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Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

November 16, 2005:

Kate Williams ’89

Kate Williams ’89 creates maps of water trails that traverse four states and Canada. (courtesy Kate Williams ’89)

Paddling through history
Kate Williams ’89 educates travelers along old water routes

For Kate Williams ’89, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail isn’t just a place to paddle. The stretch of waterways in northern New England is also the site of thousands of years of Native American history. And Williams is working to bring it to life.

As the director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a nonprofit in Waitsfield, Vt., Williams oversees the maintenance of its 740 miles, giving prospective paddlers recommendations for lodging and gear and arming them with maps that have information on everything from the local Native American tribes to glacial formations. The hope is that canoeists and kayakers can traverse the water trails and get a sense of local and Native American history while they’re doing it.

“Our mission is to help the recreational paddler listen to and connect with the stories that are still flowing in the waters,” says Williams, a history major and Outdoor Action enthusiast while at Princeton. Running from Old Forge, N.Y., to Fort Kent, Maine, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail traverses 22 rivers and streams, 56 lakes and ponds, and four states, plus Canada. It follows routes used by various bands of Abenaki, Native Americans who navigated the waterways to travel to hunting grounds, Williams says.

When European settlers arrived, the waterways quickly became what Williams calls “huge highways” for trade, and towns cropped up along the rivers.

Since she took over the organization a year ago, Williams says she has focused on fund raising and creating extensive maps for each of the trail’s 13 sections. The organization is also planning to create specialized itineraries, even for less-seasoned paddlers, like a trip linking bed-and-breakfasts.

Although two small children and her administrative duties keep her from thinking about paddling all 740 miles, Williams has managed to get out on the water in four states. “While I would love to paddle all of it, the greater challenge for me right now is to breathe collective energy into it,” she says.

By Anne Ruderman ’01

Anne Ruderman ’01 is a journalist in Concord, N.H.