From Pack Monadnock, the views along the Wapack Trail feature Mount Monadnock to the west and on very clear days, Boston to the east. (Courtesy)
GREENFIELD -- Since 1923, hikers have meandered along the Wapack Trail, blazed by farmers Frank Robbins and Marion Buck Davis from Mount Wataitic in Massachusetts to Pack Monadnock in Greenfield. In celebration of the trail's 90th anniversary, the Friends of the Wapack are hosting special hikes throughout the season.
Mitch Call, president of the Friends of the Wapack, a volunteer group that maintains the trail and keeps the peace between hikers and the 40 landowners whose property the land crosses, the 21-mile trail is the oldest foot path in the Northeast, and crosses through the oldest U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge in New Hampshire.
Robbins and Davis, both of Rindge, saw a much different view of the range of mountains they dubbed Wapack. Though the name sounds like it might be Native American, Wapack is actually a conjunction of "Wa" from Wataitic, and "pack" from Pack Monadnock — the start and end of the trail.
"In those days there weren't the trees that there are now," said Call. "So they could see all the way from one mountain to the other."
Robbins and Davis knew the landscape well, having driven cattle over the range for years, and when their friend Albert Annett, an avid outdoorsman and factory owner, approached them will the idea of creating a ridgeline trail, the farmers immediately got on board.
In 1923, the trail was blazed and two years later, with the hope of drawing a bit of hiking from tourists along the trail, Robbins and Davis built the Wapack Lodge in New Ipswich, which could accommodate up to 25 people.
"They hand-built that lodge and Marion served people meals from her kitchen," said Call.
But it wasn't the summer crowd that was drawn to the Wapack, said Call.
"Its main use was for winter sports like snowshoeing and skiing," he said, and one of the first groups to use the trail was the Harvard Mountaineering Club who came north for a ski trip along the Wapack.
Over the years, the Wapack Trail's popularity waxed and waned, and between 1950 and 1970 the trail was virtually abandoned. Robbins died in 1947, and Davis continued running the lodge until 1964, but after that, the trail was reclaimed by the woodlands.
However, in 1980, hikers Lee Baker, David Weir and Daniel Halsall, who all lived in the area, decided to revitalize the trail and created the Friends of the Wapack, "a group tasked with improving, maintaining and obtaining a permanent right of way for the trail through public and private lands.
"People encouraged me to see what we could do about protecting the trail," said Baker. "It's important that we save land for future generations and preserve this beautiful green area," said Baker.
Though the Appalachian Mountain Club had been caring for parts of the trail for a time, that group's attention began to be focused elsewhere and someone new had to step in, he said, so Friends of the Wapack was born. Today there are more than 850 members, many of whom volunteer to go out and cut back brush and keep the trail clear.
"We try to encourage younger folk today to get out there and maintain the trails," Baker said. "There's a pretty good group of folks and it's amazing the amount of work they get done."
From the top of Pack Monadnock, there are views of Mount Monadnock to the west and Boston, on a clear day, to the east. The trail crosses through the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge, over Temple Mountain, through a former commercial blueberry pasture that still bears lots of fruit. It meanders through the Windblown Cross Country Ski Area, across the Wapack Wilderness in New Ispwich, and down into Massachusetts through the Ashburnham State Forest and Wataitic Mountain Sanctuary.
"There's lots of solitude along that trail," said Call. "You rarely hear anything, and rarely see any signs of civilization. It's very peaceful."
The trail can be picked up from a number of parking areas along the route for folks who want to just spend a few hours in the woods.