Monday, June 4, 2018

Biking Denver's Cherry Creek Trail

In August of 2008, after driving 600 miles, much of it in rain, we checked into our extended stay room in Aurora, Colorado (abutting Denver.) An hour or so later, the rain stopped so we drove around looking for the trailhead for the Cherry Creek Trail. We found the Wheel Park/Olympic Park complex near our motel and biked 19 miles on both the Cherry Creek Spillway Trail and then the Cherry Creek Trail segment within the Cherry Creek State Park. The photo below shows some of Denver’s tall buildings in the distance as seen from the Spillway Trail…
… and the prairie dog community along the Spillway Trail seen below.
We had been told that the paved bike trail circled the entire reservoir, but that was incorrect. The state park and reservoir are quite large, but the trail only nears the lake for a short time as seen here…
… but most of the time the reservoir is not even in sight. Due to our rain-delayed start, we knew sunset was drawing near, and when we realized the trail didn’t circle the lake, we worried about getting lost and getting caught by darkness while still away from the van. Fortunately, the combined Google Maps/GPS feature on my new iPhone saved the day, showing us the route to take through a subdivision and then on unmarked dirt trails through the dog exercise area to get us back to the Spillway Trail and then back to the van. What an adventure!
A tasty seafood supper at Joe’s Crab Shack then topped off the evening.

Monday, May 21, 2018

2018 AHS Volunteer Trail Project at Big South Fork in Tennessee

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky and Tennessee as well as its namesake river, the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. I backpacked here in 2000 and was excited to be able to return and help the park repair/improve a bit of its massive 500 miles of trails as part of this American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation.

Early in the 1900s, this area was stripped of much of its marketable trees and coal, and debris from these operations denuded the land and polluted the streams. Life was hard for the local residents who had depended on the natural resources for their very lives so two federal agencies were commissioned by Congress to alleviate the problems. The park is the successful joint effort of the Army Corps of Engineers, which acquired and developed the property, and the National Park Service which was chosen to operate and maintain the land for the benefit and use of the public. New growth now covers the logged-over land and environmental controls have restored water sources to good health, and this immense park with its rugged and scenic landscape is now a recreational playground for users who wish to hunt, fish, rock climb, hike, horseback ride, camp, mountain bike, and whitewater canoe and raft and kayak. In fact, the park is actually the first to be designated as both a national river and a national recreation area!

The park provided us with nine campsites in the Bandy Creek Campground, and on one of the sites installed a huge tarp, tables, camp stoves, coolers with a daily supply of ice, kitchen necessities, storage for the tools, and bear proof storage for the food. We also had a water spigot nearby and a washroom with hot and cold running water and even showers just a short walk up the hillside.

Our AHS crew leader, Richard, also provided kitchen equipment, prepared menus, and with the help of Effie from the park staff, shopped for all the food.

All of us pitched in with food prep, cooking, and cleaning up after meals.

Regarding our assigned work duties, we were charged with clearing and rebuilding sections of the John Litton Loop Trail in the Bandy Creek area as well as Slave Falls/Charit Creek Trail.

Below is our group rebuilding a section of trail...

...and installing water diversion bars where needed...

Hikers sometimes break the rules and cut switchbacks short which damages drainage as well as the ecology. We rebuilt a number of these switchbacks to discourage such abuse...

Here's another section being widened and made safer from tripping hazards such as roots and rocks. We also lopped back the overgrown vegetation which impeded hikers...

Several bridge structures needed repair so we carried wood, nails, and hammers with us...

A big problem is blowdowns. The sandy soil atop the limestone and sandstone rock base makes for shallow-rooted trees, and big gusts from wind storms can topple trees, blocking the trail. The ranger crew carried chainsaws and took care of these larger obstacles. Over a dozen large trees like the one below were cut into pieces by the National Park Service professional trail crew...

... and then we helped remove the cut-off pieces after they finished...

