Appalachian Trail Maryland, April 2017 — It’s April on the AT and spring is when it all starts to happen around here. First up is ridgerunner kick-off. Our long-season ridgerunner/Annapolis Rock caretaker in Maryland starts on April 1. I often wonder whether or not any of them figure out how auspicious that day is by the October 31 end of their very long term. I’ve just never seen one sign up for a second long-season tour, so I suspect they pick up on the hidden meaning.
Last year you may recall Kyle MacKay was our lucky pick to spend seven months in the woods. I mean, that’s longer than the average 2,200-mile thru hike. Blog post about Kyle’s first day.
This year the duty falls on Gene Anderson. Gene is a genial former thru hiker from Carolina who spent his career in the insurance adjusting industry. Now that’s seems like excellent preparation for educating hikers who need to repair their behavior. Everyone of us has scratches and dents that need attention.
I met Gene early on April 1 at the U.S. 40 AT trail head, just up the hill from Green Briar State Park. We went to meet the Maryland Park Service rangers he’d be working with and to collect his radio and other equipment. After that, we moved his gear into the small apartment he’ll share with Kyle who’ll be on the clock for the short season from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
It took two trips to schlep all the gear up to the caretaker’s site. Since I paid attention to how the tent was pitched last year, the dome was up and secure in short order.
Since the week-long formal ridgerunner training doesn’t start until May, the early bird gets OJT. This year I spent four days with Gene rather than the two I spent with Kyle last season. As luck would have it, we saw just about one of everything there is to see minus a major medical event.
I set my tent up behind the caretakers tent in close proximity to very recent bear activity. Bears shred logs in very specific patterns.
The claw marks leave no doubt.
I walked Gene around Annapolis Rock checking each campsite. I showed him how to “knock down” the privy “cone.” and where to find the wood chips users need to add as bulking material to aid the composting process.
The state felled 80 hazard trees over the winter making the area appear to be a no man’s land. Two years ago a rotten tree fell and killed a hiker at another shelter in Maryland. The response was to drop every possible tree than might come down in a high wind or in icy conditions. The result: Ugly, but safe. As the trees decompose, the bears and birds are gonna love it.
No fires are permitted at Annapolis Rock. Alcohol isn’t allowed either. Period. Signs are everywhere. Yet … people think the rules are for others. We destroyed three fire rings like this one that had been created over the winter. Later, we hit the mother lode when we caught five college students on spring break from Ohio with a fire. Yes!!! “Out damn fire! Out!!!” We let them keep their beer if they didn’t drink it. Wink, wink. Believe it or not, they were up and out by dawn. My guess was that they would have been in a stupor at that hour.
Part of the orientation is a tour of the rock. I showed Gene how to get to the bottom of the cliff and a quick and safe way back up.
The second night, two scout troop leaders stopped by the caretaker tent to ask if their troop could build a fire. We explained the rules and why they exist. Fires can be built at Pogo campground, 30 minutes north or at Pine Knob shelter, 30 minutes south, just not at the rock due to environmental sensitivity. “Well,” they said. “There’s a roaring fire just off the AT 150 yards north of the AT-Annapolis Rock trail junction.” Since neither fires nor camping is permitted in Maryland except in designated areas, we decided to check it out.
I grabbed my headlamp. It was black dark. Sure enough we easily found a roaring fire about 25 yards off the trail. There they were, three 50 somethings from Baltimore standing around an out of control fire in a high wind. We asked them to put it out and explained where they could go if they wanted a fire.
The surprise was their age. Usually the perps are between 20 and 40, young and immature men. These were 50 + immature men….
The next morning we went back to check the area. We found a set of tent poles and no sign of camping, so it appeared to us that they abandoned the site in the night and hiked to a place to where they could build a fire. Unfortunately the fire was still hot. Moreover, it had been built on duff (the dead leaf layer) rather than bare ground. Luckily the area was saturated by recent rain. Otherwise … how do you spell forest fire?
We hiked five gallons of water from the Annapolis Rock spring to douse the fire – and put it out, cold. Then we covered and camouflaged it to help prevent a permanent “stealth” campsite from forming.
We found a small blowdown which Gene cleared.
Gene also is a ridgerunner who patrols the trail in Maryland in addition to his duties as Annapolis Rock caretaker. So off we went to inspect other sites.
I love the stone chairs around one of the fire pits at the Pogo campsite.
At Pine Knob I showed Gene how to inspect the area and where to find the trash. Women could not walk 50 feet to the privy. Not sure why this happens, but it happens everywhere.
Enough of the dark side.
One of the best part of being a PATC ridgerunner is leading hikes for the Road Scholar program. Road Scholar We play a role in their hike on the AT in four states offering.
People do the weird things.