Alpine scientists, trail managers, and enthusiasts from organizations across the Northeastern United States joined together this past weekend at the Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont. The Green Mountain Club was honored to co-host this event with the Waterman Fund, a philanthropic organization whose mission is to conserve alpine areas in the Northeast. The gathering provided critical opportunities for professionals in the alpine stewardship and recreation fields to share resources, learn from each other, and collaborate on creative solutions to issues such as climate change and changing hiker trends. This gathering was the first since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in dramatic increases of trail use across the region. Panelists from multiple organizations discussed increased visitation and use of trails throughout the Northeast and the impact on the alpine zones.
50 Years of Alpine Stewardship: Background
In 1969, spurred by an influx of visitors to the mountains and scientific research showing the damage to fragile ecological communities, Ken and Alice Boyd for GMC and other environmental allies pioneered a caretaker program starting on Mt. Mansfield. The program expanded to other spots on the Long Trail in 1971. Today, the Adirondack Mountain Club (New York) and Appalachian Mountain Club (White Mountains, New Hampshire) have trail steward programs largely designed after the Green Mountain model, and face-to-face visitor education is one of the most widespread and effective strategies for protecting fragile alpine flora in the Northeast mountains. The Green Mountain Club designed the Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering to celebrate the success of the last 50 years of stewardship and education.
Visitor Use Trends vary across Northeast
Not all organizations saw the same patterns in visitor use over the last three years. The Adirondack Mountain Club (New York), Green Mountain Club (Vermont), and Appalachian Mountain Club (New Hampshire) found extensive increased use across their trail systems in 2020, which leveled off in 2021. 2022 data is still being collected, but anecdotally is showing a leveled and slightly higher baseline than pre-pandemic years. Conversely, Friends of Acadia (Maine) and Baxter State Park (also Maine), had decreased visitation in 2020, likely due to their remote locations and the state’s pandemic response, and therefore a major boom in 2021 — Friends of Acadia reported an increase of 1 million visitors in 2021 over 2020.
These visitation shifts have significant impacts to programs and organizations, notably summit steward/caretaker programs and alpine zone research. The Adirondack Mountain Club and the Green Mountain Club, both reported that while visitation has increased, the number of seasonal staff they have on mountain summits has remained the same. Organizations highlighted several concerns around investing in a corps of seasonal stewards: the rising cost of living, especially housing in tourist areas where many of these programs exist; the extended hiking season and need to expand the staffing season; and the importance of providing competitive wages and future career growth opportunities for seasonal field staff to help increase institutional knowledge within organizations.
Scientific Research Findings and Keynote Speakers
In addition to sharing visitor management insights, the gathering was lucky enough to have ten scientists present their alpine research and findings. Some highlights include research on non-native species on Mount Washington and tracking climate– related changes into alpine zones. Adirondack Mountain Club shared their work improving methodology for photo monitoring alpine species, while the Appalachian Mountain Club has been studying the variation of alpine phenology (timing of alpine plant blooming) as it relates to climate change. These hiking organizations, along with GMC and others, contribute a great deal to scientific research in addition to managing trails and hikers. Dr. Jill Weiss from S.U.N.Y. presented preliminary findings of a 3-year study assessing hiker trends through surveys on six mountain peaks in Northeastern U.S., including Vermont’s Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump.
Additionally, there were two keynote speakers. The first night participants listened to geologist Stephen Wright from the University of Vermont as he discussed the formation of the mountains of northern New England, sharing maps and data from his research in the field. Then former GMC caretakers Hugh and Jeanne Joudry gave a keynote presentation sharing stories from their 50 years atop Stratton Mountain.
Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Zone Field Trips
Participants also spent a day in the field where the Green Mountain Club and partners showcased work in the alpine zones of the Green Mountains. Two hikes went across the Mount Mansfield ridgeline: one to learn about alpine vegetation with GMC staff and another to learn about the Bicknell Thrush habitat and monitoring with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. Jon Kim, Vermont State Geologist, discussed the geological history of Smuggler’s Notch, and GMC’s Keegan Tierney showed off the completed rehabilitation work on the Burrows Trail.
The Green Mountain Club thanks the participants of the 12th Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering and The Waterman Fund for providing this opportunity.
Adirondack Mountain Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, Baxter State Park. Beyond Ktaadn, Friends of Acadia, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Green Mountain Club, Harvard Forest, Maine Appalachian Trail Conservancy , Marshall University, Manicouagan-Uapishka World Biosphere Reserve. New York Natural Heritage Program. Northeast Wilderness Trust. Peters’ Botanical and Ecological Services, St. Lawrence University. State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. State University of New York Oneonta. Sundance Alpine Institute. USDA Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest. University of Maine, University of Massachusetts, University of Vermont, Waterman Fund
Scientist Presenters, Affiliations, and Presentation Titles
- Jordon Tourville, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (PhD Candidate); Appalachian Mountain Club (Research Fellow). “Forests on the Move: Tracking Climate Related Changes of Treelines in Montane Systems of the Northeastern United States.”
- Kevin Berend, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. “Northbound: Climate change and rare plant conservation in the Appalachians.”
- Daniel D. Sperduto, USDA Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest. “Non-native vascular flora of alpine areas in the White Mountains, New Hampshire, USA.”
- Charles Cogbill, Harvard Forest. “An update on four meta-analyses of research on flora, communities, site specific resurveys, and photographic evidence of treeline change in Northeastern alpine areas.”
- Tim Howard, New York Natural Heritage Program; Kayla White, Adirondack Mountain Club. “Tracking change through photography in the Adirondacks.”
- Georgia Murray, Appalachian Mountain Club. “Alpine Plant Phenology: What have we learned since 2004?”
- Andrea Tirrel, School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine, Orono ME. “A sky island perspective: New England alpine plant distributions across the region.”
- Jill Weiss, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “Recreation and Stewardship in the Northeast: Preliminary Findings.”
- Marianne Valcourt, Manicouagan-Uapishka World Biosphere Reserve. “The Manicouagan-Uapishka World Biosphere Reserve (MUWBR).”
- Joshua Beneš, University of Vermont. “The proposed Mount Mansfield Science and Stewardship Center.”
- Min-Kook Kim, Marshall University. (Poster presentation.) “Monitoring of Vegetation Cover Change Using Remote Sensing.”