Interview with Monadnock State Park Manager Patrick Hummel
Managing the daily affairs of the most climbed mountain in the United States is a walk in the park for 33-year-old Monadnock State Park Manager Patrick Hummel. For many visitors it’s hard to believe that this 3,165 foot high peak sees more foot traffic than any other in North America. Though short in stature, compared to the presidentials of the White Mountains, Mount Monadnock stands alone as an iconic image in the southern New Hampshire landscape and belies its ruggedness to many of the estimated 125,000 visitors that annually make the trek to the summit. Hummel, who carries a laid back demeanor, was modest in his defense of the coveted title, “I simply refer to Monadnock as the most hiked mountain in Jaffrey.”
Situated a mere 77 miles from downtown Boston in the small southern New Hampshire community of Jaffrey, Mount Monadnock has been written about by the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe. Thanks to the attention these writers, and others, gave to the mountain, the town of Jaffrey purchased the summit in 1885, making it, as Patrick Hummel stated, “the first time a town purchased land for the sole purpose of preservation.”
Patrick Hummel is the 8th park manager of Monadnock State Park. Born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Hummel’s family moved to Jaffrey in the late seventies after his father, a New York City police officer had been downsized out of a job. When asked where his love of the outdoors came from he stated, “My parents aren’t really outdoorsy folks, so, I had a path to self-discovery in the outdoors, and outdoors recreation, gaining an appreciation and knowledge for it that is a little different from people who grow up surrounded by it, and for whom it’s part of their family culture and tradition. I had to do a lot of trial and error in terms of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.”
Growing up in the shadow of Monadnock, something must have stuck. Hummel left Jaffrey for a short time after graduating from high school, spending time in his native city of New York, as well as North Carolina. He even spent some time as a tour manager for a punk rock band. Eventually he returned home to Jaffrey and the mountain he loves so much. “When you grow up in a place like Jaffrey you think it’s boring. Nothing happens here. Then when you’re older you’re like, ‘This is great. It’s boring. Nothing happens here!”
Hummel took a part-time job working for Monadnock State Park in 2001, eventually working his way up to assistant park manager in 2007. When the position of park manager opened up in 2008 he was promoted from within. In his weekly blog on the New Hampshire State Park website, Hummel reveals his love of Monadnock from as early as age six. He also displays a literary side to himself, opening his posts with quotes from environmental writers such as Thoreau and Muir, but also punk rock luminaries such as Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra. The juxtaposition of punk rock and wild nature is particularly striking, but Hummel defended the view in a casual manner, “I think that guys like Henry David Thoreau, Abbott Thayer, and John Muir were totally punk rock in how they lived and what they said. 150 years ago Thoreau drops ‘Civil Disobedience’ on us, and he doesn’t want to pay taxes that go to the Mexican War, and he went to jail for it. I’m quite certain you can find elements of Thoreau and match it up with lyrics from The Bad Brains and find the same messages in there.”
Hummel and his staff of 25 employees, who work from as little as a single weekly shift, up to 40 hours, and a group of 40 volunteers manage every aspect of the park. The responsibilities range from maintaining a network of 37 miles of trail, spread over 6,000 acres, to staffing the newly re-opened campground, handling search and rescue operations, and taking time for things as simple as helping park guests get back on the road after discovering they’ve locked their keys in their car. “It’s a very busy operation here,” Hummel emphasized.
With an array of responsibilities, that extend to the mundane details of scheduling and payroll, Hummel gets precious little time to fully enjoy the land he’s committed himself to managing and protecting. “There are some who have this vision that as a park manager I’m off frolicking on the mountain, hugging the trees and high-fiving the bears. I’d love to be doing that, but the realities are that the park manager job has evolved into an administrative type role. Most of the time that I’m on the mountain, on the clock, is during search and rescue or trail projects. I wish I had more time to absorb and observe. I have over the last year tried to get out onto the trails once a week. Often that’s on my personal time.”
The romanticized idea of what it must be like to work in the woods all day had quickly been decimated. But, as Hummel continued to speak it became clear there were real perks. “This is not a job one would do without having a relationship or connection with this park or mountain. I come from a line of managers who have dedicated a good portion of their lives making the same type of sacrifices, personally, that I have to make sure that this mountain and park are being maintained, and that the recreation opportunities are the best they can be for the visitors who come in here.” He continued, “When I took over as park manager my predecessor told me that if you take good care of this mountain it will take good care of you. Certainly this job comes with frustrations and bad days that other people have in their day jobs, but the good days are really good.”
As with any outdoor space, conservation and preservation of wild plant and animal life is an ever-present concern. Mount Monadnock, because of its close proximity to the metro-Boston region is a striking example of preservation hanging in the balance with progress. The amount of foot traffic on the mountain annually puts a strain on efforts to preserve many species of wild plant life, some of which only exist in alpine areas and are not found anywhere else south of the White Mountains.
Foot traffic isn’t the only threat Monadnock faces. In recent years the wild nature of Monadnock has come under threat from developers and proposed cell phone towers. However, the threats facing the mountain are far from new. Approximately 150 years ago Henry David Thoreau, a frequent visitor who wrote and recorded his ecological findings of the mountain, complained that there were too many people on the mountain and lamented the vandalism that was occurring. Today, Hummel and his staff stand on guard by doing whatever they can to educate hikers about the mountain. “We make efforts to reach out to folks and educate them. Not just to preserve the mountain, but to enhance their visit as well. People use this mountain and have a relationship with it in a lot of different ways but we want to make sure people balance their relationship with our care for the mountain as well.”
Despite the challenges, Hummel remains optimistic. “When we have people coming off the trails and they’re laughing, smiling, talking about their day, sharing pictures, that’s the goal here for us. We want people to come down safely and with great memories of their day and to think and look back as what a great day they had up there, whatever their enjoyment was – whether it was the view, the summit, or the workout they got. ”
With Hummel’s dedication and focus on conservation it looks like he has plenty of stamina for the hike ahead.