Monday, August 3, 2015

2003 AHS Volunteer Trail Project for South Carolina's Palmetto Trail

South Carolina's Palmetto Trail takes you "from the mountains to the sea" on a 420 mile cross-state tour. Designed primarily for hikers and mountain bikers, equestrians are allowed on some sections. The trail began in 1995 as a grass-roots effort by four people sitting around a kitchen table in Columbia, South Carolina, and the first section (sections are called passages) was opened in 1996. As of 2003, over half of the trail miles are open, with the longest continuous stretch extending 170 miles. Each "passage" is designed to be easily completed by hikers in a weekend, and maps of the entire trail and of each passage are available on their website. The trail is administered by a private, non-profit corporation. 

We were assigned to work on the trestle network which crosses the three and a half miles of the flood plain of Wateree Swamp. This old rail line was acquired by South Carolina in 1998 and Palmetto Trail volunteers have been constructing decking over the old trestle ties for the last three years. In case you think I'm kidding about the Wateree Swamp, here it is. Yes, we were warned about not dropping tools over the side, and if we did, NOT to go after them. We regularly saw Copperheads and Cottonmouths down below us.

This is what the 680 foot long eighth trestle looked like before we began constructing the decking.

First we placed seven parallel stringers made of treated 4"X 6" lumber over the ties and leveled them. Next 2"X 6" decking was nailed to the stringers. A dump truck delivered the wood to us near the trestle and we had to deliver it to the work area, a task which kept four people busy for a day and a half. This was a bit tricky since there were places where your leg could fall through openings between the old timbers (I know because I did once while backing up. Fortunately no injury.)

We went through a lot of wood! Dump trucks delivered more wood daily back where dry land ended, and we used this pushcart to bring it to the worksite which of course kept moving farther away as we installed more decking.

The power nailer sped up the process quite a bit.

Lunches were eaten on the trestle which actually was our sanctuary away from the mosquitoes. The Palmetto Trail organization kept us well supplied with food, tools, materials, and tasks, and even provided an old plantation house in the Manchester State Forest as our dwelling for our six nights. One afternoon, a delicious hot fried chicken lunch with all the fixings was delivered to us at the work site by a local restaurant, and one morning we were given a tour of the studio and workshop of local famous wood carver, Grainger McCoy. Our host, Ollie Buckles (Palmetto Trail trail coordinator) even cooked South Carolina's famous and very delicious Frogmore (aka Low Country) Stew for us one night.

We finished decking trestle eight after two days of work. Then we worked on the finished seven trestles, re-nailing some problem areas, replacing bad boards, and pruning encroaching foliage. Railings will be added later. The last hurdle the trail foundation has to overcome is funding for and construction of the final 2200 foot long trestle which has the vertical supports still in place, but nothing spanning from one support to the next. The eight completed trestles represent 5120 feet of decked surface -- a truly monumental accomplishment! Here's a photo of the finished project.

Our industrious and talented AHS crew:
top row (l to r): Gary, Jerry, Carri, and Floyd
row 2: Chuck, Vickie, Betty, and Mary
kneeling: Bill, Ben, Joe (our incomparable leader), and Ted

In 2006, I did another volunteer project for the Palmetto Trail and that trip report is here.

2006 AHS Volunteer Trail Project for South Carolina's Palmetto Trail

South Carolina's Palmetto Trail takes you "from the mountains to the sea" on a 500 mile cross-state tour, of which 350 miles are complete as of 2015. Designed primarily for hikers and bikers, equestrians are allowed on some sections. The trail began in 1994 as a grass-roots effort by four people sitting around a kitchen table in Columbia, South Carolina, and the first passage (sections are called passages) was opened in 1996. It is one of only 16 cross-state trails in the country. 

Each "passage" is designed to be easily completed by hikers in a weekend, and maps of the entire trail and of each passage are available on the Palmetto Trail website. The trail is administered by a private, non-profit corporation.

We were assigned to reroute a mile section of existing trail from private land onto Francis Marion National Forest land. In one section shown below, this entailed digging new tread on a century-old dike originally built to terrace rice fields. It also involved building a bridge across a drainage area which is what I was assigned to do.

