Trail Personality: Walker Brook’s Cultural Niche on the Long Trail
Walker Brook grew up in the shadow of Vermont’s Long Trail. He remembers riding in a pack on his father’s back up Mount Mansfield, bringing supplies to his sisters who were backcountry caretakers for the Green Mountain Club.
So it’s no surprise that his life continues to intersect with the trail that runs 272 miles from Massachusetts north to Canada along the spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains. For nearly three years he’s helped run the camping section at Johnson Hardware, a short walk from the trail, and has built a reputation as a friendly face for hikers.
He’s there as End-to-Enders (LT thru-hikers) begin their final push from the trail town of Johnson to the Canadian border.
“I grew up on the Long Trail,” Walker says. He has section-hiked the trail and has a grasp of hikers’ needs, which has helped him expand the camping section to target Long Trail hikers. Walker estimates he has seen nearly 200 hikers at the store this year, mostly thru-hikers. Trail lore says that Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, after getting a taste of the Long Trail in Southern Vermont, return to thru-hike the entirely of the Long Trail.
“Anecdotally, we have found this to be true, although we don’t have records of the number of LTers who previously hiked the AT,” says Kristin McLane, membership and communications coordinator for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club (GMC).
McLane does know that overall hiker numbers have grown in the past ten years. The past several years have seen a jump from 100 to 300 hikers registering with the GMC for an End-to-End hike, to 250 to 300 hikers registering.
Amid the rising numbers, enter Walker Brook. He began helping hikers by posting on the Long Trail Class of 2018 thru-hiker Facebook page that Johnson Hardware would accept resupply boxes.
Next up was a wall of hiker photos. The idea came to him during a whitewater rafting trip in West Virginia, where people posted dollar bills on a wall with their names on them.
Everyone is welcome to have their picture taken, with trail name and details on their photos. No trail hierarchy, no trail shade.
Andy Marchand, a man brimming with life experiences waiting to fill the book bursting inside him, staffs the camping section on Saturdays and took my photo for the wall. He also let me charge my dead cell phone to call for a ride.
At the end of 2018, Walker put the photos in a backpack and drew pictures for raffle prizes. He’ll do the same this year, but has added a twist: photos of hikers’ dogs will be in a separate raffle.
He recently learned about Appalachian Trail thru-hiker yearbooks and is pleased that he started one for the Long Trail. One hiker this year was looking through the photos and recognized a hiker he met the year before on the Appalachian Trail. And Walker hopes hikers will return to the store with their families and show them their pictures.
Next year Walker wants to stock microwave food so that hikers can prepare a meal at the store. He already stocks cold soda.
And his research into backpacking equipment has led him to stock brand names such as Osprey, Big Agnes, and Nemo.
Trek blogger Taylor describes meeting Walker at Johnson Hardware on her SOBO thru-hike in 2018.
“He greets me excitedly and lets me bring Dobby (her dog) and all my gear inside, effectively taking over a set of camping chairs. I peruse all the gear and am mildly overwhelmed: I want all of it. I try to remember what I need, not what I want, and that whatever I buy I will have to carry on my back for the next 220 miles.”
“Walker suggests a child’s rash guard for Dobby to prevent chafing. I get the shirt on him and he looks like Spider-Man. I also purchase a Kelty camp blanket for him to keep warm in the coming weeks as well as a few other items.”
“Walker takes a picture of me and Dobby for his hiker wall, a collection of thru-hiker photos from this year that will eventually become a collage as well as a means to raffle off prizes. As I am checking out Lynn, one of the store owners, gives me a complimentary bag of Zuke’s dog treats and blaze orange buff for Dobby to make him more visible to hunters. If you are a hiker passing through, I highly recommend stopping into Johnson Hardware.”
As Johnson Hardware benefits from the Long Trail, so does the trail benefit from Johnson Hardware. The store is a corporate sponsor of the Green Mountain Club, the primary maintainer of the Long Trail.
“We’re going to be taking from the Long Trail, so we want to give back,” Walker says.
McLane confirms that. “In addition to their financial support, the store donated privy tools for 11 overnight sites from Spruce Lodge in Devil’s Gulch south through Taylor Lodge on Mount Mansfield, and also donated trail maintenance tools to the Sterling Section of the GMC, their local chapter,” she says.
And one of the store’s owners, Lynn Lehouiller, has participated in several GMC programs. Ultimately, Walker is hoping to build a thru-hiker culture around the Long Trail, much like there is for the Appalachian Trail.
The Long Trail, he says, is “one of the things that makes Vermont special.”
Feature photo provided by Walker Brook.
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