Reviving the Silver Creek Nature Trail

Littledale entrance.

Labor Day, Kensington, Maryland, September 7, 2020 — There’s a semi-secret nature trail in the neighborhood if you know where to look for it. Judging by the traffic it is less secret than it is secluded. Regardless, the trail that runs parallel to Silver Creek from Littledale to Saul is a gem.

The trail is known as a social trail meaning people created it by habitual use. It was not planned and officially does not exist so no known entity is responsible for its upkeep.

Lately it has needed some love. This large pine fell several years ago and users rerouted the trail to the first passable place. Kids love it, but it’s a literally a pain for adults with stiff backs.

Lately two more trees have roadblocked tread. Called blowdowns in trail maintence lingo, they are large enough to require a chainsaw for removal.

Beyond blowdowns the trail has become overgrown. Here Japanese stilth grass, an invasive, has taken over.

All along the trail briars and other sticker bushes have intruded. This is particularly painful for folks wearing shorts but for little ones, some of these prickly stickerberry vines are at face level making them potentially dangerous to a child.

This matters because vegetation on hiking trails is tick vector. The disease-bearing vampires crawl up onto vegetation. From this ambush position their intent is hitching a ride and and sucking dry the next convenient mammal.

The best way to limit exposure to Lyme and other tick borne diseases under these circumstances is to cut back the weeds and shrubs along the trail.

That’s why Friday, after communicating with homeowners association leadership, I asked for volunteers on the Rock Creek Hills listserv. I figured, judging by the volume of free stuff available at curbside, that a lot of people were staycationing and that some of them might be looking for a break at a safe social distance.

At 9 a.m. this morning our crew totaled 10 intrepid volunteers armed with an assortment of loppers, clippers, a weed wacker, a McLoed fire hoe, and a chainsaw.

We broke into groups and tackled the offending plants from both ends and the middle. After two-and-a-half hours the results speak for themselves.

No prisoners taken here.

In progress.

Hard work.

Vegetation free super highway.

Before.

After.

Before.

After.

Before. The original trail is to the right, the new trail to the duck-under is to the left.

In progress. Folks are clearing away the vegetation and the blowdown.

After. Original route restored.

We left this for the kids.

Saul entrance facing south, before.

Same place after.

Saul entrance facing north before.

Saul entrance after.

Thanks to Hill Carter, Maria Dinger, Chris Hankin, Meg Hankin, Mike Silverman, Jim Brandscom, Mike Mazzella, Osborne Parchment, and Elizabeth Kingery. You rock!

Would it have been more fun if we could have grilled some burgers and sloshed some beer afterwards? You bet, but these days you take what you can get.

Sisu

Emptying the Gravel Spring Privy

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The corrugated bin cover (extreme right) is off.  Steve and John plot the attack.

Shenandoah National Park, Gravel Spring Hut, August 17, 2020 — One would not consider August an ideal month to be emptying the compost bin of a backcountry privy but PATC’s faithful Crapper Crew reported for duty anyway armed with buckets, shovels and digging bars.

Most privies in our region are a simple design consisting of two bins and an outhouse that can be moved from one bin to another. One side is active while the other is composting which normally takes about two years. Users are asked to cover their business with wood shavings from a bucket to allow air to enhance the process. Urine adds needed moisture.

Extra wood shavings and cleaning supplies are stored in the long silver box in the upper right of the lead photo. It’s not a coffin for any dead bodies we might find.

Normally the heat and humidity of a mid-Hotlantic summer is unbearable. Add close proximity to the active side of the privy and the word ripe could be an understatement. Let’s just say that we got lucky. Starting temps were in the mid 60s tickled by a gentle breeze. We took it.

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The ramp had to be removed before we could start.

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You need a team to do this.  First up is the digger who scoops out the compost and puts it in one of several five gallon buckets.  Second is the picker who hand picks and trash-bags the stuff that’s not supposed to be in the privy.  Last is the bucket brigade whose members spread the compost on the forest floor.  All told, we totaled five.

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You find a lot of detritus in the compost.  There is usually at least one pair of underwear.  Wipes, which don’t decompose, in spite of what the packaging says,  are the most common item followed by the likes of food packaging, bottles, feminine hygiene products, and clothing.  Once we found a potty trowel used by hikers to dig cat holes.

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This trip hikers gifted us two bags of trash.  That’s about normal.

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The digger gets in the bin so they can reach the gold at the bottom.

