Wednesday, July 29, 2015

1998 AHS Volunteer Trail Project in Montana's Gallatin National Forest

Repairing the Lightning Lake Trail

Yes, my Mom often told me NOT to play in the mud, but Matt (to my right), one of the Gallatin National Forest trail crew members who supervised and worked with us for the week, said this was the way to begin on the 40 foot long "turnpike" we were constructing to eliminate this very wet, boggy area. Years of use by hikers and equestrians had destroyed this low-lying area. I am digging the two-foot deep trench in which the culvert is to be buried. We are a volunteer crew affiliated with The American Hiking Society on a volunteer vacation.

We then placed logs on each side to hold the dirt/gravel trailbed, a ground cover cloth to allow water to percolate through but prevent flora to grow, and lots of dirt/gravel to serve as the trail tread. The Forest Service provided us with a Honda gas-powered wheelbarrow to carry dirt to the site from about a hundred yards away.

This is the finished turnpike, consisting of drainage ditches on each side with the culvert (foreground, under turnpike) to carry water to the drop-off side.

Our next assignment was the installation of about 18 water diversion bars, a few made with logs, but most made with rocks. A water bar is used on a downhill section of trail to divert water off the trail to the downhill side, thus preventing erosion and a wet trail.

Our final project was rerouting the trail around a lengthy low area which perenially flooded and became a mudhole. The new trail segment measured nearly 1/4 mile in length, and through arduous, consistent, work, our crew finished the entire new trail section, surprising Ron, our project coordinator for the Forest Service, and Stan, the Hebgen Lake District Ranger, who did not expect us to finish the whole re-route section when they proposed the trail project.

Working 6 hour days with Pulaskis (a combination axe and hoe), shovels, and McClouds (a type of rake and hoe) is arduous labor, especially when you are doing it at 8000 feet altitude, so we took occasional rest breaks. The ages of our volunteer crew ranged from 33 to 63, but 8 of the 10 were over 52 years of age. But the work ethic of this amazing group of people was such that age was not an inhibiting factor, but rather provided incentive to working harder, longer, and more conscientiously. And when we finished, the pride in having accomplished so much individually and collectively strengthened the bond between us.

On our afternoon off, we were treated with an 8 mile round trip hike on Lightning Lake Trail up to the lake and overlook area to see Taylor Falls.

We forded the Taylor Fork River on the way up, and 40 minutes later, on our return trip back to camp, one of our earlier fresh boot marks in the muddy shore had a fresh impression of a grizzly claw on top of it. We talked very loudly on the rest of the hike so any nearby grizz would know we were coming and wouldn't be startled!

Here's the entire crew. Back row: Jon (a welder/assembler from Iowa, the youngest on our AHS crew), me, Steve (a retired Forest Service forester), Bill (Forest Service trail crew leader), Jim (a retired Lieutenant Colonel and currently an ROTC instructor in Arkansas), Chuck (retired lawyer/engineer with the United States EPA from Maryland) and Martin (a retired urologist from Arizona).

Front row: Matt (Forest Service crew and student at Montana State University), Deborah (our AHS crew leader and our cook, a director/educator from Iowa), Victoria (an early childhood special education teacher from Iowa), and Sue (a tax preparer, married to Jim, from Arkansas).

(Not pictured due to an accident which required hospital care is Sam, student at the University of Oregon, the third National Forest trail crew member, whose wit, antics, and joy for life entertained us for 4 days and whom we all greatly missed the last few days of our project. Get well quickly and completely, Sam!)

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