One area had half-a-dozen trees across the trail, criss-crossing each other. I've done this kind of tree removal in wilderness areas out west where power tools like chain saws are not allowed. On those projects, we had to use hand tools -- two-man, six foot long crosscut saws -- and a large tree took half a day to remove. The professional trail crew rangers made short work of these trees with their chain saws!

Below are two of the blow-downs we encountered.  The huge root balls were 10 or more feet high and just as wide, so we tried to make it easier for hikers to get through the mess. Both root balls had completely obliterated the trail necessitating a future re-route. Sights like this demonstrate the power and ferocity of the wind and the shallowness of the root structure of some of these very tall trees.

A sharp-eyed member of our crew noticed this copperhead snake sleeping just off the trail...

We stopped to admire Slave Falls...

...and also Needle Arch...

Here's our stalwart group of hiker-volunteers as we pose at Needle Arch:

(l to r) Chuck, Richard (our AHS crew leader), Rhys, Eric, Tom, Andy, Michael, Jeff, Alina, and Krista.

Our Big South Fork NPS trail crew leaders, Ronnie and Don, were true professionals and also a joy to work with and learn from!

These photos and others are available for download here.

Here's a video of our week together...


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Biking Chattanooga's South Chickamauga Creek Trail

This trail exists in two as yet unconnected sections, and when the missing center segment is finished, it will run for 14 miles. I biked the northern section (which currently extends 4.5 miles) beginning at the Riverpoint area of the Tennessee Riverpark off the Americola Highway. If you want a longer ride, I suggest you still bike this lovely trail, and when finished, head either direction on the also lovely Chattanooga Riverwalk Trail which hugs the Tennessee River for over seven miles.

The trail that will take you to to the South Chickamauga Trail can be reached by taking either the paved path that runs below the ramp up to the bridge over the South Chickamauga Creek (for the Riverwalk Trail) or the "Woodland Walk" trail seen in this map going under the white highway...

After less than a mile on this paved trail...

... you'll cross the lovely South Chickamauga Creek seen below...

In addition to being verdant and scenic, the trail is a construction wonder because a good mile or more is wooden boardwalk! In order to protect fragile wetland areas and to avoid floodplains, you'll be amazed at how much wood has been used to build the trail! To emphasize this fact, three photos follow...

For a short section, you'll bike on a driveway for some industrial concern, and later you'll skirt two sides of a nice subdivision.

At one point you'll pass this sign, showing some of the significance of the area...

At the 4.5 mile mark the pavement ends and becomes a gravel road. I went a bit of the way on it but was out of time so I turned around.

Parking is available at the southern end of the trail in Camp Jordan Park (323 Camp Jordan Parkway, East Ridge).
For the northern segment, trailheads are available at Riverpoint off the Americola Highway, as well as Faith Road, Sterchi Farm (2700 block of Harrison Pike), and the 3900 block of North Hawthorne Street.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Biking Georgia's Silver Comet Trail

The Silver Comet Trail follows the path of the former Seaboard Air Line Railroad which ran luxury passenger trail service between Birmingham, Alabama and New York City from 1947 to 1969. Seaboard Air Line Railroad was named in 1875, and the term "air line" then referred to a railroad that offered the shortest route between two points.

This 61 mile paved trail includes three trestles and a tunnel and as a rail-trail now offers 15 restrooms, 10 water fountains, 17 wheel-chair accessible accesses, and loads of rest benches as seen below.

That blue sign and paint blazes seen in the background between the benches in the photo above points to a mountain bike/off-pavement trail. Here's a close-up of the sign...

They do have some rules for the mountain bikers:

The 12-foot wide paved trail is in excellent repair, and at its western terminus at the Alabama state line, Alabama's Chief Ladiga Trail extends an additional 33 miles creating one of the country's longest paved continuous trails.