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Once the composting bin is empty, the crew slides the outhouse over the empty bin and bolts it back on. 

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The bin cover is placed over the newly inactive side and the ramp is reattached.

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Long deck screws finish the job.

Ok.  I know.  I didn’t answer the question you’ve been thinking about the whole time.  No, the compost does not smell. 

Sisu

Clearing the Blowdown Backlog

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Shenandoah National Park, August 5, 2020 — The purpose of this blog is to offer a peek behind the curtain so you can see what it takes to keep the hiking trails open and well-maintained.

There are hundreds of volunteers who do this work.  We are organized by park district, south, central and north.  Swift Run and Thornton Gap mark the boundaries.

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A young friend who volunteered with the Hoodlums for a year before being transferred to California said that she’d been hiking and backpacking all of her life and had no idea how much effort went into maintaining backcountry trails.  She loved volunteering.

And now a word from our sponsor:

PATC always needs volunteers.  No experience or tools necessary.  We maintain nearly 500 miles of trail within the park and another 1,000 outside of it, including 240 miles of the Appalachian Trail, trails within the national battlefield parks, C&O Canal, Prince William Park, and many more. Join us at http://www.patc.net

The pandemic protocols – mask, avoid as many people as possible, groups of  no more than four, sanitize – don’t impose much hardship.  After encountering hoards of people on the weekends, we decided to do group work only during the week. That pretty much limits crew members to retired folks with sore muscles.

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Yesterday we cleared 11 blowdowns on Pass Mountain.  Several hikers reported this one on Facebook.  This is a “leaner” in sawyer speak.  Leaners can be dangerous to clear and we only clear them if it can be done safely and they are blocking the trail.  Otherwise park and PATC policy is to let Mother Nature take care of business.

In this case, the giant tree is not blocking the trail.  Moreover, it’s larger than all but one of our saws.  If it were on the ground, it would be a hellova project. As it is, it’s beyond our capability in a wilderness area where only muscle powered tools can be used.

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Judging from this angle, it’s going to be up there for a long time.  Anna Larsen Porter’s granddaughter may be a maintainer by the time it comes crashing down.

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You could tell it was going to be a special day for August when we spotted a car at the Pass Mountain hwy 211 trailhead.  The sun was gentle with a cool breeze.  A perfect day to be roaming the park.

The plan was to drive up the Pass Mountain fire road and park at the hut/shelter and then work our way downhill to hwy 211.

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First we would use a chainsaw to clear the AT near the hut trail.  That area is not wilderness.  Note that this leaner is much different from the previous one. The bind is on top, so you saw it from the bottom to keep the bar from being pinched.

We then locked the saw in the car so we would not be tempted to use it in the wilderness area we were about to enter.

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This one had also been reported on Facebook.

It was cloaked in grapevines and brush which had to be cleared before we could get after the trunk.

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The trunk required two cuts.

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Sometimes it’s easier on the back just to sit.

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Two down and as far as we knew, one to go.  Instead we found nine more.

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Easy one.  Bottom bind.

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Quick work.

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Hwy 211 parking.  That was a clean mask when we started.  Dave looks like Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.”

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Decided to make a Subaru commercial on the way down the fire road.

The Pass Mountain trail was very weedy.  Being in a wilderness, it must be weeded with swing blades vs. the string trimmers we can use elsewhere.  We understand an AmeriCorps crew will give that trail a haircut this Friday.

Speaking of haircuts, I could not stand it and gave in.  Pandemic beard and hair excuse expired.

Sisu

 

 

 

The Pandemic Changes the Rules

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Stopping to add new string.

The Appalachian and Nearby Trails, July 12, 2020 — The Appalachian Trail is finally open to hikers for all 2,200 miles.  Maintainers everywhere are allowed to work.  Previously we were only working in Shenandoah.  Most things are the new normal including for the foreseeable future, shelters on federal land will be closed to hikers.

The problem remains that far too many hikers are not following commonsense on the trail.  A generous guess would be that 10 percent of them are masking when other people approach, even when six feet of separation cannot be maintained.  Worse, they are sleeping in shelters which can be very crowded as hikers sleep shoulder to shoulder surrounded by three walls and a roof.  Some insist that you can’t catch the COVID-19 virus outside.

The maintenance game has changed too.  My crew has limited work party size to four or fewer.  We do not work on weekends because then the trails then are too crowded.  Working weekdays only essentially eliminates those not retired.  Smaller work parties make big jobs more difficult.

