Shenandoah National Park, VA, May 18 – 21, 2015 — There isn’t a boy in this country whose dad, at some point, tells him that if he doesn’t study hard in school he might end up digging ditches or bustin’ rocks on a chain gang. Well, in spite of everything, I ended up doing both. What a way to retire.
Crew week is when trail club volunteers work side-by-side with park rangers, or alone to tackle priority projects generally too time consuming or to costly for the park crews by themselves. These days, the National Park Service is woefully underfunded. That funding can’t be made up by raising entry fees, so the maintenance backlog builds and sometimes volunteers can step up to help. That’s us.
The 105-mile-long Shenandoah National Park is divided by thirds into three districts – north, central and south. We were a north district crew, living in the central district, starting work in the southern district. Huh?
The Appalachian Trail (AT) at Black Rock is severely eroded. No mater what kind of treadway is built, it eventually seeps deep in between the talus blocks and disappears forever within the cold dark oblivion.
This summer the Black Rock section of the AT is being rebuilt. Our mission: Shatter basketball size rocks into golf ball size shards over which pea gravel will be poured thereby recreating a smooth trail.
Another crew had worked at the site earlier, mashing up about 25 yards worth of the approximately one-third of a mile needing work. That made us wonder how much we – six sixty-something guys – were going to get done. The thunderstorm in the forecast kept scratching the back of our heads as we contemplated the day ahead.
Let’s work fast, we all agreed and donned our armor (aka PPE or personal protective equipment.)
Ever smacked a rock with an eight pound rock maul? Let’s just say it’s at the same time both easier and harder than you think.
Hit the rock square and the hammer does most of the work and you look like Thor flashing rock shards like lightning bolts. Hit it wrong and and the hammer head bounces back and/or the sting reverberates through your hands, to your shoulders and down to your toes. Ouch! I’d rather stick a finger in a light socket.
After about six hours of wailing, sweating and grunting, we got ‘er done! All of it!!! The karma was strong. The first rain drop smacked the windshield just as we turned northward on Skyline Drive. Nice.
Our daily routine is to make breakfast at the Pinnacles research building where we stay, take our lunch and eat out in the evening. We ususally go to the nearby town of Luray (pronounced Loo-ray). This bear greeted us just past the Thornton Gap entrance station as we returned from dinner. Can’t think of a better way to end a day.
The next couple of days found us working with the rangers to rehab the Overall Run trail. This trail connects to the Tuscarora trail which eventually rereconnects with the AT in Pennsylvania.
We broke into two groups and attacked. If it needed repair, replacement or a new erosion control structure was needed, we had the muscle to fix it.
A spring had been turning this chunk of trail into a gross mud hole which would eventually drive hikers to expand the trail, leading to erosion. We decided to dig and line a culvert, add a lateral drain and a divert any serious flow off the trail with a waterbar. We’d build up the trail in between, thus creating a turnpike.