The Georgia Department of Transportation purchased this right-of-way in 1992 and opened the first segment of recreational trail in 1998. I first biked from the Smyrna trailhead and immediately fell in love with the trail and quickly decided that its beauty qualified it for my favorites list. So the next day, I drove to the Hiram trailhead and biked a second segment of the trail which then cemented my decision.

Heading west from Smyrna, the trail has an uphill bent to it. In fact, I was surprised because it seemed to me that in places it exceeded the 2% or 3% maximum incline usual for railroad grades. In numerous areas, it had drop-offs on one or both sides that looked to be 50 feet or even greater. A lot of blasting and cut and fill had obviously been employed in constructing the roadbed.

Here's one of the bridges...

Bridges and underpasses get users safely over or under many roads, but the few road crossings had push buttons to trigger traffic signals to stop the motor vehicles. An abundance of signage along the trail provides info and warnings and at the bottom, each sign gives the current mileage from the eastern trailhead at Smyrna. Below is the 14.69 mile marker.

The Pumpkinvine Creek Trestle, built in 1901, is seen below. It is 750 feet long and 126 feet high...

Below is Pumpkinvine Creek, and off in the far upper right corner of the photo is a peek at the subdivision of large homes on the hillside...

This section is the most remote and travels through some of the 25,000 acre Pauling Wildlife Management Area.

Trail access:

Reach the Smyrna side of the Silver Comet Trail off of I-285, Exit 15/Route 280/South Cobb Drive. Head north on South Cobb, turn left on Cumberland Parkway SE, then right on Gaylor Street. The trailhead is near the shopping complex. Brown directional signs are provided.

The Tara Drummond Trailhead is popular: on Seaboard Drive just south of Hwy 278.

Reach the Esom Hill trailhead from US Highway 278 west. Near Mile Marker 1, turn south on Hardin Road. The trailhead is 0.5 mile up the road on the right.

The closest trailhead to the Pumpkinvine Trestle and the Brushy Mountain Tunnel is the Rambo Trailhead adjacent to the Rambo Nurseries at 279 Tucker Blvd., Dallas, GA, south of Hwy. 278.

There are numerous access points with parking and various other facilities along the trail's entire route.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Biking Brooksville, Florida's, Good Neighbor Trail

Funding for the Good Neighbor Trail was acquired in 2000 and the 10 mile paved trail is estimated to be completed at the end of 2018. The paved trail follows the former Florida Southern Railroad Line. Parking, restrooms, water, picnic facilities, and the former railroad depot seen below can be found in Brooksville at 70 Russell Street in the Russell Street Park.

A nice section through the woods provides some shade from a blistering sun...

The trail then parallels Jasmine Drive a bit and crosses Mondon Hill Road...

...and then traverses a power corridor with more trees on both sides. I saw three tortoises and a turkey along this stretch.

Finally, the most recently opened extension parallels Richbarn Road, passing acreage sites with some horses, cows, and goats. Around mile six, the pavement ends and a gravel road continues through the Withlacoochee State Forest. I began biking this rough road and soon encountered a worker in an oncoming pickup truck. He stopped and told me it was dangerous to be on this road because it was heavily traveled by large working trucks ahead.

He confirmed to me that this was in fact the final 4 mile-long extension of the trail to its eastern terminus at the Withlacoochee State Bike Trail, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018. I turned around and returned.

Yesterday I biked the Withlacoochee Trail and saw the trucks working on the other end but didn't know what the project entailed. Now I understand!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

2018 Paddling Florida's Suwannee River with Sierra Club

This Sierra Club Outing was "Way Down Upon the Suwannee River." The legendary Suwannee begins in Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp and travels 220+ miles through southern Georgia and Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. We began at Fargo, Georgia, just south of the swamp and paddled 71 miles in seven days to The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park near Live Oak, Florida.

Our 12 participants and two leaders came from across the country to enjoy Florida's scenery and weather. Most chose to paddle kayaks, but five canoes, heavily laden with gear and food for our week-long journey, were also part of our flotilla.

