If you’ve ever hiked even a mile on the Long Trail, there’s one person whom you should take a moment to thank: Dave Hardy. Dave passed away at the age of 59 in November of 2017 after a year-long battle with cancer, but he left behind an epic legacy that’s centered along the spine of the Green Mountains and stretches far beyond.
Hardy became the Green Mountain Club’s Director of Trail Programs in 1999. In addition to maintaining relationships with landowners, state officials, and the Green Mountain National Forest to help expand the trail, Hardy made it his mission to carry out a project that had been talked about for more than 100 years: a footbridge across the Winooski River. Thanks to his vision and energy, that bridge opened in June of 2015, saving Long Trail hikers from a dangerous 3-mile walk down U.S. 2 in Bolton.
“In the annals of the club, there’s a handful of outsized figures—there’s James P. Taylor, who started the club, and professor Roy Buchanan, who basically did Dave’s job in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” said Richard Windish, former GMC president. “Dave is really in that category—a legend.”
Born into a hiking family, Hardy summited New Hampshire’s 48 high peaks by age 16, and through-hiked the Long Trail by 21. Soon after college, he left an engineering job behind to make a career out of hiking.
At the Green Mountain Club, Hardy worked his way up from a summer field assistant to the director of trail programs. There, he was responsible for all of the trails maintained by the GMC.
“He had been in that job for so long that he was the job,” says former GMC President Richard Windish. “He had so much knowledge that died with him. He knew the trail so well. Nobody else knew it as well as he did, and probably no one ever will.”
In early January of 2016, hundreds packed Waterbury’s Zen Barn to celebrate the life of Dave Hardy.
A notification of Dave’s passing, posted on the GMC website by current executive director Mike DeBonis, is followed by a never-ending list of comments full of stories about Dave. Many include sharing a post-hike beer from the growlers of home brew Dave often brought along in the back of his car.
“It is hard to think of anyone whose identity is more interwoven with the Long Trail and the community of trail stewards throughout New England than Dave’s,” the post reads. “Every mile of tread, shelter, bridge, privy, and waterbar on the 500-mile trail system is imprinted with his vision and unwavering passion.”