The Green Mountain Club has achieved its goal of raising $4 million for projects along Vermont’s Long Trail, despite challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Long Trail Legacy Campaign launched by the private non-profit organization has raised funds to maintain vegetation and improve safety along the Long Trail and to improve trail resources for its 200,000 hikers and visitors each year.
The 272-mile trail stretches along Vermont, all the way between the borders with Massachusetts and Quebec.
The club changed their fundraising approach during the campaign – which lasted a year longer than expected – as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted their original plan.
“Like any prepared hiker, we have adjusted our plans to deal with the new conditions, but have never given up on our goal,” the club said in a press release.
Fundraising began with a silent phase in early 2019, during which campaign organizers reached out to club board members and affiliated community members. The public campaign was officially launched in June of the same year at the club’s annual meeting.
Initially, the members had planned a two-year timeframe 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 a year, with $1 million spent indefinitely on general 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 using some of the money. The club has launched trail crews on the northern part of the trail, which has unexpectedly become popular during the pandemic, to tackle improvement projects and install permanent protections along parts of the trail. Planning has also begun for a new visitor center on the northern portion of the trail.
In 2020, the trail attracted 35% more visitors and saw an 80% increase in overnight shelter use compared to 2019, according to DeBonis. These numbers were lower in 2021 but did not fall to pre-pandemic numbers.
Some areas have aged nearly five years in one season due to increased trail use, DeBonis said, affecting vegetation and causing erosion that requires extra management and care — and making campaign funds even more crucial.
The new infrastructure along the trail is “really a way to equip and give a hiker or user the best information,” DeBonis said.
Funds will also be invested in the facilities needed for search and rescue teams and in the replacement of the visitor center where people can get information on hiking and related topics. It also houses historical archives – the trail was started in 1910 and completed in 1930 – and training and education events.
The $4 million campaign was based on a strategic plan developed over a five-year period, outlining goals and priorities – from improving the condition of the northern section of the trail to stabilizing funding for the guarding the trail.
The $4 million was the estimate of what it would cost the club to accomplish everything they wanted.
“We went into the campaign with a plan for what kinds of gifts we would get at certain levels, how long it would take, what kinds of fundraising events we were going to do to raise money – and that all changed with the pandemic,” said DeBonis, who said he understands giving priorities may have shifted from parks to health care during the pandemic. “It required us to rethink our approach to each donor, to really start at a basic level of connection and really start a conversation, and from there determine whether there was capacity to support the work or not. .”
GMC announced the end of its campaign at this year’s annual meeting on June 11.
“Like my time hiking the trail, the campaign pushed me to accomplish more than I thought possible and reinforced that amazing things happen when we work together,” said Nancy McClellan, president of the Long Trail Legacy campaign, in a press release.
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