The scenery was breathtaking, and every turn of this twisting river offered new vistas to behold. Tupelo and cypress trees ruled the first few days, with pines and other species gradually becoming the majority. Only one gator was seen, but numerous large turtles slid into the water as we approached and birds were abundant.

The white "sugar" sand became our home away from home as we camped for six nights and took our rest breaks and lunch stops wherever the beaches were accessible to us.

Some locations allowed us to spread out at night and even head into the forest to camp at times, while other sites were smaller and made "community living" a requirement.

Few structures were evident from the river and we traveled 20 miles before the first bridge was paddled beneath. In fact, few bridges cross the river in these 71 miles, which speaks volumes about the lack of civilization evident along the river. Below is I-75 which we had been hearing for days since it parallels the river's course for quite a distance before we finally passed beneath it.

This was a blind photo I took by holding the camera over my head and shooting backwards. It actually worked!

Here's a shot Randy took of me as he paddled the front of the canoe...

I did attempt one "selfie" and this is what I got...

We stopped at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park which is on the Suwannee River at the town of White Springs. I've been there several times previously but gladly re-visited the museum and the carillon. The museum has dioramas depicting eight of Foster's songs, as well as numerous antique pianos from that time period like the one below, all adorned with photos from that era and Foster's sheet music.

The Carillon Tower seen below was of special interest to me. I grew up three blocks from the Chicago factory/headquarters of Deagan Company which made precision musical instruments including church bells, and their bell tower near my house chimed tunes several times daily. The well-known NBC chimes are also theirs. The state park's carillon was installed in 1958 and it took more than a year to construct and install the huge set of bells at a cost of $120,000. It  was the single greatest manufacturing project in the firm's then 78 year history. Unfortunately, the chimes were undergoing repair while we were there!

Here's a view of our flotilla from the bridge at White Springs.

Big Shoals is Florida's most extensive river rapid system, dropping nine feet in less than a quarter mile. The river bed is lined with limestone outcroppings commonly described as karst topography, and Big Shoals is the one place where it predominantly breaks through to the surface.

The sharp jagged edges of the limestone can rip boats to pieces, so most people portage the short distance as we did. It's a lot of work unloading all the boats, carrying them and all the gear up a hill, along a trail, and then down a tricky hill back to the water. Last year's Hurricane Irma pretty much tore up the put-in area making it quite treacherous.  We camped that night at the top of the hill...

...and then loaded the boats the next morning. We used ropes to safely descend to the river and loaded one or two boats at a time and paddled them downriver to the beach across the river to await the other boats and then continued our journey. Five more minor rapids/riffles were encountered beyond these rapids as we headed farther downriver.

We talked about getting a group photo but never got around to doing it, so here are all the participants in various pictures.

(l to r)  Randy, Terry R., Sue, Kenda, Holly, George, and Nancy

(l to r)  Patrick, Terry R., Randy, Terri M., Nancy, Sue, Terry G., George, and Jurij.

Kenda and Terri M. (back row) and Nancy and Sue (front row)

Terry G., Sue, Terri M., Chuck, and Nancy 

Terry G., Jurij, and George

 (l to r)  Kenda, George, Patrick, Holly, Jurij, Lehman, Sue, Terri M., and Nancy

Here our incomparable leaders and chefs, Holly and Patrick! Their planning and leadership made this trip the success it was! I've been on a number of Sierra Club outings led by Patrick and I heartily recommend all of his trips. Thanks to both of them from all of us participants -- you both made our week possible as well as memorable and rewarding!

One final shot of the amazing Suwannee River and our stalwart adventurers...

One of our participants, Sue, is a cartographer, and she used her GPS device to record our trip. She then put it on a map showing our entire journey. Thanks, Sue!

Here are some Downloadable photos on Shutterfly 

A brief video of our adventure is available here: