By Kori Skillman/VTDigger
The Green Mountain Club has reached its goal of raising $4 million for projects along Vermont’s Long Trail, despite difficulties stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Long Trail Legacy Campaign mounted by the private, nonprofit organization raised money for maintaining vegetation and improving safety along the Long Trail and for improving trail resources for its 200,000 hikers and visitors annually.
The 272-mile trail runs the length of Vermont, all the way between the borders with Massachusetts and Quebec. The club changed its fundraising approach over the course of the campaign — which lasted a year longer than expected — because the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted its original plan.
“Like any prepared hiker, we adjusted our plans to address the new conditions, but never gave up on our goal,” the club said in a press release.
The fundraiser began with a silent phase in early 2019, in which campaign organizers reached out to the club’s board members and affiliated community members. The public campaign officially launched in June of that year at the club’s annual meeting.
Initially, members had projected a two-year timeline to reach the $4 million goal.
According to GMC Executive Director Mike Debonis, the club typically has a budget of $2 million to $2.5 million per year, with $1 million indefinitely dedicated to overall trail maintenance and trail projects.
That makes the $4 million “a significant increase” that will allow for more tailored and specific projects, he said.
GMC has already started to put some of the money to use. The club has launched trail crews on the northern part of the trail, which became unexpectedly popular during the pandemic, to tackle improvement projects and install permanent protections along portions of the trail. Planning has also begun for a new visitor center on the northern part of the trail.
In 2020, the trail drew 35% more visitors and had an 80% increase in use of overnight shelters compared to 2019, according to DeBonis. Those numbers were lower in 2021 but have not dropped to pre-pandemic figures.
Some areas aged almost five years in one season because of the increased trail use, DeBonis said, affecting vegetation and causing erosion that requires additional management and care — and making campaign funds even more crucial.
The new infrastructure along the trail is “really a way to equip and empower a hiker or user with the best information,” DeBonis said.
Money will also be invested in facilities needed by search and rescue teams, and in replacing the visitor center where people can get information on hiking and related topics. It’s also home to history archives — the trail was begun in 1910 and completed in 1930 — and to training and education events.
The $4 million campaign was based on a strategic plan developed over a five-year period, outlining goals and priorities — everything from improving the condition of the northern section of the trail to stabilizing funding for the trail’s caretaker program.
The $4 million was the estimate of how much it would cost for the club to accomplish all it wanted.
“We went into the campaign with a plan for what types of gifts we would get at certain levels, how long it would take, what types of fundraising events we were going to do to raise the money — and that all changed with the pandemic,” said DeBonis, who said he understands that donation priorities may have shifted away from parks to health care during the pandemic. “It forced us to rethink our approach to every donor, to really start at a base level of connecting and really starting a conversation, and from there determine whether there was an ability to support the work or not.”
GMC announced the end of its campaign at this year’s annual meeting on June 11.
“Just like my time hiking on the trail, the campaign stretched me to achieve more than I thought possible and reinforced that amazing things happen when we work together,” Nancy McClellan, the Long Trail Legacy Campaign chair, said in a press release.