Donald Hill - A Remembrance
By Rolf Anderson
Green Mountain Club
I had been a member of the St. Albans Section of the Green Mountain Club starting in 1978. And although Don Hill was also a member of that section, we never met until 1987. I had gone on numerous trail work outings from 1978 to 1986 with Jay Sheperd of Enosburg, Eunice Yonkers of St. Albans, and Ben Davis - Field Supervisor at the Green Mountain Club. These all took place in the portion of the Long Trail maintained by the St. Albans Section. But I did not meet Don on those outings. "Don doesn't like large groups," explained Jay Sheperd. "He prefers to work alone or with just one other person." "Hmm," I thought. "That's interesting. I may never meet the one person who seems to be doing most of the work out here."
As I lived near Jay Peak, near a portion of the Long Trail that was not being maintained by an official section or chapter of the Green Mountain Club, I was aware that volunteers were needed close to my home. Instead of driving away from the part of the trail that I live near, I should start working here I thought as I looked up at the ridge behind my house where the LT traverses.
In the Winter 1987 issue of the Long Trail News I read a notice that I will paraphrase here:
"A GMC member/volunteer in northern Vermont is looking for one person to join in taking on the responsibility for maintaining the Long Trail from Route 242 to Journey's End. If two people respond to this notice, the member/volunteer will accept responsibility for the Long Trail from Hazen's Notch to Journey's End. Contact Ben Davis at the Green Mountain Club if interested."
After reading this I said to myself "I have to meet the person who only needs one person to help him maintain that much trail." I called Ben Davis and volunteered. Ben's reaction was very positive. Soon afterwards I received a phone call from Don Hill. We spoke just a bit and realized that we knew the same people in the St. Albans Section. We set a date to meet and go out on the trail. We hit it off right away but as I soon discovered, Don enjoyed meeting people on the Long Trail and they enjoyed meeting him.
Don and I spent many days together. My wife Sharon joined us on numerous occasions and we had good fun as we worked on clearing the trail. Don and I also worked independently. And I continued to join the St. Albans Section on numerous work projects. Eventually I was asked to join the Trails and Shelters Committee at GMC headquarters in Montpelier. When I told Don as we descended from the summit of Jay Peak, he cautioned me. "Don't do it, Rolf." "Why not, Don," I asked. "Because they will suck you in. At first it will be this committee. Soon it will be another. Before you know it, you won't have time to work with me on the Long Trail. You will just be going down to Montpelier for meetings."
I did join that committee. Don was right about the Green Mountain Club. Eventually I was asked to join the Board of Directors and was later elected President of the GMC in 1997, ten years after I met Don. But I continued to be active as a trail maintainer.
Over those first 10 years together Don and I enlisted help from as many people as we could as we cut and removed blow downs, cut back brush, repainted blazes and helped to maintain shelters in the north. Howard van Benthuysen maintained Laura Woodward Shelter at first. Larry Bruce, Peter Hofstetter and John Carmola maintained Hazen's Notch Camp which Don had maintained all through the 1960's and 1970's. Don maintained Shooting Star Shelter. Since Jay Camp was just up the road I took that shelter on along with the Atlas Valley Shelter.
As Don had a private camp near the Long Trail in Eden just north of Big Muddy Pond, he found it quite convenient to continue working on the Long Trail north of Devil's Gulch. Don maintained Parker Camp on the east side of Laraway Mountain and was part of the large crew that built Laraway Camp. I helped haul lumber up to the job, dug one of the footings and stained the building after it was done. Don was involved in building Round Top Shelter near Prospect Rock and Spruce Ledge Camp near Devil's Gulch. This camp was later dedicated to Don as a surprise to him. While I merely cut blowdowns and brush, Don dug water wells at shelters and installed and maintained water pumps and outhouses.
Don Hill made fabulous GMC trail signs in his workshop in St. Albans. Eventually Don either made new or reconditioned almost every single sign on the Long Trail from the Lamoille River in Johnson all the way to Journey's End at the Canadian border. He also painted all of the white trail markers known as "blazes" on that same stretch - in both directions.
Don and I had only one disagreement. One day after we had worked together, I thanked him. He corrected me: "No Rolf. I thank you." I immediately saw what was happening. As Don was my senior, he perceived my work with him as being a help to him and, therefore, he owed me his thanks. I was his junior and that made sense. It was not my place to thank him. But I realized that no one had ever thanked him for all that he had done over the years. So I thanked him. That was a mistake as he made me realize. I apologized. So after that I decided to end our day of work with "It was a pleasure to work with you today." Don thanked me for helping him. That was much better. I did not want to offend Don.
Don was an inventor. He created a special strap and holster to hold a can of paint in front of him and made a special cradle for the paint brush that would allow the drips to fall back into the paint can - all while hiking over rugged ground.
I remember his pride at showing me a lightweight brush clearing tool he had created. He took a long axe handle and attached a strap hinge at the end where the axe head would normally be placed. Don had sharpened the strap hinge so that it would cut light brush as he gently swung the tool. He attached a leather wrist strap to keep from dropping the tool.
Trail signs had always been attached directly to trees with lag screws and washers. As the trees grew, the tension on the screws would damage the sign. So Don came up with a design for a bracket that would attach with a piece of closed cell foam between the tree and the bracket. The sign was attached to the bracket with screws from behind that did not penetrate the front of the sign. The whole affair - sign attached to bracket - was attached to the tree with lag screws that did not penetrate the sign - just the bracket. In this way you could loosen the lag screws every year or so and the sign would last a very long time and look better too!
Don and I named two previously unnamed peaks - Doll Peak and Carleton Mountain. We named three junctions of the LT with three state highways: Vt Route 118 "Eden Crossing," Vt Route 242 "Jay Pass," and Vt Route 105 "North Jay Pass." Don and I came up the name "Northern Frontier" for the portion of the Long Trail from Hazen's Notch to Journey's End. We transferred our status as trail adopters from being in our individual names to "Northern Frontier." In 2000 when I stepped down as GMC President, the GMC Board approved our request to form a new official section of the Green Mountain Club. For the next several years Don and I continued to volunteer on the Long Trail. Although as my work schedule allowed me less and less time for the trail and as Don starting slowing down, we did not work together very much after that. Don concentrated on maintaining the trailhead register boxes which he had also built and walked in to inspect shelters and camps that were not too far from the road crossings. John Carmola, Ken Whitehead, Ferdinand Lauffer and others helped Don as time permitted.
Over the years I have met many fine people associated with the Green Mountain Club - members, volunteers, staff and supporters and, of course, many hikers. Don stands out. Don Hill was my favorite person to be with on the Long Trail. I enjoyed his warmth, his gentle humor, his sincere interest in others, his compassion, his intellect, his devotion, and his energy. Don Hill made an enormous contribution to the Long Trail and the Green Mountain Club. I have been truly blessed to have known Don Hill. He was a great friend and I shall miss him forever.
Rolf Anderson, Montgomery Center, Vermont