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First blowdown I chainsawed this year with my new replacement PPE.

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All gone.

Meanwhile individual work goes on.  I’ve made two trips to my AT section in the past three weeks.

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Believe it or not this was once a waterbar.  It rotted out completely.  No sign of help from the resident bear.  It happens to be in a steep place where a drain is needed.

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Using a pick mattock and a McLoed fire hoe, the replacement was built 12 inches deep in about 20 minutes.  For scale, the McLoed is 9 inches from the blade to the tip of the tine.

McLoed fire hoes are the Swiss Army knives of trail work.  They rake, hoe, pick and compact earth.  Click for more on the McLoed.

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In between trips our Gang of Four hiking group came over for a socially distanced gathering featuring Margaritas.  Too hot for a fire.

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This is as far as the COVID beard got.  It was too hot for summertime trail work.  Worse, my respirator masks would not seal.  B99EBF2E-3CD7-4E3E-8809-1B09FC1BCCDB

My aspirations to audition as Santa Claus expired.  A haircut is next.

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Weeding is my least favorite responsibility, but it is critically important to remove the vector ticks use to spread Lyme disease.

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Did I mention that it was HOT.  I’m soaked through to the skin.  Note sweat-soaked mask and the poison ivy pesto all over my neck.  We use a product called Ivy X to precoat our skin and a special wipe to clean up exposed skin when we’re done.  Click for more info.

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Meanwhile, the trees keep falling.  We’ll go after this one next week.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A special crosscut returns to service.

EE5115FA-5804-4E6E-A8B1-75809FB250D8_1_201_aShenandoah National Park, Sunday, May 31 – Jim Grant was my grandfather.  He’s been gone for 42 years, but he lived again today.  No, Mr. Grant wasn’t reincarnated in the flesh.  His memory reawakened in the form of a newly restored four-foot crosscut saw he once owned.

It was there to tackle a huge blowdown on the Little Devils Stairs trail.  The objective was a long dead, 26-inch, double trunk tulip poplar.  Venus Foshay, my fellow Hoodlum trail crew member is responsible for that trail and she requested reinforcements.  Sam Keener and I answered her call.

Following our safety discussion, my grandpa’s precious saw bounced lightly on my shoulder as we headed down the Keyser Run fire road to the intersection with Little Devels Stairs.  Along the way, I thought deeply about what my grandfather meant to me.

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Me with my grandpa.

I imagined my grandfather hoisting that very same blade to his slender right shoulder.

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It would have rested on his black-and-red-checked Filson Mackinaw coat, steadied by is work-gnarled hands swaddled in his trademark deerskin mittens with the green woolen liners that I still have.

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The blowdown was a monster.

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The smaller trunk was broken off and offered an easy bottom bind cut.

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Sam won the trophy photo.

The larger trunk presented tricky top bind for a crosscut saw.  It would require two cuts.  Normally you can make reverse keystone cuts and roll the billet out of the middle.  In this case the proximity and angle of the root ball would force the billet to bind.  We knew we were in for an “Oh joy!” day.

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After amputating the smaller trunk, we applied muscle to the larger one.  To maintain safe social distance we used the saw in single sawyer mode and rotated as our arms tired.

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I have at least 10 wedges in my car.  I only brought three because the tree was site unseen.  We had to be creative to keep the kerf open.

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We sawed from both sides to keep the cut level.

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The “easy” part was over.  This is where the real battle began.  We thought we could lever out the billet with a log.  WRONG!

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While Venus hiked and drove back to the Piney River tool cache to get a couple of rock bars, Sam and I hiked to the bottom of the trail to clear a second blowdown.

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Social distancing was a problem all day.

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Little Devils Stairs is one of Shenandoah’s picture book hikes featuring several waterfalls, many creek crossing and lots of rugged scrambling.  She’s on the trail, by the way.  With this many rocks, I’m befuddled why the AT wasn’t routed through this canyon.

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Rock bars are all about brute force and ignorance.  It’s all muscle.

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Almost there.

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Success!

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Sam’s look says it all.  Thank heaven she’s a power lifter.

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Victory.  All that for this.

_____________________

Here’s the backstory.

I thought all of my grandfather’s tools and gear were lost to history.  Family legend was that my mother sold everything when she moved her elderly parents from International Falls, Minn. to her home in Greeley, Colo.

Last October.  Location:  My brother’s garage in Loveland, Colo.

