Saturday, August 1, 2015

2001 AHS Volunteer Trail Project in Michigan's Hiawatha National Forest

This American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation was in the Upper Peninsula's Hiawatha National Forest. The Colwell Lake Trail is a handicap-accessible (ADA) trail which runs for 2.2 miles around the 145 acre Colwell Lake in the Rapid River Ranger District of Michigan's Hiawatha National Forest located in the gorgeous Upper Peninsula. An added bonus was that it was Fall season and colors were at their peak as seen in the photo below.  What a marvelous work setting for us!  And the 35 site campground was closed for the season, so we had the whole place to ourselves.

The American Disabilities Act requires rest stops every two-tenths of a mile, each with a bench and a level gravel pad at least 5 feet by 9 feet and as an added benefit, we wanted marvelous views of the lake by each bench. The trail itself is compacted crushed limestone at least 5 feet wide.  The trail building project had been in progress for three summers and they were ready o install the rest areas.

The actual trail tread construction was being completed by a prison crew from a nearby state correctional institutional, and we were not allowed to photograph their faces. A side note: Each day we volunteers sat and ate the peanut butter or deli meat sandwiches we had made back at the campground that morning. At the same time, the prisoners were served hot lunches and cold drinks by a food truck sent from the prison!

On the first day, our leader, Ranger Randy, asked for a volunteer. No one raised their hand, so I did, and he said, "Okay, come over here so I can teach you how to drive our Forest Service's 6X6 All Terrain Vehicle (seen below.)  What a blast that was, roaring around to the three gravel piles and then delivering the load over berms and ditches to the work site!

Of course, before I could deliver a load, I had to hand shovel 1/3 of a cubic yard of gravel into the bed of the vehicle, which grew to be a real job as the week wore on.

First, forms for the front and back of the gravel pad had to be put in place and leveled and then we dumped the gravel into place (Jack, Jeff, Ole, and Pat shown in the photo below.)

Next, the gravel was spread, hand tamped, screened off, and tamped more until it was solid and level. Then the forms were removed, the pad was transitioned to be level with the trail, and the sides and back rounded and tamped. In this photo below, Jeff and Pat are screening, Ole is tamping, Mert is adding more gravel, and Jack is leaning on the rake after spreading the gravel.

After a pad is constructed, holes are dug at least 42" deep for the bench, which is placed in the holes so the seat is 19" above the pad. The bench is then leveled and plumbed and the holes filled and tamped. The benches had an arm rest on only one side to allow wheelchair occupants to easily slide from chair to bench. Here Pat and Ole hold the bench while Jeff digs the far hole a bit deeper as Jack mans the tape measure.

Here's an example of a finished, wheelchair accessible, ADA approved pad with rest bench. The final touch on each of the 10 benches was to add some leaves and pine needles to make the rest area look like it had been there for quite some time.

After completing the 10 pads and benches, we built cribbing (retaining walls) in several sections where gravel would not stay in place due to the steep terrain. First stakes were sunk and wood was bolted to them. Dirt then filled in the bottom of the form and fabric was applied to help hold the gravel in place. Here Mert carries the bolt bucket while Jack and Jeff bolt the last piece of wood wall. We were fortunate to have a gas powered generator (seen on the trail in the background) and the use of a power saw, drill, and socket wrench. One advantage to not being in a designated wilderness area was the availability of power tools and machinery. The ranger even had use of a front end loader and a tracked dump vehicle for the trail construction crew. After finishing the cribbing, I then backed the ATV to the site and dumped numerous loads of gravel.

Here is our dedicated and hardworking volunteer trail crew: (top) Jeff from Wisconsin, Mert from Ohio, Ole from Minnesota, Ranger Randy who directed the project; (bottom) Chuck from Illinois, Pat from Wisconsin, and Jack from Minnesota. We are sitting on/standing behind the final bench we had set into place.

And below is a photo of the completed trail, complete with colorful fallen leaves!

Oh, yeah.  Ranger Randy, after asking for a volunteer which resulted in my driving the ATV, then asked again, "Is there another volunteer?" Again no one responded, so I raised my hand again. This time he handed me an early version of a digital camera, taught me how to use it, and asked me to chronicle our week's work for him, which I did (and some of the photos above are from that camera.) I had been a film guy for four decades and was hesitant to buy a digital camera, but within a few months of the end of this project, I got a digital camera and haven't regretted it since!

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