces around us, at its core is the modern environmental conservation movement. In the ’70s, that largely meant raising awareness of air and water pollution caused by agriculture, cars, and oil. Today, all those things still ring true, but most of our conversations revolve around the long-term impacts of climate change and how our individual, corporate, and societal actions are playing a role in this crisis.
The Green Mountain Club considers sustainability, conservation, and climate change in nearly every action we take. Heck, even the toilets at our office are composting. Our field staff work to minimize the impacts of human activity in wild spaces, and plan and build trails and facilities that can sustain use and protect the environment around them. Our education and group outings coordinators support the hiking public with the tools and knowledge they need to behave responsibly while hiking, and consider their impact on the land and waters around them. This Earth Day, let’s take a look at some of the ways climate change and environmental protection impact the way we do things here at the Green Mountain Club.
Trail Maintenance in the Era of Climate Change
Climate change has brought on changing weather right here in Vermont: more rain in the spring, summer, and fall, and less snow in the winter. This increases the risk of trail washouts and erosion. There is also an increase in severe storms of the hurricane variety, which results in more blowdowns (downed trees that obstruct the trail). GMC has a need for more trail maintenance crews and volunteers, as well as backcountry stewards who help impart wisdom on hikers that will lead them to more sustainable hiking behaviors. Read more about GMC’s strategies to care for the Long Trail System in the era of climate change.
Climate Change: Trail Management Strategies, first published in the Spring 2019 Long Trail News
Mud season, that pesky time of year where we stay off trails because hiking through mud causes widespread damage, is more variable every year, as seen by a surprisingly long, dry, and warm stretch in early April this year followed by the three inches of snow falling outside my window on April 21. We might see mud-season-like conditions on and off throughout the summer and fall, as our Executive Director Mike DeBonis spoke about with VPR recently. This provides another challenge in managing crowds and trail usage when trails are most vulnerable.
Thinking About Hitting The Trail? Think Again, VPR, April 15, 2021
Flora and Fauna
Vermont is home to numerous wonderful plant and animal species, but the impacts of climate change do not spare these living creatures. Invasive species, with no natural predators, already outcompete native species for resources; available resources are further altered and limited with changing temperatures. In this recent Seven Days article, reporter Margaret Grayson explores climate change through the lens of four different tree species found in Vermont, including the red spruce found on many beloved Green Mountain climbs. GMC’s Mike DeBonis acknowledges that both storms and invasive species will likely have an impact on the forests we enjoy in the hiking seasons to come.
How the Climate Crisis and Pests Are Impacting Four Tree Species in Vermont’s Woods, Seven Days, by Margaret Grayson, April 21, 2021
At higher elevations, above where those red spruce thrive, are a few bare summits, like Camel’s Hump, Mansfield, and Mt. Abe, with Vermont’s only remaining alpine tundra zones. Here exists rare and fascinating plant life among the exposed rocks. Not only are these plants susceptible to damage by hikers stepping off trail, but overall warming trends also threaten their perseverance here. GMC partnered with The Northeast Alpine Flower Watch (NEAFW) to track the effects of climate change on alpine flora by gathering flowering time data with the help of hikers.
Support Alpine Research: Become a Citizen Scientist by John Plummer
On the wildlife front, we’ve been seeing increased bear activity in Vermont in recent years, and warmer, earlier springs mean they emerge from their dens earlier every year. GMC is working to educate hikers about bear safety and proper food storage to limit human-bear interactions.
Read more about Vermont’s Wildlife in a Changing Climate, by Tom Rogers, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
Celebrate — and Practice — Earth Day Every Day
Operating the club against the backdrop of climate change goes beyond cleaning up after storms and looking out for bears. We try to live sustainably every day. Our headquarters are designed to be energy efficient. We value land conservation not only for the trail’s sake, but for the protection of the natural habitats that the trail runs through and benefits those forests provide to communities.
How can you celebrate Earth Day the GMC way? For starters, read the linked articles to learn about the unique landscapes and challenges we face here in Vermont. When you go hiking, strive to be a good trail steward and minimize the imprint you leave on the backcountry. Try this family-friendly Leave No Trace Activity Sheet to involve young ones in our relationship to the outdoors. Last year, GMC Visitor Center Manager Amy wrote about how she instills a love of the environment in her toddler with an Earth Day basket to celebrate the season.
Foremost climate activist and scientist Bill McKibben spoke to the GMC audience earlier this year. You can catch up on that program on YouTube. And, as you consider the impact of human-led activity on the world around us today, consider the perspective of the original peoples of this land. The Abenaki and other peoples have been stewarding and honoring the natural spaces around us for thousands of years.
The Mountains Through a Different Cultural Lens: An Abenaki Perspective, by Melody Walker, first published in the Fall 2019 Long Trail News.
As the effects of climate change continue to challenge us here in Vermont, the Green Mountain Club is committed to protecting the Long Trail, the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, the Northeast Kingdom Trails, and the wonderful and fragile lands and waters around them. As we contend with more uncertainties, we rely on funding and donations to continue this work. If you love the Long Trail System and want it to remain available for generations to come, consider supporting our work. Happy Earth Day!