Annual Trail Maintainers Workshop


Some tools of the trade.

Shenandoah National Park, October 18 – 20, 2019 — If you want to learn how to dig holes in the dirt, who ya gonna call?  The Hoodlums, that’s who.

Each September the North District Hoodlums trail crew hosts a workshop for trail maintainers, beginners through experts.  Last weekend we did it again. For me it was number seven.


The canopy is for the kitchen where Dave Nebut’s brothers prepare our scrumptious meals.

The format is simple.  The content gets adjusted periodically.  It goes like this.  The official start time is 0900 Saturday morning.  The safety talk is followed by work party assignments commensurate with each person’s experience level.

On Saturday we generally work until around four o’clock when we return to clean up.  Dinner is a six followed by a campfire.

Sunday is a repeat with coffee and breakfast at 7 a.m.  We close at noon for lunch and cleanup.

A few of us usually arrive early on Friday to help with set up, gathering of tools, hauling firewood, and the like.  The early birds also get the most level tent sites!

A full campground on a clear Friday night doesn’t always go the way you plan.  Some group partied until 3:30 a.m.  I was shocked the campground host didn’t intervene.  Moreover, the city slicker dogs just had to announce each bear that wondered through in hopes some ignorant knucklehead left out food.  Between bears and loud drunken laughter, nobody got much sleep.


Saturday dawned like the shiny jewel of a day it was.  The park trail crew arrived to work with the advanced group.


Phone addicts everywhere.  Mine gets NO Service in this spot, a blessing.


Dave and I led some fine folks on an encore trip near the junction of the Thompson Hollow and Tuscarora Trails to finish the work we abandoned last month when one of our work party members suffered from heat exhaustion.  The day was warm, but not that warm.  It’s officially designated wilderness, so traditional tools only may be used.


In total we removed seven blowdowns.


Some of the blowdowns were high while others were low.


Using a hatchet to chop away the rot.  On a log spanning a gap, gravity draws the wood downward causing compression (bind) at the top.  Once the cut gets deep enough, the resulting bind will slowly make it harder to saw.


We use wedges to hold open the “kerf” so the sawing can continue.

We also built some drainage dips where waterbars were needed to prevent erosion.

The dirt was proof of a hard day’s work, so let’s get the party started.

Good news.  Just as darkness blanketed the park, our odds changed.  We learned that 30 percent chance of rain sometimes means you get wet.  Why good news?  The rain doused the campfires and the partying.  Silence reigned even as dark rain poured from the inky sky.  Everyone got a good night’s sleep.  Amen!


Sunday was another beauty contest winner made extra special by the hot coffee.


We split into three groups.  Rebecca Unruh, backcountry ranger and dear friend of the Hoodlums, gave a talk on environmental hazards from poison ivy to heat stroke.


We also offered sessions on string trimmer use and maintenance, and on grade dip construction.

We called it at noon for a delicious lunch.


A sign of happiness.


Boots usually last 500 miles or about a year for me.  These are two-year-old miracle boots.  The rain last year was easy on the soles.  The rocks finally got the uppers.


Straining for a selfie.

Until next year.




Educating Hikers


This was my final trash run. The load included a discarded tent, new boots, wet cotton clothing and uneaten food. Total pack weight was close to 70 lbs.

September 12, 2019 — There’s a popular website/blog/resource for hikers called the Trek.  It was originated by my friend Zach Davis who wrote an excellent book about psychologically preparing for an AT thru hike called “Appalachian Trials.”

Recently a writer for the Trek interviewed me and others about educating hikers.  Here’s the result.

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Link to Trek Article


Ridgerunners Fade to Black


Bucky, Witt, me and Sabine at the Blackburn Trail Center.

Mostly Maryland, Labor Day weekend, 2019 — This is the saddest time of year for me.  Just as the sultry misery of summer begins to moderate, the ridgerunners strike their tents in search of their next adventure.

By now, two of our six ridgeunners have finished their work.  Joanne served a month-long season in Shenandoah centered two weeks either side of the July 4 weekend.  David in Pennsylvania left a bit early for his next gig in the southern region.  Bucky and Witt finish on Labor Day.  Sabine is done a couple of days later.  By Friday, Mary will be the last one standing.

Mary’s season is auspiciously book-ended by April Fools Day and Halloween.  Along the way she’ll see the dull dormancy of winter brown transform into the verdant green tunnel of summer hiking which is naturally followed by the bright fall hues of Alabama crimson, traffic cone orange, caution light yellow, and camouflage tan.  Along the way the bears will have awakened, munched their way through a full season and planned for winter slumber.

Ridgerunning is a calling.  On the downside it’s janitorial.  But the upside difference can be transformational for the ridgerunner, the hikers they meet, and for the trail itself.  It’s a labor of love that people love to do.

This year, for the first time, everyone said they want to return for an encore season.  Usually we have one or two.  Reality suggests that all six won’t make it back to us.  Real life and better economic opportunities intervene.  Regardless, we may get lucky.  The more the merrier.


Annapolis Rock, Maryland

How do you value a job protecting a view like this?

I like to be with the ridgerunners on high-traffic weekends.  This year it was Maryland.

Hiker traffic was light for a three-day weekend with a fantastic weather forecast.  We expected around 500 day hikers at Annapolis Rock.  Three ten showed up.  We met only a couple of dozen along the way on the trail. Where’d they go?


Camp at Raven Rock.  My tent in the foreground.  Mary’s blue tarp in the distance.


Waiting for the campers.  Only four showed up.  We expected 30.


Sunset at Raven Rock.  Check out the fire after dark.  Listen to the insect symphony.  Link to Mary’s video:  Mary’s Camp Fire VideoMary’s Camp Fire Video.

Hiked with Mary to Annapolis Rock where I could spend some time with Bucky.  We discussed the environmental damage caused by non-padded ropes anchoring to trees.  I also noted the unseen damage that can happen to ropes when they are not padded at tension spots on rock faces.

Mary hiked a mile ahead to spend the night at Pine Knob shelter which was maxed out.  It’s too close to the trail head.  People can easily haul in coolers and the like.


Final breakfast with Bucky at Bonnie’s Red Byrd restaurant.  The stuffed blueberry french toast was yummy.