A crew will be on Sunday River Whitecap for six weeks clearing brush in the area.

NEWRY – Ten thousand dollars is what it will cost to build a mile long footpath over rugged Mahoosuc Mountain terrain west of Route 26.

That’s why the Appalachian Mountain Club, which is tasked with constructing the southern leg of the new 42-mile Grafton Loop Trail, can only build five of 14 new remaining miles this year, said trail designer Mike Cooper of Bethel.

“It’s a significant piece of trail that they’re trying to build,” Cooper said last week at a Grafton Loop Trail Coalition meeting. “It’s like starting down over the other side of the world. When we forecast (trail construction) costs last year, I thought we were pushing it on the cheap side.

“But with alpine terrain, there are more costs involved, especially with going over Sunday River Whitecap. We’re a third of the way up the steep end of Stow (Mountain) with only three miles completed” last year.

Coalition land use consultant and grant writer Jerry Bley of Creative Conservation in Readfield said $49,000 has been committed to the group this year for trail construction.

“There is a potential to raise an additional $5,000 to $35,000, but everybody’s pretty tight with money now,” Bley said.

Cooper said labor this year will be focused on Sunday River Whitecap, with a Maine Conservation Corps trail crew slated to spend six weeks on the mountain cutting trail and installing drainage systems.

“Anyone who’s bushwhacked on Sunday River Whitecap knows that we will have to cut a path. If we had more money available to us, I would put MCC on for 10 weeks. But we’re going to have to compromise something this year if we don’t get more money,” Cooper added.

Steve Spencer, a recreation specialist with the Maine Department of Conservation in Augusta, said the DOC has committed $20,000 to the Grafton Loop Trail this year for trail construction on private land and $24,000 on public land.

But that $20,000 will only take care of three-quarters of a mile of a 3-mile section, Cooper said.

“Trail construction varies from place to place” due to the terrain, he added.

In addition to carving a path through dense undergrowth on Sunday River Whitecap, a 3,335-foot mountain between Slide Mountain (3,250 feet elevation) and Stowe Mountain (2,730 feet elevation) – over which the Grafton Loop Trail will cross – other work includes cairns, scree walls and bog bridges.

A cairn is a conical heap of stones that marks a trail over ledges to make it easier to follow in fog. A scree wall is made of rock debris piled 2 to 3 feet high, and its purpose is to keep hikers on a trail and off alpine plants.

“We will build 18-inch tall cairns every 75 feet to limit exploration and define the tread more precisely, put in 250 feet of scree wall, and drill in bog bridges. That six weeks will go by fast,” Cooper said.

Existing cairns will be removed and feeder trails will be brushed in.

The coalition also established a maximum group size at 10 people, so backcountry campsites and primitive privy systems, which won’t be installed until mid-summer, are not overrun.

Two-color brochures showing the completed northern leg and planning information will be available later this month at the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, trail heads, AMC sites and forest service offices.

The majority of the Grafton Loop Trail crosses private land owned by timber companies and families.

The eastern half of the Grafton Loop Trail consists of a 21-mile arc that leaves Route 26 in Newry and returns to the road in Grafton Notch State Park via four miles on the Appalachian Trail.

Seventeen miles are newly constructed trail, which traverses four mountain peaks and includes five primitive campsites.

That section, which recently opened unofficially, will open officially with a National Trails Day ceremony, Saturday, June 7.

When the western half of the trail is complete, the loop will contain about 34 miles of new trail connected to an 8-mile segment of the AT.

The portion under construction, expected to open to the public in 2005, is not currently available for public use, and doesn’t connect to access points, Cooper said.

The Grafton Loop Trail coalition is a 20-partner consortium consisting of private companies, nonprofit conservation organizations, and federal and state agencies.

The coalition’s goal is to develop multiday hiking opportunities that offer alternatives to heavily used sections of the Appalachian Trail.

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