Using stringers and decking removed from bridges on the old trail section, we constructed a 26 foot bridge across this stream. Notice the cable from the come-a-long winch attached to the log at the bottom of the photo. Troy and Max are hand cranking the winch as Woody, Ted, and Dave watch the first stringer inching its way across the water.

This is the winch (or "come-along" as it is called down South) being used to pull the stringers across the creek.

After positioning and leveling the two stringers, decking was nailed to the stringers...

...and here is the finished bridge which has a ramp on the left side to allow bikers easy access to the bridge. 

The ramp was created by Woody, a true magician with a chain saw, who painstakingly constructed a jig and then sawed the two stringers on an angle - a great deal of work, but an elegant and practical solution to the height difference between the two banks of the creek.

The ranger in charge, John DuPre, had determined the route for the new trail corridor and flagged the route. Then firefighters had been sent through with chainsaws to cut down the trees and bushes. Next our crew "swamped out" the corridor, placing all the chainsawed materials unobtrusively into the woods. Finally came the task of digging the new tread as seen here with our extraordinary co-leaders, Bonnie and Phil, leveling a high section and moving the excess dirt to low areas.

All organic material is removed and mineral material serves as the final tread, providing a safe surface for hikers and riders. In this photo, Jane, Bonnie, Dave, and Donna put the final touches on the trail surface, and then patient Carole will follow and lop off any remaining roots.

In the photo below, the entire group poses at the start of the Palmetto Trail, just yards from the ocean at Buck Hall Campground. Behind the group, a large Palmetto tree is encircled by elaborate decking, a job completed by a previous year's crew which included some of the same people pictured here. 

front row (l to r): Ted, Dave, Carole, Jane, Chuck, and Max
back row: Woody, Bonnie, Phil, and Troy

Sunday, August 2, 2015

2004 AHS Volunteer Trail Project in Washington's Goat Rocks Wilderness

Washington's Pinchot National Forest covers 1,368,300 acres and includes Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The Goat Rock Wilderness (108,096 acres) is part of the magnificent Cascade Mountain Range between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams. In fact, before beginning this project, I backpacked a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in the wilderness, and had marvelous views of Mt St. Helen, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams.

Packwood Lake (photo below), on the edge of the wilderness area, was formed 1200 years ago by a large landslide. It is a 462 acre natural lake located on the western side of the Cascades at an elevation of 2875 feet. This magnificent destination can be reached by hiking four miles or driving a 4WD vehicle. As you hike along the lake, you enter the Goat Rocks Wilderness, which is accessible only to those hiking or on horseback. The island in the lake seen here is small and is off limits since someone started a fire there a few years ago. Some of the water from the lake is piped several miles to a power plant which supplies electricity to four local towns. One afternoon we watched as a fire fighting helicopter hovered over the lake several times, refilling its water container, and then flying back to the fire scene.

With only three people, we switched off regularly on the saw. In this photo, Chad and our crew leader, Forest Service Ranger Crystal, use the two man saw to cut this tree which has fallen across the trail. Since our crew was so small, we were limited in what we could accomplish and tree removal was our first responsibility. We removed a number of trees of various diameters as we hiked the trail into the wilderness and actually cleared all the fallen trees assigned to us.

As you saw through a large fallen tree, the top part of the cut tree trunk tends to close and bind the saw preventing it from cutting any more, so a wedge is hammered into the kerf (cut) at the top to keep the channel open, allowing the saw to continue to operate. You can see the saw blade nearing the bottom of the cut, and thanks to the wedge at the top holding the kerf open, the saw is still effectively cutting the remainder of the log. Then after cutting the trunk, we have to roll the sections of the trunk off the trail, and when that is not possible due to weight or length of the pieces, another cut is required.

One day, Rangers Steve (orange hard hat) and Rich (yellow hat) joined us and we worked on installing several retaining walls where the trail was eroding and sloughing off down the embankment. Since equestrians make use of this trail, it is important to keep it wide and safe for all users.

The photo below shows another place where we installed cribbing to widen and stabilize the trail tread.

Visitors are encouraged to sign in when beginning a hike or backpack into the wilderness area, but the sign-in station post had rotted and fallen, so we found another post, debarked it, and attached the signage and drop box to the new post.

Our small but productive trail crew!

