Part of Grafton Loop Trail now unofficially open

NEWRY – A new 17.1-mile leg of the Grafton Loop Trail through the spectacularly scen-ic Mahoosuc Mountain Range has opened. Unofficially.

However, amenities like backcountry privies at five raised-earth tent sites located between Puzzle Mountain and East Baldpate won’t be added until later this summer.

Until the primitive toilets can be installed, “we’re counting on hikers and backpackers to dig cat holes – four-to-five-inch holes in the ground away from water and off the trail – then cover them over,” said Paul Johnson of Monmouth.

Johnson is a member of the Grafton Loop Trail Coalition, a 20-partner consortium consisting of private companies, nonprofit conservation organizations and federal and state agencies.

He is also the former Baldpate District overseer for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, a 550-member organization solely concerned with trail-building, maintenance and protection of the Appalachian Trail corridor to the east of Route 26.

The coalition was formed to turn local landowner Bob Stewart’s vision of a backcountry trail system into reality and alleviate increased use of the nearby Appalachian Trail.

Located on the east side of Route 26, the new section, which took Johnson and several volunteers three years to build, officially opens on National Trails Day, Saturday, June 7.

The Appalachian Mountain Club is building the southern leg of the much-anticipated 42-mile trail, located to the west of Route 26. It won’t open to the public until 2005.

That’s mainly due to unexpected difficulties involved with trying to build rock steps in challenging terrain at high elevations, Johnson said.

The new 17.1-mile section may be accessed by parking at the Appalachian Trail lot in Grafton Notch State Park.

From there, it’s a 4-mile climb on the Appalachian Trail to the junction with the new trail at the 3,812-foot summit of East Baldpate.

Access to its southern end starts from a to-be-developed parking lot located on the Eddy Road. From Route 2, travel 4.7 miles up Route 26 toward Grafton Notch State Park and turn left onto the Eddy Road, a track through the grass to the Bear River shore, Johnson said.

Currently, the parking area is a grassy lot. From here, the trail head is off to the east, between 200 and 300 feet farther up Route 26.

“There is a wooden post with double blue blazes on three sides of the post, set to mark the trail head. The blazes face both up and down the highway,” Johnson said.

Johnson also stressed that hiking the Grafton Loop Trail won’t be a walk in the park, especially for young children.

“Parts of the new trail are quite easy, but either end is moderately tough. You will need good footwear. It’s also intended to be for overnight hikes, not simple little day hikes. Going up Puzzle Mountain, there won’t be many young kids reaching the top,” he said.

That’s because in the first 3.2 miles to the mountain’s first summit, there is a 2,500-foot elevation gain to overcome.

“You’re going from 750 feet to over 3,000 feet. There are a lot of rock ledges and it’s steep going and very slippery when it’s wet. (On the other end,) over at East and West Baldpate, just to get to the start of the loop, that’s a pretty serious hike,” Johnson said.

At the request of landowners, open fires are not allowed anywhere on the Grafton Loop Trail. Tents must be packed in because, unlike the adjacent Appalachian Trail, there are no lean-to shelters.

The 17.1-mile leg “is at least a two-day hike. It’s a hike that should not be hurried, but rather enjoyed at a slower pace. But it’s a trail that’s not to be undertaken without giving some thought to the preparation,” he added.

To learn more about the Grafton Loop Trail, visit www.matc.org/glt1.htm.

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