Me.  “Wow!  A crosscut saw.  Where’d you get that?”

Brother.  “That was grandpa’s saw.”

Me.  “I thought mom sold all of his stuff when she moved grandma and grandpa out here.”

Brother.  “Not this.”

Me.  “What do you plan to do with it?”

Brother.  “I was going to hang it on the wall.”

Me.  “No way.  I could use it.  I have a friend who restores old crosscut saws.  I’ll ask him to fix this up and I’ll put it to work clearing trails.  Grandpa would like that.”

Brother.  “Ok.”

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Me.  “I’ll make a box and ship it today.  Where’s the nearest UPS store?”  The truth is that I wanted to get it out of there before he could change his mind.

The story added a new chapter today.  But, where did it begin?

_____________________

James Grand circa 1920

International Falls, MN circa 1920.

Who was Jim Grant?

James Earl Grant was my namesake.  Growing up, he was “Big Jim” and I was “Little Jim.”

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Favorite fishing rock.  My brothers and I have caught a lot of walleye there.

Jim Grant was a lumberjack, teamster and avid fisherman who immigrated from Alberta, Canada to International Falls, Minn. to cut trees for the Minnesota and Ontario paper company, now Boise-Cascade.  We’re not sure when.

Jim Grant and car

Born in 1900, Jim Grant was a good and kind man who had lived his life well. A third-grade education limited his opportunities, but he worked hard and made the most of those that came his way. He lived to be 78 before succumbing to prostate cancer.

In reality Grant was my mother’s stepfather.  He had once asked my grandmother to marry him, but she declined and later said yes to another man, also a Canadian.  Her husband, John Wesley Jordan, died at age 30 of kidney failure in 1930 as the Great Depression sunk its jaws into the Northern Minnesota economy.  In those days there was no safety net.  She was 30 with three children and they struggled.

After arriving in International Falls with his two brothers, Walker and Clarence, Jim Grant cut and skidded pulp wood in Minnesota’s north woods until he was drafted in WWII.  In the war, his age and lack of education led to work as a hospital orderly making beds and emptying bedpans at Camp Carson, Colo.

He loved Colorado and regaled me in childhood with stories of his Rocky Mountain adventures and tall tales of ghost towns like Cripple Creek.  Later on when I was stationed at that very same Army post, the first place I went was Cripple Creek where I imagined his stories playing out among the mining relics.

Fortunately Jim Grant was a patient soul who truly loved my Grandmother.  When he returned from his WWII service, he proposed a second time to my widowed grandmother and she accepted.  He never could have become my hero without that unfortunate chain of events.

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After the war, he purchased the saw I now have.  It is a Simonds Crescent-Ground, One-Man Crosscut Saw model 223.  The aux handle can be moved to the far end allowing for two-person use.

I found the saw in excellent condition, still sharp with very little surface rust.  It wasn’t used enough to completely erase its factory markings which is how we know the model and approximately when it was made in Fitchburg, Mass.

Link to Simonds Saw Catalog

The catalog says that this saw “will stay sharp longer than any one-man saw made.”  It also notes “Large hand hole in handle permits sawing with mittens or gloves in cold weather.”  That would have been practical because most of the timbering was done in winter when the lakes and dirt logging roads were frozen solid.

The light usage suggests he didn’t do much lumberjacking after the war.  We know that he found less strenuous employment on the papermill loading dock where he worked until retirement in 1965.  Thanks to a strong union, he had earned health insurance and a modest pension that he and my grandmother could live on in their own home for the rest of their lives.

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Today Jim Grant’s Simonds model 223 was reborn as a working tool in Shenandoah National Park.  When my time ends it will pass to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club where it will enjoy a long and noble life thanks to, and in memory of James Earl Grant, lumberjack.

Sisu

 

 

 

We’re back at Annapolis Rock!

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, Saturday, May 20, 2020 — We’re back!  Today we set up the caretaker camp – pitched the tent and strung the tarps – at Annapolis Rock.  In a normal year, this is the first ritual of the season. Obviously this year is different.

The long-season Maryland ridgreunner is the first to start on April Fools Day and the last to finish on Halloween.  Aptly chosen dates once one experiences what happens in between, from naivete to the spirits of the dark side.  It’s a long season with all that the full range of human behavior has to offer.

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Putting together this camp is one of my favorite ways to bond with a ridgerunner.  Most years I spend up to four days there working on OJT and otherwise coaching them on how to manage the site.  Stringing ropes and setting up tents isn’t fun wearing a mask.

