This is a guest post by John Page, GMC President.
The start of every New Year is a time for reflection on the past and hope for the coming year. As president of the Green Mountain Club, I want to share some of my thoughts on why so many Vermonters feel such passion for the Long Trail and the organization that has maintained it for a century.
Ask any GMC member why they belong to the club and you will get a different story, but there’s always a story. Many will tell you about their end-to-end hike as a teenager, or that they met their spouse on the Long Trail, or that they moved to Vermont after falling in love with the state while hiking the Long Trail on a vacation. For some members, their GMC section’s weekend outings are the center of their social lives, and others continue to support the club and the trail long after their hiking days are over, just because they believe in the trail’s importance to Vermont and Vermonters. For whatever reason they join the Green Mountain Club, our members share an unbelievable passion for the Long Trail and find many ways to channel that passion, as trail volunteers, section leaders, board and committee members, financial donors, and just by paying their annual dues.
My own story is hardly unusual. I grew up in Burlington in a hiking family that was active in the GMC’s Burlington Section in the 1960s. At the age of eleven, I was fortunate enough to join a Boy Scout troop led by a scoutmaster, Larry Dean, who was also an important volunteer leader of the GMC, including serving for a while as club president. Troop 1’s outing schedule included at least two day hikes and one overnight hike every month, year round, and much of that hiking took place on the Long Trail and in its shelters. In 1966, at the age of thirteen, I spent five days with my brother and two friends hiking the Monroe Skyline, from Middlebury Gap to Camel’s Hump, carrying canvas backpacks and a light ax to collect firewood for cooking. Over the next few years, we completed the Long Trail, mostly at the club’s annual “Intersectional” gatherings. I also recall joining Burlington Section backpacking trips to the White Mountains and Katahdin. In 1971 I graduated from high school and that summer was privileged to work as the GMC caretaker at Taylor Lodge.
Burlington Section leaders of that period that I clearly recall include Roy Buchanan, the legendary head of the Long Trail Patrol for four decades, and Shirley Strong, GMC’s first woman president, who in the late 1960s successfully fought to prohibit development in Vermont above 2500’ elevation. Along with Larry Dean and others, these were inspiring people who instilled a lifelong commitment to the Long Trail.
Following college, I moved to Maine for a period of time and lost contact with GMC, but my passion for the Long Trail and the club never died, and when I returned to Vermont in the 1990s I was invited to join the GMC board. I’ve been active as a volunteer club leader ever since, and have twice again completed hiking the Long Trail. For me, the thousands of hours I’ve contributed to the club and the trail have been a labor of love, as it is for most everyone I work with as a GMC volunteer. Together we share the same vision that has guided GMC volunteers for more than a century: to protect and maintain the Long Trail as a world class hiking trail on which one can walk, through a beautiful, rugged and inspiring mountain environment, the entire length of the Green Mountains, from Massachusetts to Canada. This vision is both our legacy and our challenge, and as 2016 comes to an end I’m proud to report that the vision of James Taylor and later GMC leaders is alive and well.
An important aspect of GMC’s continuing vitality is the fact that our trails are located literally in the back yards of most Vermonters, so that hiking has become part of our daily lives in a way that doesn’t happen in our neighboring mountain ranges, where hiking is more of a destination sport. Because people believe that these trails belong to them and are an integral part of their communities and culture, they naturally take good care of them.
I want to thank all of you that contribute, in your own ways, to keeping the Long Trail and the Green Mountain Club alive and well. I hope you all have a great year of hiking in Vermont in 2017. See you out there in our back yard!