Since I have been hiking in the Belknap Mountains with friends and family for several years, I became interested in learning more about the trail system and had several questions I needed to answer: Who built he trails, how are they maintained, how did the rock steps get placed, who cleans out the water bars? About 3 years ago I was invited by a close friend and hiking partner, Steve Zimmer, to attend the annual meeting of BRATTS (Belknap Range Trail Tenders). I asked him, "What's BRATTS?" Steve responded, "Let's go and find out."
I attended the gathering of about fifty people at the Gilford Library, all of them there to support the work of BRATTS. At the head table sat Hal Graham, a stocky man who spoke with passion about the trail system and the need for volunteers to build and maintain trails in the Belknap Range. After hearing of their work and the need for trail maintainers I quickly volunteered to sign on as a "trail tender". But I needed to know about this group called BRATTS, as well as Hal, who led the meeting and was known and respected by so many people in the room.
What I have found out over my brief three years with BRATTS is this: BRATTS was formed in 1993, by a small group of volunteers led by Hal Graham whose mission is to construct and maintain the trail system in the Belknap Range Mountains. The organization relies totally on volunteers to do the trail work so that individuals, groups and families can enjoy hiking in this beautiful small mountain range. BRATTS is symbolic of the famous quote by Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." This is the ideal grass roots, community based organization that relies on a small and committed group of people to achieve its mission without a single penny from taxpayers. It interfaces with many other organizations who have ownership of much of the land in the range, such the Daniel Webster Boy Scout Council, the State of New Hampshire, private land owners and Belknap County. Volunteers of all ages, background, gender and skills work together to ensure trails are well maintained. All trail work is done by Best Management Practices under the supervision of The N.H. Division of Forest and Lands and The Gunstock Area. At present there are 21 trails in the range and all of them have trail adopters, whose job is to maintain these trails for public use.
Now to answer my second question, who is this guy Hal Graham? Over the past 3 years this is what I have found out: Hal is a former SEABEE with the U.S. Navy, married to Peggy, who is also active in BRATTS, and they live in Sanbornton. Hal started his training in trail work in 1979 with the Appalachian Mountain Club as the founder of the NH/AMC Chapter Trail Crew. For four years he worked on the AMC trail system in the White Mountains and worked on a variety of trail reconstructions, like the Bridal Path that climbs Mt. Lafayette. I now understand why Hal loves to work on heavy duty trail construction. For many years his trail work with the AMC provided him with the foundation of his work with BRATTS today.
In 1987 Hal, along with a few others formed Trailwrights, www.trailwrights.org, a committed group of hiking enthusiasts who work in Massachusetts, Vermont and of course New Hampshire rebuilding trails and building new ones. It is a unique group in that it is an educational and trail maintenance organization collaborating with other groups such as the Wonalancet Outdoor Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, NH Audubon and many others, including state agencies.
In addition to his love of trail building, Hal along with his wife Peggy are avid and experienced hikers, having been trip leaders for the AMC, hiking throughout the US and climbing the highest summits in most of the continental U.S. In addition Hal mans the Belknap Fire Tower during the summer months. He has stated several times over the course of the last two years that he would like to step down from the President's position of BRATTS, but remain on the Trail Crew (those doing the heavy trail work). Hal is BRATTS and typifies the spirit and soul of the organization. I think he'll be with us a long time and if you see him or any other the trail maintainers doing their work, please give them a huge smile and a few words of appreciation for the work they do in keeping the trails safe and fun to hike.
If you're interested in becoming a member of BRATTS or learning more about the organization go to www.facebook.com/BelknapRangeTrailTenders
BRATTS will also be holding a trail maintenance workshop on Saturday, July 18. If interested you can call 286-3506.
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