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We start with the tent, an REI Big House generously donated by the co-op.

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It’s always somewhat of a mystery.  We read and reread the directions for each step.

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We put a sun tarp over the tent and fly so shade it from the UV so it will last a little longer.  We average four years/tent.

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“Ok.  How do I organize all the stuff in this tool box?

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Done.  Tarp strung over the picnic table.  We’re an all weather operation now.

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Some noobs left us a present at the picnic table.  Really.  You can’t put it in your pocket and carry it out?

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Social distancing at the overlook was “iffy” at best.  We’re not in the public health business.  Hiking is an “at risk” activity.  It’s also a pass/fail IQ test.  Have at it.

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I love irony.  The Annapolis Rock trailhead parking on Rt. 40 was recently expanded.  In return, the busy highway’s shoulders became no parking zones.  The Maryland State Trooper in the circle had more than 30 tickets to write.  Yes!

Tomorrow my grandfather’s crosscut saw sees action for the first time since the 1940s.  We’ll be tackling some large blowdowns in Shenandoah National Park with this priceless, to me, artifact that has been passed down by my personal hero.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

 

Shenandoah. At last!

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. May 27, 2020 — The park is open, sort of.  Skyline Drive, the 105-mile-long ribbon of a road that curls along the crest of the Blue Ridge, is open for traffic.

With the exception of a small number of public restrooms, all other facilities are closed including campgrounds.   The trails, except the most popular trails where social distance can’t be maintained, are welcoming footprints.  The huts/shelters remain off limits for use.

This limited opening makes sense.  Reports say the primary means of COVID-19 is respiratory droplets inhaled when people congregate in small spaces.

Imagine up to a dozen people sleeping in an AT shelter with one of them who arrives late in the evening, asymptomatic with corona virus, infecting those sleeping nearby.   The same logic applies to crowded communal picnic tables and for visitor centers.

The good news is this. After nearly three months, volunteers may now return.  For awhile I thought the most useless card in my wallet was my dormant Shenandoah volunteer pass.

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On Saturday the entry stations opened and we were turned on again.  Fearing a Black Friday-like run on the park, most of us opted to pass on the weekend.  I chose Wednesday to return because I was committed Monday and Tuesday, and heavy rains are forecast for Thursday, Friday and early Saturday, a day on which I am unavailable.

Saturday the Maryland ridgerunner and I will be pitching the caretaker tent and stringing the rain tarps at Annapolis Rock.  It is always a more sane exercise in better weather.  This annual ritual is two months late, delayed by the pandemic.

Back to the park.

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Ready to crank on a foggy day.  The aggressive weeding of previous years has retarded the growth of jewel weed which is the bane of string trimmers.  The width of the corridor is needed because certain briars can grow a foot per week and the width buys me time to return before the trail is impeded.

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Eight hours later.

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Just around the corner.  When you’re running a string trimmer, your head is usually down.  You’re wearing a helmet with face shield which further impedes vision.  Then you look up.

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Black birch is easily dispatched with a folding saw.

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The aesthetics were amazing.  Wild azalea blooming.  The laurel will start soon.

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The tall grasses grow quickly.  People often ask why we remove the weeds and make such a racket in the process.  The answer is simple, Lyme Disease.

Animals use the hiking trails to get around just like people do.  The mammals such as deer, bear, coyotes, squirrels, and rabbits pick up ticks which drop when engorged.  Their babies instinctively crawl up on the vegetation to seek a host of their own.

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Remove the vector.  Reduce Lyme disease risk.  Mowing tall grass reminded me of harvesting wheat.  Weeding is arguably the least enjoyable, but probably the most important task trail maintainers do.

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Just over the hill from the last photo.

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Trusty Silky Big Boy 2000 saw to the rescue.  I thought about coming back dragging a chainsaw for this one, but for one, it would be a long carry for two minutes work – literally a long climb for a short slide.

Secondly, we’re going to attack a large blowdown at the bottom of Little Devils Stairs Sunday using a crosscut saw that is special because it once belonged to my grandfather.  Not sure there would be enough time or energy left over when we’re done to climb half way up Compton Peak to make, honestly, thirty seconds worth of noise.

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I always check the campsite above the spring on Compton.  It’s now official.  The park trail crews have been defining its perimeter with logs to help contain the site and limit spreading.