2004 AHS Volunteer Trail Project on the Florida Trail

The Florida Trail Association builds, maintains, protects, and promotes the 1300 mile long Florida National Scenic Trail which runs from Big Cypress National Preserve in Everglades territory all the way north and west to the panhandle, ending at Gulf Islands National Seashore. It is one of 11 National Scenic Trails in our country. It is divided into nine segments, all of which have free downloadable maps and info.
"Cutting trail" in most places in our country involves laborious digging with Pulaskis and other tools, but in Florida it means running the DR All Terrain Mower through the thick underbrush. In this photo we are creating a new trail section to bypass a lowland area that often floods. Billy, one of the officers of the trail club, makes the second of four passes through the new trail corridor. Then other volunteers clip back encroaching foliage, chop out roots and tree stumps that could trip hikers or re-grow, and blaze trees with the Florida Trail's orange painted rectangle to mark the new trail. I would then walk the old trail section and scrape off the old orange blazes. Of course, since Florida has a lengthy growing season, trail volunteers must frequently mow the Florida Trail to keep the trail from returning to a wild state, so constant maintenance in required.

Here is a view of the new trail snaking through the dense undergrowth. We rerouted three sections of trail which had either been prone to flooding or followed old logging roads, for a total of about two miles of new trail. At one point, we met two through-hikers (Bamboo Bob and Corncob), and it is always rewarding to see that your hard work is being used and appreciated by hikers.

Another project we were assigned was construction of this 32 foot long bridge that is 11 feet above the gully bottom and eliminates a detour around the ravine. 

Now hikers can cross the ravine without the detour down into it and back up the other side, and hikers also are spared hiking through mud when the bottom of the ravine was wet and muddy.

The construction crew finished the bridge project so quickly that the hosts had to find additional projects for us, including constructing a picnic table and three rest benches for hikers and then installing them in locations affording nice views of the Suwannee River. We also constructed two fence lines to keep ATVs out of prohibited areas.

Here is the entire crew, both AHS and FTA volunteers:

standing (l to r): Lynn, Chuck, Jim, Alton (our FTA host), Max, Bob, Fred, Billy, Larry, and Jack
seated (l to r): Charlie, Katie, Eileen, Paula, Linda, and Joe (our AHS crew leader)

2007 AHS Volunteer Trail Project in Arizona's Hells Canyon Wilderness

The Spring Valley Trail

The Bureau of Land Management's Hells Canyon Wilderness (9951 acres) is located in Arizona's Sonoran Desert in the foothills of the Hieroglyphic Mountains, 25 miles northwest of Phoenix and abutting the western boundary of Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Terrain is gently rolling valley floors and steep hillsides and arroyos. The Spring Valley Trail's north and south forks traverse a verdant palo verde - sahuaro community and include barrel cactus, ocotillo, and desert grasses. It is also home to a wild burro population.

We were driven to within a mile of our planned base camp.  To reach the camp area, we had to hike across a 1/4 mile wide arroyo whose bottom was covered in large stones and small boulders, and then hike up the hillside seen in the photo below (look closely dead center and you'll see people hiking uphill left to right on the switchback trail.)  We had to make a number of trips to get our personal gear, the work tools, and all our food and water up to camp. Actually, the ranger had to resupply us with water several times during the week, so we made many trips carrying heavy water containers.

Our first day involved "brushing" the three mile north fork of the trail. The long growing season allows cactus to encroach upon the trail, so lopping the palo verde, prickly pear, ocotillo, grasses, etc. is important to allow hikers and horses to travel unimpeded. BLM trail boss, Tom (left) watches as Don and Doug work with loppers.

Some sections of the trail traverse long stretches where the established trail is obscure or indistinct. To aid in keeping travelers on the trail, rock cairns are placed within line-of-sight of one another to serve as directional markers for hikers. Three or more rocks are unlikely to accidentally wind up on top of one another, so cairns are generally three or more rocks tall. Tom and Bob (photo below) and I spent days 2, 3, and 4 constructing 35 large rock cairns on both the north and south forks of the trail. 

We scoured the land near the chosen cairn site and carried or rolled large rocks to the designated location and painstakingly built large thigh-high cairns as seen above. The BLM rangers had scouted the trail in advance, determined what repairs were to be done, and marked each work site with a stake indicating the improvement needed. (Of the 20 trail projects I've worked on to this point, this was the most organized a host agency had been.)

