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