People are inherently predictable.  Anyone who has been a ridgerunner can tell you where you’re going to find the TP.

Speaking of ridgerunners, they were defunded in the park this year because thru hiking was discouraged and park gate receipts were dramatically down.  Tuesday and Wednesday a fellow maintainer and I counted 14 thru hikers.  The noobs are making a mess.  Help!

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There’s a reason I always carry potty trowel.  All told I buried two deposits this trip.  As previously reported, there are more noobs in the woods now and it shows.

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Long day.  Sweaty and tired.  The COVID beard is coming along.  String trimmers turn the weeds, which include poison ivy, into pesto.  I’m coated with it.  Time to get a shower.

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Spring in the park is awesome!  Did I say I love this job?

Sisu

 

 

 

Sheltering at home.

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Good ole Zoom.

Sheltering at Home, May 9, 2020 – We are under a freeze watch from the National Weather Service.  Believe it or not, I’d rather be sleeping in my tent.  Why not?  There’s no baseball to watch, no WNBA, and the news is not optimistic from a pandemic perspective.  Better to be backpacking somewhere far away from it all.

Mostly sheltering at home is just that, staying home.  Going to the grocery and drug stores are about all there is in an age of gas mileage measured in weeks per gallon. The exception is when I can spend a day with the ridgerunner.  Otherwise committee work, staying fit, and the honey do list fight for attention.  Some days you drag your feet in fear of running out of things to do.

The trails will open as soon as we can figure out how to help hikers and maintainers stay safe.  That is the mission of the Adaptive Recovery Task Force.  We won’t be back tomorrow, but it won’t be forever either.

The three ridgerunners we planned to hire this year were going to be my salvation.  They could keep me busy and on the trail.

Unfortunately Shenandoah National Park is $millions short on its gate receipts and the ridgerunner and other seasonal employees have become casualties in the war to make up for the shortfall.  The park will eventually open, but without a full complement of seasonal workers.

We also did not receive the full grant we’d hoped would fund the ridgerunner in Northern Virginia.   Sadly, Witt will not grace our ranks this season.  That leaves Wes as the sole survivor.  He’ll be patrolling Maryland through October.

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Trail Patrol Executive Committee Meeting.

Sometimes Zoom is fun.

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Sam and I have started virtual training sessions.  This is my view.

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This is Sam’s view of the gym I made in the corner in the basement where I store my camping gear.  She can coach my form and push me on workouts.  Most importantly, she gets paid.

I decided to move my office out of a spare bedroom that doubles as a sewing room.

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At this point, disassembly was well underway.  The desk and bookshelves look better than they really are.  This installation was really designed for a school kid.  Too narrow and not nearly enough room for an adult to spread out.

Assembling the new desk and attaching it to the wall wasn’t difficult.

 

E5A8F219-E42A-4C04-B0B8-460DE209839BThe Ikea drawer set appeared to be something else.

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Thank you Ikea.

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Coffee and Girl Scout cookies are stress reducers.  I was planning to eat the full sleeve.  After all, that’s a single serving.

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Turns out it wasn’t a big deal.  A half of a cookie sleeve was left over for the next project.  The ring light is for Zoom calls.

Meanwhile I’m looking for another reason to hike with our ridgerunner.

Sisu

 

 

Earth Day Hike

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The Maryland ridgerunner’s Earth Day view of Greenbriar Lake.

Appalachian Trail Maryland, April 22, 2020 — “Love your Mother!” captained one of the earlier Earth Day Posters I can remember.  The admonition still applies, though one could easily argue we haven’t been doing such a good job of it.  If nothing else, the recent smog-free views taken of and in cities around the world offer evidence that we can do a better job of taking care of planet earth.

Love your mother

On the first Earth Day in 1970 I was an Army lieutenant stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.  I was way too busy to take much notice.

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I figured that the Hippies of that era existed to protest.  At the time, anti-Vietnam war protests were beginning to wain.  I reasoned that they needed a new subject and the environment was it.

I obviously wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking sophisticated thoughts then.  I was simply trying to do my best at the hardest job I’d ever had.

Earth Day was on my mind when I picked today for my weekly sojourn with Wes.  The pandemic we are experiencing has been tied to climate change and to other things Earth Day exists to bring to our attention.

I like to walk with Wes about once per week.  We’re not camping this year, so I haven’t had as much OJT time as usual.  Given the mandate to shelter at home, Earth Day seemed appropriate.

