The Green Mountain Club turned 107 last Saturday, March 11, 2017. The following history of how the GMC began was included in Green Mountain Adventure, Vermont’s LONG TRAIL by Jane & Will Curtis and Frank Lieberman:
James Taylor sat in his forester’s tent on the side of Stratton Mountain and looked out at the summit through the unceasing July rain. There were no trails to the top and it was too wet to bushwack. But for Taylor it was fine to just sit and think about the past year. School was over; on the whole it had gone well; the class of 1909 had been a bright bunch of boys and girls; he had enjoyed teaching them. There had been satisfaction too in his job as Assistant Headmaster of Vermont Academy in the little town of Saxtons River. It might not be a big school but, by golly, it had a big campus. “The Grand Campus” he liked to call it, stretching from Mt. Ascutney in Vermont to Massachusett’s Greylock. Being Assistant Head meant that he could institute some ideas close to his heart. The closest being his desire to get the boys on campus out into the countryside. What was the point of living in one of the most beautiful states in the Union and never getting to know its beauties at close hand? He hated to see them wasting their time sitting about indoors. Much better to get their legs working climbing mountains, getting oxygen into their brains. Their health would certainly improve and even perhaps their grades! Well, he’d led the boys up neighboring mountains now for several years and they liked the expeditions better every year. The school had even accepted his idea of getting credit for a mountain climb, A for Ascutney, G for Greylock.
The trouble was there were so few mountains with connecting trails although there were mountains all about. Of course there was good old Mt. Ascutney, the boys’ favorite. They loved hiking up the carriage road and sleeping on the top in the stout granite hut. Part of the fun of climbing Ascutney was knowing that the mountain was among the first in America to boast a hiking trail. Windsor folk, hoping to give aged General Lafayette a thrill, cut a footpath on the mountain in 1825 as a first step in making a carriage road up which the hero could ride in style. Alas, history doesn’t say if the grand ascent was ever made!
There had been that disastrous trip up Killington a year ago. There was a trail of sorts, the Mountain Road, but it was in terrible shape, washed out where it wasn’t overgrown. The boys’ idea of carrying a large pail filled with fresh asparagus and water caused a good deal of trouble, sore hands and sloshed water, but they insisted they wanted it for a sumptuous breakfast on top. The accommodations were a disappointment, nothing but the collapsible kitchen ell of the ruined Killington Mountain House. They had made the best of that of course but the night was calamitous: – all through the dark hours whole tribes of porcupines came out to gnaw the ancient grease of the kitchen floor, squealing and scrabbling about without let up in spite of yells and flung boots. Sunrise revealed further casualties; an overturned kettle, and mangled asparagus stalks strewn about Killington’s rocky summit. But boys are tough creatures, little sleep and no breakfast faded before the prospect of an exciting hike across the range from Killington to Pico. That had been the final blow! There was simply no trail across the range from Killington to Pico! And no time to make a bushwacking trip. He could still hear their mournful refrain as they returned to Saxton’s River, “No go to Pico!”
James Paddock Taylor ran his hand through his thick black hair, a gesture he knew amused his pupils; it caused him to resemble a large porcupine. There was no use of talking about the Grand Campus and good health and wild beauties if no one could get into the wilderness to see them.
He looked out at Stratton’s summit, a fine mountain but again, no trails. The Germans, now they had the right idea. He’d enjoyed every step of the walk he’d taken a few years ago on the Black Forest hiking trail. Why couldn’t there be such a trail on New England’s mountains? Why not?
The rest of that rainy day James Taylor sat and ruminated on a vision of a trail linking the summits of Killington and Pico, linking Mansfield’s Chin and the Lake of the Clouds; maybe even a trail running from the Massachusetts line to the Quebec border along the tops of the Green Mountains! And why not some shelters along the way like those in the Alps?
That, history has it, was the way the idea of the Long Trail came about in the fertile mind of James Paddock Taylor, and of an organization to maintain such a trail, the Green Mountain Club. To bring about both took a lot of doing, but James Taylor was nothing if not a magnetic, vital individual with imagination, energy and great powers of persuasiveness. Emma Hunt of Charlestown, N.H., pupil and friend of James Taylor says, “Jimmy was a man who could make things happen!”
After his rainy day in the tent he sketched out a rough map of a foot trail along the top of the Green Mountains and took his idea and his map to ask advice of the venerable Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston. But for the Appies there was only one mountain range, the White, and Taylor claimed they believed “The Green Mountain State was as flat as a pancake!” It was plain that any attempt to bring his dream to life would have to be done in Vermont by Vermonters.
For a year at every meeting he attended, for every influential man he met, he brought out his map. He had an interview with the Governor who listened to the persuasive teacher, looked at his map and gave his approval. So did the state forester, a college president and a brace of lawyers. But Taylor knew that in order to get anything as ambitious as a mountain pathway there must be a flood of information if the people of Vermont were to entertain the notion that it would be “Fun” to walk on their mountains. For years the ancient peaks were considered nothing but a hindrance to easy communication across the state.
Even when the fashion of mountain-top hotels had been at its height, Vermonters regarded those who walked or rode up a carriage road as tourists who might be crazy enough to do anything. Hard-working folk had too much to do to want to walk up a mountain. It was Taylor’s dream to change this attitude.
In the early part of 1910, Taylor had gathered enough support to consider establishing an organization to oversee the building and maintenance of his dream mountain pathway. On March 11, 1910 at 2 p.m., twenty-three Vermonters met to form the Green Mountain Club. The infant organization’s only asset was $100 from Mr. M. E. Wheeler of Rutland. The stated purpose of the Club, “Shall be to make the Vermont mountains play a larger role in the life of the people.” Naturally James Taylor was made its first president.
The establishment of the Green Mountain Club was announced in the April 1910 issue of The Vermonter magazine:
Today, at 107 years old, we have grown to about 9,500 members and more than a thousand volunteers. The GMC continues to protect and maintain the Long Trail, along with the Appalachian Trail in Vermont and Northeast Kingdom Trails. Thank you for being part of the community and helping us continue to flourish into our second century!