Celebrating the Centennial of the Wapack Trail

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One hundred years ago, two local farmers and former cattle drovers entered the forefront of the long distance trails movement by creating the Wapack Trail. Marion Buck and Frank Robbins were out working on Robbins’ farm when they were approached by Albert Annett with the idea of creating a trail over land they knew well, the ridgeline between North Pack and Mt. Watatic. The trail was soon publicized in the Boston papers, and by the following year, Frank and Marion were building the Wapack Lodge to provide rooms and meals to the many hikers. The AMC soon got involved, improved the trail for skiing, and organized skiing and hiking trips along the trail. In our article in the 2021 Fall / Winter issue of this newsletter, we reported that according to the New England Ski Museum the Wapack Trail is the earliest known trail to be maintained for skiing in the U.S.

Frank Robbins and Marion (Buck) Davis, creators of the Wapack Trail and Wapack Lodge

Two of our Centennial events will present details about the creation of the Wapack Trail and the trail’s creators. On June 24, the Friends of the Wapack and the New Ipswich Historical Society are hosting a presentation by Larry Anderson at the New Ipswich Congregational Church Hall. Larry is a freelance writer and the biographer of Benton MacKaye, the creator of the Appalachian Trail. Our Annual Meeting on October 21 will feature a talk by Al Jenks about his memories of Marion Davis, with stories of Marion and Frank and life at the Lodge. We are also hosting several other events this year to celebrate the centennial of the trail, including history and nature hikes. Check our events page for a complete listing of events and updates.

The First Century of Wapack Trail Stewardship

Frank Robbins and Marion (Buck) Davis, along with their families and friends, maintained the Wapack Trail in it’s first decades. Arthur Comey and Tom Cabot of the AMC improved the trail as a cross country ski trail in the early 1920’s. The Beebe family, owners of the Temple Mt. Ski Area, maintained the trail along the Temple Mt. ridge. Many others worked to maintain and protect the trail in the first 57 years of the trail. Among the early protectors of the trail prior to the Friends of the Wapack were Tom Cabot who donated funds to the AMC for trail protection and who gave a right of way over his land on Temple Mt., Laurence and Lorna Marshall who donated their land on North Pack to the USFWS, the creation of Ashburnham State Forest and the Watatic Wildlife Sanctuary, and the many property owners who continued to support the existence of the trail on their land.

Wapack Trail work crew 1930’s

From 1961 until the founding of the Friends of the Wapack in 1980, the trail was maintained by Alan Burt and Larry Blood, members of the Worcester Chapter of the AMC. In 1960, Larry, Alan and Bruce Langmuir decided to begin leading hikes each year along the Wapack Trail. On their first outing they found the trail difficult to follow, and lost the trail in many places. There was very little blazing, and no signs. The following year they began clearing and blazing the trail. The AMC sign shop provided signs.

Five years into their efforts the trail was better defined and blazing standardized. Their contributions included a reroute of the trail through the Temple Mt. Ski Area. When a property owner further south on the Temple Mt. ridge closed the trail on his land, they got permission from the owner of the adjacent parcel and moved the trail head to the south end of the Temple Mt. Ridge, it’s present location. Larry told me they were happy when the Friends of the Wapack was formed to take over maintenance and trail protection. They continued leading their popular AMC group hikes on the Wapack until 2004, a 47 year run. At one hike they had 50 participants! Larry said that was way too many, so they tried to limit the number to 20 thereafter. Larry is now 89 years old, Alan passed away in 2020, and Bruce passed away in January of this year. If they had not done this work, on their own initiative with support from the AMC for 20 years, the Wapack Trail may not have survived.

Because of the work of hundreds of people over the past century, we can look to the horizon of the second century of the Wapack Trail with hope that the trail will still be here for all to enjoy in the year 2123, and beyond.

Horizon View – Hikers on Pratt Mountain

By 1980 the future of the Wapack Trail was in doubt. The trail was mostly unprotected. The growing popularity of hiking and increased use of the trail led to erosion issues and deteriorating trail conditions. A local group dedicated to the Wapack Trail was needed. It was to address these issues that the Friends of the Wapack was formed. For the past 43 years this all volunteer organization has successfully worked to maintain and permanently protect the Wapack Trail. Our experienced trail crew has maintained the Wapack Trail and nine side trails to high standards, and all but five miles of the Wapack Trail are now permanently protected.

Success in protecting the trail has largely been through partnering with land trusts like Northeast Wilderness Trust, New England Forestry Foundation, town Conservation Commissions, NH Division of Forests and Lands and others. An important part of our work involves maintaining good relationships with the many property owners across the seven towns and two states traversed by the trail. These include state and federal agencies, land trusts, and private property owners. We strive to continue the legacy of Marion Davis and Frank Robbins of friendly and cooperative relationships with all. The Friends of the Wapack remains committed to protecting and maintaining the trail for future generations. Thanks to all for your help with trail maintenance and for your support!

-Rick Blanchette, President

Wapack Trail work crew, 2022