NEWRY – Nine teens and their guides, who are on the last leg of a 21-day canoe/backpack journey, tackled the newly opened western leg of the 42-mile Grafton Loop Trail on Thursday afternoon.
Right behind them came Bradley Corman of Sharon, Mass., who was surprised to learn after asking landowner Ed Powers that the 21-mile section in the Mahoosuc Mountains range opened on June 30.
“I tried to do this last year, but it wasn’t open yet,” Corman said after stopping for a breather beside Route 26 at Ed and Loretta Powers’ driveway. “I slept in Grafton Notch State Park on Tuesday night, and I wanted to do the entire Grafton Loop and then, from the top of Old Speck, go on to Gorham,” using the Appalachian Trail.
Comparing the eastern leg of the loop trail, which was completed and opened on June 7, 2003, to the Appalachian Trail, Corman said it was a pleasant surprise to travel on a new footpath.
“I make it up here once a year because I love the Mahoosucs. The east side of the loop is semi-rugged. It’s not real hard because it has a newness to it. It’s more fluffy than the well-worn A.T.,” he said.
Prior to Corman’s arrival, Outward Bound wilderness guides Wiley Muller of Greenville, S.C., Elizabeth Boggs of Wilton, Conn., and Doug White of Jacksonville, Fla., were resting in grass lining Route 26 after hiking down Puzzle Mountain and the eastern side of the loop. They didn’t wait long, because they had to catch up to the teenagers, but all three said they had previously hiked sections of the loop’s western side before it opened and then adopted a section for which to maintain.
The GLT is a long-distance hiking trail that takes three to five days to walk. It was designed for multi-day backpacking.
The loop, which was built to alleviate heavy traffic on the nearby Appalachian Trail, consists of 34 miles of new trail connected to an 8-mile segment of the A.T.
Construction on both the east and west sides of the loop began in 2001, but AMC focused its attention on the eastern leg for two years to complete that half, Andrew Norkin, AMC’s director of trails and recreation management, said Thursday.
The Maine Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains the Appalachian Trail east of Route 26 in Grafton Township to Mount Katahdin, built the eastern side of Grafton Loop Trail, while the Appalachian Mountain Club, which maintains the A.T. west of Route 26, built the loop’s western portion.
For the AMC, the Grafton Loop Trail west leg was the first major trail constructed by the club since the building of the Centennial Trail in the Mahoosucs in 1976.
“We put in over 15,000 hours of professional trail crew time and over 10,000 hours of volunteer trail crew time to get this done,” said Norkin.
“Our biggest challenge was the terrain of the Mahoosucs. We spent a lot of time making sure our work done on Sunday River Whitecap was of a high standard, because it is an alpine peak. At the time, there wasn’t any trail up it, except bootleg trails,” he said.
After six years of work, Norkin was glad the loop was completed.
“Everyone’s excited that it’s done and open to the public, because it was so much time in the making,” he said.