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We wore cloth masks while hiking.

We met a little before 10 a.m. at our destination, donned our N-95 masks, and shuttled to the start point at the Thurston Griggs trailhead.  This easy side trail connects to the AT at the Pogo campsite.

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Black birch blocking the trail.  “This is why we give you a saw.”

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Oh oh!  This one’s a little bigger.

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I have a sixteen inch folding saw, so we decided to take off the upper branch.  That would make this blowdown easier to step over.  The trunk obviously requires a chainsaw.

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We took turns.  Physical labor with a mask on isn’t fun.  Can’t wait for July – not!

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Now to dispose of the log.

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Finished job.

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A group of sorority sisters not practicing safe social distance at Black Rock.  Sometimes people think the rules of reality are suspended when they are out in nature.

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In the woods violets are flowers.  In your yard, they are weeds.  I like them as flowers.

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We counted 62 day hikers including three climbers.

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Common!

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This is under a no fire sign.  People do thoughtless things.  Fires sterilize the soil so it’s years before vegetation returns.  The fire scar is ugly.  One of the ridgerunners removed the soot from the rock with Elephant Snot a couple of years ago.  It appears no fires since.  That’s good news.

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Checked the caretaker site and hoovered some micro trash from under the picnic table.

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We were happy to clean up our mother’s backyard.  Couldn’t think of a better thing to do on this auspicious 50th Earth Day.

Sisu

 

If you can’t hike…

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Ash on the left.  Silver Maple on the right.

Kensington, Maryland, Winter, 2020 — The theme of these essays is hiking, backpacking, camping adventures, and a behind the scenes peek at the volunteers and activities that make it all possible.

What to write?  Planning is underway for the time when hikers might return to the trail. It’s dry, dull, iterative, and not very visual unless you relish Zoom call screen shots.  Moreover, it’s pointless to reveal what’s on order until we have a menu.  Why?  Because the truth is going to change six times between now and then.

Sometimes what happens in the wild forests also occurs in the so called urban forest.  Let’s talk about that and see what happens.

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The backyard was landscaped in 1978.  The ash (in front) was planted then.  The silver maple (background) is a sucker that grew from an earlier silver maple, probably planted in the 1950s.

Virtues?  Ash trees are frequently planted as shade trees.  Their wood is prized for baseball bats.  Trail maintainers like them for their rot resistance when used for waterbars and other structures on the trail.

Silver maples are not valued as much.  They are fast-growing junk trees with brittle wood and shallow roots.  They will give you quick shade, but they are subject to snow, ice and wind damage.

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Unfortunately, the ash is about to join the chestnut, elm, and hemlock on the endangered list.

The culprit is the emerald ash borer, an Asian import that is destroying ash trees throughout north America.  Our county has removed all ash trees on public property in hopes of slowing the borer’s progress.

The ash on the right was treated with systemic insecticide for the past two years.  It succumbed in September when its leaves all turned brown and curled up on the branches without falling.

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There was some blonding higher up on the trunk which was another hint.

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The choice was to wait for the ash to eventually fall down and risk crushing the deck, or launch a preemptive strike to speed up nature’s process.

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A tree service did the work if for no other reason than they could haul the slash away and grind the stumps.

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What to do with the space?  The 40+ year-old timbers are rotting.  The space is too ugly to leave be.

Here’s where the hiking and camping experience come in.  Everybody likes a campfire.  Me too.  Let the work begin.

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I was stunned by the number of roots they had to dig out.  Glad I didn’t try to do this as a DYI project.  I will admit that I thought about it.

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Taking shape.  Note the logs stacked in the background.  They are the best parts of the ash and maple.  In a year they will be seasoned firewood, ready for splitting.

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The stone veneer is not “lick and stick.”

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Finished product.  The dry creeks fix a long standing water runoff problem.  With all the trees around, there’s plenty of dead fall to be burned including larger limbs.

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Can’t wait until people can come over.  Gang of Four, you’re first.

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I’m staying in practice.  One of the dogwoods in front also died.  Yesterday I felled it and built a sawbuck that will be needed to buck the ash and maple next year.

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Since I had my PPE on, I could not resist the chance to convert some gasoline into noise.  Insider tip:  The big chips composing the saw dust indicate the chain is sharp.

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Plants go in after the last frost date.  Can’t wait for the first fire.  The yard seems a lot larger too.

Have chainsaw.  Will travel.

Sisu