What is a Summit Steward?
Summit Stewards are trained educators and naturalists put on mountain summits to educate hikers about alpine ecosystems and reduce hiker impacts to alpine vegetation. Through a combination of education and outreach, trail work, and educational signage, Summit Stewards have proven to be highly effective at protecting alpine vegetation by increasing public awareness of the fragility of alpine ecosystems. First developed by the Green Mountain Club in the 1970′s, the Summit Steward model has since been adopted by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and Baxter State Park.
Summit Stewards on Mt. Monadnock
The first season of Summit Stewards on Mt. Monadnock was the summer and fall of 2009. Funding was provided by the Guy Waterman Alpine Stewardship Fund. There were three stewards (AUNE graduate students) in 2009: Joshua Surette, MS Resource Management and Conservation 2010; Lauren Schottenfeld, MS Environmental Education 2010; and Samantha Langlois, MS Conservation Biology 2010. Presence was dedicated to the busiest weekends and holidays of the summer and fall. Summit Stewards were present on Mt. Monadnock for a total of 24 days. Average daily visitation on those days was 671 visitors with a total of 16,111 visitors during the 24 days (MERE data). The 2009 Summit Stewards had potential to reach over 16,000 visitors with their stewarding message in only 24 days!
Conservation of Alpine Vegetation
The bare rocks of the upper slopes of Mt. Monadnock are home to beautiful and unique alpine vegetation including rare plant species that, in New England, are only found above tree-line in the alpine zone. These hardy alpine species thrive in the harsh conditions commonly experienced above tree-line yet they cannot survive a hiker’s footstep.
Conservation of rare alpine vegetation in New England has been a recognized concern of non-profit, educational and government organizations since the 1930′s. Significant work has been done in this area by such conservation organizations as the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Green Mountain Club, Baxter State Park, and the Dartmouth Outing Club. A decline in abundance of alpine species on Mt. Monadnock was acknowledged in the Monadnock Guide published in 1980. Since then visitation to Mt. Monadnock has increased from approximately 65,000 visitors to more than 81,000 visitors annually. Without protection alpine vegetation on Mt. Monadnock is likely to succumb to trampling by thousands of human footsteps as hikers stray off the trail and onto fragile plants.
Practicum and Work-Study Opportunities
Summit Stewards can use their experience as an Antioch practicum opportunity. Lauren Schottenfeld created a bookmark as a final practicum project that depicts and identifies the horizon line, in all directions, from the summit of Monadnock. MERE hopes to have the final draft of the bookmark available to the public in the near future. Joshua Surette developed educational signage about the Natural Communities on Mt. Monadnock for his practicum project. His work will be on display in the Visitor Center at Monadnock State Park Headquarters during the 2010 season. Work-study eligible students may be able to receive work-study funds as a Summit Steward.
In 2011, MERE hopes to hire a graduate student as the Summit Steward Coordinator. Responsibilities would include: training new stewards; expanding and coordinating volunteer efforts; collaborating with Park Management to identify and oversee trail maintenance priorities associated with protection of alpine vegetation; collaborating with MERE and Park Management to design and implement appropriate educational signage; coordinating Summit Steward schedules and efforts; and working as a Summit Steward as needed.
If you are an AUNE student interested in working or volunteering with the Mt. Monadnock Summit Stewardship program please contact MERE director and AUNE faculty Peter Palmiotto.