Chris and Jim work on a drainage dip and run-off channel to divert rainfall off the trail to prevent erosion. Though this desert climate only receives seven inches of rainfall annually, cloudbursts can cause severe damage where trails are susceptible to erosion, so water control features such as water bars, runoff channels, and drainage dips are vital to preserving the trail tread. When properly built with rock, these water control features can last for decades.

Steep terrain is common in these mountain foothills, and man-made steps, though not considered a "natural" trail element, can make a trail safer for hikers and can also help prevent the trail from becoming a river during downpours. In the photo below, the lower step has been installed and another heavy stone is being wrestled into place above it. Four steps were eventually set into place here.

I realize many people think of deserts as vast wastelands, but after a number of trips to our U.S. deserts, I have come to agree with Edward Abbey that they are beautiful in their own right and alive with all sorts of fabulous flora and fauna. Below you see our repaired trail, the scenery along the trail, and far in the background, the immense Lake Pleasant.

The intrepid crew:
(l to r): Bob, Chris, Jim, Chuck, Lloyd, Don, Doug, and Tom

As thanks for our efforts, the BLM ranger in charge of our project, Bill, took us on a hike in nearby Agua Fria National Monument, also under BLM jurisdiction. Below is a photo from our visit to the 800 year old Anasazi ruins.

A drive on a gravel road, a hike over open desert, a descent down a steep 300 foot canyon side to the dry creek below, and a climb up the other side of the canyon brought us to the remains of 80 or so stone-wall homes. Pottery shards dotted the area and the outlines of the majority of the dwellings were clearly evident, and numerous petroglyphs such as below were scattered about, carved into the desert finish of the cliff face.


2005 Sierra Club Volunteer Trail Project on Cape Cod

The Beech Forest Trail is in the northernmost section of Cape Cod National Seashore, near the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Though sand dunes occupy the shoreline, this magnificent forest abuts the dunes and provides stability to the soil in the area. The hiking trail is a figure eight shape, and the "top" of this figure eight travels over a high knoll as partially seen here. Stairs constructed during the 1970s were in serious disrepair. Last year, a Sierra Club volunteer crew rebuilt one upper section, and this year we tackled the top and the downhill section on the other side. You can see in the next two photos how unsafe the trail had become, with loose sand and roots and narrowed by overgrowth of vegetation.

Along the level top of the hill portion of the trail, Ann, Catherine, Deborah (our leader), and Joe begin enlarging the trail to four feet in width and preparing for side timbers to be installed. The old wood was carried down the hill so it could be removed from the forest since it had been treated with chemicals, and the new timbers and gravel fill were carried up by us. Each day as we worked, hikers passed us and expressed thanks for the work being done.

Our new trail will provide stairs for easier and safer hiking uphill and downhill. To keep the gravel/sand tread material in place, side walls are also being installed. Obviously, lots of lumber and cutting of lumber was required.

The timbers had to be cut to size, then drilled and pegged into the ground and each other with reinforcing bar, and finally the gravel tread poured into place, raked, and tamped down. The nearly finished downhill section of the trail is seen here, with only a little timber cutting remaining for the National Park Service trail crew. The rebuilt trail is far safer for hikers and hopefully will last 30 or more years, and the new lumber will hold the gravel tread in place during storms.   

The most strenuous aspect of the project was carrying the gravel tread material up to the top. As shown here, a bucket brigade was utilized numerous times. The National Park trail crew (Donna and Wayne) delivered the lumber and gravel by front end loader after the first attempt by dump truck became stuck in sand a half mile from the project site. In this photo, Catherine, Barb, and Jolene tote buckets as Joe below fills buckets. At times, all ten of us on the project spent an hour or more operating the bucket brigade.

Below you see a finished section of trail. Quite an improvement from the "before" photos at the top of this post!

After cooking for ourselves all week, we celebrated the last night with supper in town.

The industrious crew (l to r): Chuck, Annie, Sue, Diane, Wayne, Jolene, Joe, Catherine, Barb , and Deborah (our Sierra Club group leader.)

