Monday, August 3, 2015

2002 AHS Volunteer Trail Project for Kentucky's Pine Mountain Trail

In 2001, I worked with an American Hiking Society volunteer crew in Kentucky on their state trail, The Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail. Currently, 42 miles of trail are finished and available for hiking and when complete will run from Breaks Interstate Park to Cumberland Gap Historic Park. Pine Mountain represents one of the last contiguous stretches of un-fragmented forest in Kentucky. Only six roads break its 110 miles! You can see its beauty for yourself in the photo below.

A Pictorial on How We Build A New Trail

The first job in creating a trail is planning the route, which is done prior to our arrival. Brightly colored flags are attached to trees to mark the approximate trail corridor, and then flags attached to wire stakes are used to specifically mark the uphill side of the new trail tread. A few workers are sent ahead to "swamp out" the corridor, which means to clear the way by removing fallen limbs, bushes, and trees. As you see in the photo below, dead tree trunks, limbs, bushes, boulders, and even trees can be located in what will be the trail corridor and must be removed before digging the tread. In fact, the corridor is not even discernible yet except for occasional orange flags such as is seen in the foreground.

Here I am cutting an eight inch diameter dead tree which has its tree top interlaced with the tops of two adjacent trees. After I cut through the trunk, the tree was swinging like a pendulum, still caught up top by the other trees. I wrestled with the trunk, pulling it every which way to free it. Moments after this photo was taken, I was on the ground, sideswiped by this tree trunk as it finally swung loose from the other trees and crashed down to the ground, and thirty minutes later I had driven myself to the local emergency room for 14 stitches above and alongside my eye. I then returned to the site and continued working. Fortunately, it's the only time I've suffered an injury on a trail project.

In the next photo, the cleared corridor has been swamped out and the trail's future path is now obvious, allowing new trail tread to be cut. Duanne (who is on the board of directors of the PMTC) can be seen swamping out the next section. Working on an incline up to 45 degrees requires careful foot placement and weight distribution while clearing and cutting trail.

Next, Chuck H. and Donna use fire rakes to remove leaves, expose the soil, and begin to further define the trail tread preparatory to cutting new tread.

Chopping and sawing this monster tree trunk took quite a while, and moving the pieces off the trail required a number of us pushing and pulling.


Next is trail tread construction. Using the Pulaski tool to cut new tread is a strenuous chore, especially on a steep side hill which requires a deep cut on the uphill side, sometimes a foot or more in depth. In the photo below, you see the deep cuts I had to make in the hillside to reach the desired trail tread level. You can also notice several of the orange flags on the right just beyond me.

Of course, the deeper you have to dig, the more rocks and roots you encounter, all of which then have to be removed. Here you see Jack, Dave, Amy, Chuck H., and in the far background, Noah.

After tread is cut, the trail is still not finished! Jim demonstrates how a final raking is required to smooth and level the tread. Then all the removed soil and vegetation must be taken far off the trail on the downhill side so hikers don't mistakenly walk on the loose material and fall off the side. This also allows water to run off the trail and serves to "dress up" the trail. Diane then uses loppers to cut all exposed roots in the tread to prevent flora from again taking over the trail.

Here's a section of newly finished trail! Fallen tree trunks are sometimes left to discourage the illegal use of the trail by ATVs, as seen in the next photo. Though the trunks will not be a huge impediment to hikers or animals, it will deter motorized vehicles. In the distance to the left of the trail, you can still see an orange flag that hasn't been removed yet. At least it shows the trail is in the correct place here!

The crew (from front, left to right)
Noah, Diane, Jack, Duanne (on the PMTC board of directors), Dave, Chuck M., Shad (the president of PMTC), Jim, Amy, Ryan, Chuck H., and Donna.

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