Thursday, July 30, 2015

1997 AHS Volunteer Trail Project in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness

The crew met at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station in the Flathead National Forest of Montana, which is 55 miles south of Hungy Horse, Montana (near the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park.) We backpacked 8 or so miles into the Bob Marshall Wilderness carrying our own gear for 8 days of backcountry camping, and the forest service used pack stock to bring 240 pounds of food and cooking gear in three bear boxes as well as 100 pounds of tools for us to use.

"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go!" as Larry, the one on the left used to sing as we headed out each morning. We were expected to put in the same work day as Forest Service employees (8 AM to 4:30 PM) so we were up early each day and on the trail by 8 AM heading to our work site.  Each day we hiked to our assigned trail and resumed where we had left off the prior day, and when a trail was finished, we headed to another trail. Obviously, the miles hiked mounted up quickly, and over the course of our eight work days, we hiked 74 miles and cleared 15 miles of trails of 304 fallen or leaning trees (yes, I counted!) and countless encroaching bushes. We also did some spot trail retreading where necessary. Our tools were 6 foot and 4 foot crosscut saws, bow saws, Pulaskis, wedges, and loppers. Behind Larry are Chris, Herb, and Gene, our crew leader.

Below is the typical scenery we saw as we backpacked to our base camp, and also what we enjoyed as we hiked from our basecamp to our new work site every day. The contiguous Bob Marshall/Great Bear/Scapegoat Wilderness Complex comprises over 1.5 million acres and it is surrounded by another 1 million acres of national forest and BLM land, making this the largest roadless area in the country at 2.5 million acres! This ranger district is responsible for almost 1100 miles of trails within this part of the wilderness complex, so the rangers were very happy that we had arrived to help them with trail clearing. Montana has very severe winters which cause much trail damage, so clearing fallen trees and repairing trail tread is a never ending job here.

Larry, Chris, Herb, and Gene wrestle a downed tree from the uphill side to the downhill side of the trail. Snowfall melt will bring trees on the uphill side down onto the trail and necessitate being cleared the next year, so we move them now. Since the Marshall Wilderness predominantly is traveled by horse and pack stock activity, we had to clear a trail corridor which was 8 feet wide (4 feet on each side of the trail centerline) and 10 feet high. Sometimes this was easier said than done, as trees do not necessarily fall in the most opportune of locations. And on numerous occasions, there were a grouping of trees down in the same place, criss-crossed over one another. Trees with tension (or binding) on them could be particularly tricky as they tend to spring up or down as you saw through them, so care had to be taken to prevent injury. As is obvious from the photo below, hardhats and work gloves were a requirement of the job, and we were given extensive safety training by the ranger before we headed to base camp.

Gene and Herb use the two-man crosscut saw on a medium-sized tree as Chris rests after making the first cut with me. Two cuts were needed of this large log, and then we had to move the large middle section off the trail. Occasionally, on larger trees, three cuts were necessary to make pieces small enough to move off the trail. Gravity often proved to be a handy ally as we rolled pieces to the downhill slope!

The majestic South Fork of the Flathead River begins in the Marshal Wilderness and flows 40 miles through it. It made a great lunch spot when we were near it.

With the four-foot crosscut saw balanced on my shoulder, I contemplate where to make the first cut on another medium-sized downed tree. Like so many of the trees we encountered, its precarious location required finding a safe location uphill to plant my feet in order to begin sawing. After completing the inital cut, the log would fall to the trail, making the other end accessible, although the second cut often required climbing off the trail on the downhill side, again after finding a safe place to stand. The final act was to roll the cut center section off the trail on the downhill side. (Photo by Gene, our crew leader.)

Our final day was the arrival day of the crew from Public Television's long-running "This Old House" show. Here hosts Steve Thomas (seated on the right) and Norm Abrams (seated on the left) eat the cake decorated in their honor. Standing on the left is Head District Ranger Carol Eckhart, and behind the table, National Forest Service preservationist carpenter Bernie Weisgerber (red shirt) and the creator/executive producer/director of the "This Old House" and "Yankee Workshop" shows, Russ Morash. Just out of the photo was Bruce Irving, the young producer of the show for the last 8 years -- and my guess is, the one who keeps everyone on the set laughing and stress-free. The crew was here to film the work being done on an historic building deep in the wilderness. They were going to travel 33 miles into the Marshall Wilderness over two days on horses, film for a day or two, and then be rafted out down the South Fork of the Flathead River. The cake (which was decorated with a drawing of the building they were going to repair and film) followed a splendid dinner of deer, elk, moose and huckleberry products (the theme of the meal was "Made in Montana.") Fortunately, we five volunteers were graciously invited to the party.

No comments: