Building the Cohos

How a Major New Trail in New Hampshire Was Born
By Charles J. Jordan
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Kim Nilsen, Cohos Trail founder, with granddaughter in tow

It was 20 years ago, while working as a reporter for the Coos County Democrat, when the idea of the Cohos Trail first came to Kim Nilsen. Kim, who grew up in the state of New York, had moved to northern New Hampshire with his wife in the early 1970s. While traveling around the county gathering stories and taking pictures for the county newspaper, he became enamored with the terrain. "Working for the newspaper, I could go all over the county," Nilsen recalled. "I'd see things that made me curious and on weekends I'd go back and bushwack through the backcountry."

He was struck by the fact that the interior of New Hampshire's northernmost county is filled with all sorts of disconnected trails, remnants of a century and a half of "civilization." "There are an awful lot of logging roads, abandoned rail lines, snowmobile trails, game trails, you name it." For Kim, hiking this backcountry was an experience quite different from that of the White Mountains. For one thing, there were no people. "Hiking in the Whites has become like going into the Adirondack Park in New York State," Nilsen lamented. "You go in there in the summer time and it's wall-to-wall people. When I hike I like to enjoy the quiet."

But the problem for Nilsen and others who have ventured deep into Coos County is that, unlike the White Mountains, there was no central trail system. He began to think that there could be a way to link all these different trails here in the newly designated Great North Woods region. "A trail would allow people to move along in an orderly fashion between fine points in the county," Nilsen explained. "There are really a lot of beautiful places in Coos County that nobody ever sees." He wrote an editorial in the Democrat in the late 70s proposing such an effort—and got no response.

For the next 20 years, after Kim and his family had relocated to southern New Hampshire, he still thought about his dream. He would keep it alive by returning north each year to bushwack the wild terrain. "Then a couple of years ago I was up on Sugarloaf Mountain (in Stratford). I could see the very tops of the Whites to the south and I could see all the way up to Dixville Notch and the very top of Magalloway." He once again envisioned a trail linking this terrain.

While on vacation in Maine, he threw himself into the idea. "I brought along all kinds of maps, books and information about Coos County and began to thread together the trail right there on the floor," he said. So much for that Maine vacation.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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