A side note: Our leader, Deborah, was a lifelong Bostonian and really knew the Cape Cod area. We had a lengthy drive to get to the work site each day, and on the way back she would take us on tours of the area. We visited the Truro Winery and had a wine tasting, visited the historic home of an 18th century whaler captain, visited the NPS facility to learn the history of the predecessor to the Coast Guard, the lifesaving men who risked their lives to save sailors whose ships sunk on the nearby reefs, and even toured the local Audubon Society property. Thanks, Deborah!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

2003 AHS Volunteer Trail Project on Arizona's Mogollon Rim

Arizona's Mogollon Rim is lush forest at 4000 to 8000 feet elevation, an entirely different ecosystem from the Sonoron Desert around Phoenix. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest complex is over two million acres of magnificent mountain country in east-central Arizona.

The Sinkhole (elevation 7600 feet) is located at the Canyon Point Campground on Arizona Route 260 between Payson and Heber. It is a major geologic formation on the Mogollon Rim, centuries old, but the trail leading to it was in serious need of rebuilding. Access to the old trail was decidedly unscenic, following several old logging roads, with a dangerous, washed out "user made" trail leading to the bottom of the 75 foot deep sinkhole. Our job was to construct a safer trail to the bottom as well as build a winding, scenic approach trail from the campground's main road. The Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs at its bottom are so tall now that they are higher than the rim.

This "before" photo shows the terrain and the orange flagging denotes the path for the new trail. Normally we would dig out the uphill side to build the trail, following the curving natural contour of the hillside, but our forest service ranger leader, Cindy, had a different vision. She wanted us to build a long rock retaining wall several feet tall and then backfill with soil to create a new straight trail on what is now air. When we balked at the idea, she looked us in the eye and said to us guys, "Aren't you men enough to do that?" What could we say? So we did it, and at the end of the week after the work was finished, I reminded Cindy of what she had said. "I'm ashamed of the way I talked to you guys on Monday. I apologize." And we laughed and told her she had handled us just perfectly, that her vision was the right solution for the problem, and that it was her words that had lit the fire that allowed us to successfully complete the job!

In the photo below, Mike takes a break from digging tread with his Pulaski tool as Debbie rakes with her McCloud tool and Ranger Cindy Peck places a rock for the side retaining wall. In the background, Ralph sets more rock into the side wall as Jim and Ted prepare the trail farther down the slope.

Below you see the trail taking shape. The rock retaining wall is set, the trail area is getting dirt added to it to build up its height so it has a nice gradual downhill grade, and the trail is a straight direct path. Cindy even had a clinometer to control the downward slope of the trail as we built it.


The finished trail seen has a gradual slope, making it safer and more able to withstand erosion, and large rocks are stabilizing the downhill side of the trail tread. The charred trees are reminders of the massive 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski fire which devastated over 450,000 acres of the forest the previous year.

I love to build switchbacks because of the challenge of building them in just the right way so they make the trail easier to hike. Our trail down was going to wind up too steep at the bottom so I suggested a short switchback and Ranger Cindy said, "Go for it!"-- which I did, and here it is. You can see that if the trail had just continued straight down, it would have been very steep, but now travel up and down is easier and safer. Our Sinkhole Trail even has its own page now on the forest website! And usage of the trail  is listed as heavy!

The campground is about 3/4 of a mile from the sinkhole trail we built, so we added this trail below which meanders through the scenic forest, providing an enjoyable walk for those in the campgound who wish to visit the sinkhole. Here Ralph and Debbie (on the left) and Ted and Ranger Cindy (on the right) are in the early stages of digging the new tread. We had to remove all organic material and get down to mineral surface (dirt) as well as remove the numerous rocks which were in the trail's path.

And here's the finished approach trail -- a much easier hike and also an enjoyable scenic stroll to the sinkhole.

A special treat for us volunteers was a visit to the Gentry Fire Tower, one of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest's three working towers still manned during the fire season. The tower is about 60 feet high and the views it offers are spectacular.

The radio controls and phone are on the side of the cabinet facing you, the device for locating the coordinates and distance to the fire is on top, two beds line two walls, and a stove and refrigerator are along another wall.

And here's our crew up in the fire tower enjoying the views. .

Our crew (from left to right):

Ralph, Mary, Jim, Laureth (in front), Debbie (behind her), Mike, Ranger Cindy Peck, Ted, and Chuck.