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Last Mile of the 165-Mile Cohos Trail Cleared for Hiking

AlpineZone News

Skiing News
Oct 8, 2004
The Northeast
PITTSBURG, NH- With chainsaw, clippers, branch loppers, mattock, shovel, and other trail tools in hand, five Granite Staters recently emerged from the forest around a bend on NH Route 3 six miles from the Canadian border and cut the last remaining brush and sapling trees to complete the 165-mile hiking pathway known as the Cohos Trail. The long-distance foot trail, twelve years in the making, is now complete end-to-end, from southern Crawford Notch at Harts Location to Fourth Connecticut Lake here, hard by the international boundary line.

Over the last few weeks, volunteers and contracted crew brushed out a 3.7 mile gap in the Cohos Trail between Idlewilde Road just north of Second Connecticut Lake dam to a junction with a snowmobile trail just to the west of East Inlet Road and Route 3. Prior to that effort, thru-hikers on the Cohos Trail had to walk the shoulder of Route 3. The new path, called the Black Cat Trail after a small rock nubble called Black Cat Spur nearby, eliminates that road walk. So, today, most of the trail from the Lake Francis area to the border is now off the highway altogether. All the Black Cat Trail needs is some additional blazing, a bit of signage, and a small bridge over West Inlet stream. That should be done shortly. Nonetheless, the new trail is wide and easy to follow over its entire length now.

Among those who worked on the trail were three individuals who had been on hand twelve years ago at the start of the development of the trail. They included Chad Pepau of Stark, Yvan Guay of Jefferson, and Kim Nilsen of Spofford. Lainie Castine of Pittsburg, the designer of much of the new trails in the far northern region and a tenacious trail builder, organized the last days of work. The above four were joined by Bruce Brekke of Whitefield on the last day, and by Ray and Joan Chaput from Twin Mountain, who spent several days at work on the pathway earlier in the week.

The cutting of the last saplings and brush along Route 3 represented the fruition of an idea that first came to light in 1978 in an editorial in the Coos County Democrat newspaper at Lancaster, NH. Nilsen, the founder of The Cohos Trail Association, first wrote about the concept for a long-distance trail from the White Mountains to the Canadian border. No one expressed interest in the concept at that time, but he revived the idea in the Nineties. Fifty-five people came to a public meeting in Lancaster then, and the association was formed that eventually saw to it that the pathway was built.

It was nearly stillborn. Half way through its evolution, Nilsen thought to close down the trail because it was proving too difficult to maintain and develop the farther north it progressed toward the Canadian border. Ms. Castine called on Nilsen and told him that she would shepherd the trail in the far north and see to it that the miles of new trail north of Coleman State Park in Stewartstown would be completed. She was true to her word.

Today, a hiking advocate can stand on the shores of a tiny marsh-like fen on the Canadian border and, in less than two weeks, walk across the Saco River cable-stay bridge at Harts Location and out to Route 302. In doing so, a tramper will have transited almost the entire length of Coos County, New Hampshire's largest and most isolated county. Along the way, hikers crest 35 mountains, visit as many as half a dozen waterfalls, stand on many a cliff ledge, stay at several lean-to shelters (with more to come soon), a summit cabin, organized campsites, trek up to two grand resort hotels and several charming inns and bread-and-breakfast establishments, explore arctic tundra, and skirt many ponds and lakes, including 2,800 acre First Connecticut Lake.

The Cohos Trail is nearly as lengthy as and now complements the famous Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. It joins the Long Trail in Vermont as the third long-distance pathway in New England. Efforts are underway, as well, to the south to link the Cohos Trail to existing trails in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut to create an extensive new trail system that would link Long Island Sound with Canada.

According to Nilsen, the last yards of trail clearing means that the Cohos Trail's first phase is complete as planned and amended. The finished trail will be tweaked a bit here and there to improve it as time and effort allow. Now a second phase can get underway in earnest, that being the construction of a string of as many as nine free-to-the-public lean-to shelters, and the building of several new bridges, large sign kiosks, additional long bog-bridge spans, and possibly several simple observation decks for viewing exceptional habitats.

Eventually, Nilsen offered, the association may think about undertaking a third phase, perhaps a rustic volunteer-built headquarters of sorts, where tools and equipment may be stored, where meetings and social events could be held, and where those planning to hike the trail could come to stay overnight before their hike.

In the near term, there are several other projects that the association is planning to carry out. One is restoring the obliterated trail on the eastern flank of Deer Mountain near the border so that people can reach the high-elevation bog there and also the steel superstructure of the long abandoned firetower on the north summit. Two-thirds of that trail has been scouted and flagged already. The organization would also like to finally restore the closed Slide Brook Trail in the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson. That trail needs 600 feet of heavy plank bog bridging, and the association would like to provide those timbers and help with the construction of the long span.

For now, though, hikers and tourists with a desire for a challenge can discover a whole new world of hiking north of the White Mountain National Forest. For the first time, central and northern Coos County residents and business have a substantial nonmotorized recreational infrastructure to tap. Nilsen hopes that the trail will become a modest economic engine for the region and perhaps be a catalyst for other sustainable recreation activity development in what he likes to call New Hampshire's Great Unknown.

Submitted by Kim R. Nilsen, board chair
The Cohos Trail Association, Pittsburg, NH
Home phone: 603-363-8902
Home email: wilshy@worldpath.net
Facebook: Friends of the Cohos Trail