Hoodlums spring cleaning!

Caroline is a beast!

Shenandoah National Park, March 19, 2022 — The daffodils are up and so is the Hoodlums trail crew.  Yesterday 26 Hoodlums gathered in three different places to begin spring cleaning on the north district’s hiking trails.

The three groups gathered at the North Marshall trail head, Piney Ridge and the Pass Mountain blue blaze trail.  My assignment was to report to North Marshall where Caroline and I won the bonus prize of breaking big rocks into little ones with sledgehammers!

Ultimately fate spared us and our mission changed.  We were dispatched on a blowdown search and destroy mission.  So, that’s the story we can tell.


Photo by Mike Gergely

The Pass Mountain crew, led by Head Hoodlum and north district blue blaze district manager, Noel Freeman, removes a large locust blocking the trail.  The trail is in a federally designated wilderness, so muscle-powered tools  are required.


While everyone else was “working,” Caroline and I were eating blowdowns for lunch with my Stihl MS 261 with a 20″ bar.  That’s the military equivalent of an 8 inch howitzer.

Our itinerary included a big honker on the Gravel Spring hut blue blaze access trail, a smaller one on the AT near the Keyser Run parking access trail and several near Beahms Gap and Neighbor Mountain.  We left for our first objective at 0920.

A hiker told us the blowdown at Gravel was near the bottom so we used the fire road to get closer.  Oops.  Not so fast.  The tree broke apart after we sawed it.  Made it easier to move for sure.

The tree we were after was a hundred yards up hill from the hut.  The double trunk and the slope made bucking this one a little more challenging than normal.  The base was about 20″, making the salami slices large and heavy.  Caution required.

We’re not fake news.  Not every chunk we moved went as smoothly as the one at the top of this page.

In this case, Caroline is the “swamper” or sawyer’s helper.  Her job is to caddy the saw, and help remove the debris.

Ultimately the path was cleared.  The two blowdowns near Gravel Spring consumed nearly an entire tank of gas.  In comparison, I can usually saw for an entire day on a single tank.  We finished at 1140 and drove to Keyser Run parking for lunch.


Our next objective seemed fairly simple, but it wasn’t.  The fall created several spring poles,  live trees bent over and held down.  Spring poles can be very dangerous.  The amount of energy stored in any one of them can be shocking.  Don’t let the size of these saplings fool you.


Caroline checks out one of the spring poles.  She was surprised at how much energy was released when I demonstrated an improper cut on one of the tiny ones.


The first blowdown at Beahms Gap.  It was a single cut.  The rest were similar.  Nothing found on the hike over Neighbor Mountain.  Time out:  1530.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Mother Nature never seems to run out of blowdowns.  That said, Caroline was disappointed that she didn’t get to bust rocks.  Maybe next time…


What do we do in the AT off season?


Off Season on the Appalachian Trail, January – March, 2022 — Actually the trail does not hibernate in winter. Hikers hike, blowdowns fall and maintainers can be found year-round.

But we do use the off season to take care of business that is harder to do when the great armies of hikers are crunching gravel, filling privies and otherwise jamming traffic just west of the infamous, I-95.

It’s one week until Shenandoah’s North District Hoodlums hit the trail for the first time this season. This is what we and a lot of others have been up to since last year.

The off season is a time to maintain motorized tools – primarily weed whackers and chainsaws, sharpen traditional tools such as crosscuts and axes, inventory equipment, meet and plan and meet some more, conduct training, hire ridgerunners, and develop support. In the process, we about wore out Zoom.

For example we had our annual trails meeting with the Shenandoah National Park staff.  We discussed the state of the park, new policies the park is proposing, plans for crew weeks and much more.

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This is a screen grab on one of the slides.  The average backpacker does not realize how much human impact there is from heavy backcountry use.  Those of us who maintain and patrol the trails do.

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Did you know?  It’s hard to keep up with the work needed.  For one, I have begun asking if adding ridgerunners or extending their season may be helpful.

Social media and GPS phone apps pose and additional challenge.  When hikers navigated visually, we were able to camouflage an illegal campsite and they could not find it.  Now that they navigate via GPS, that mitigation strategy no longer works.

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The Trail Patrol also met to plan its PATC public outreach and hiker education programs.  The Maryland AT Management Committee also met to prepare for the up coming season.

Starting in December, four PATC members spent 80 hours becoming National Park Service chainsaw instructor/evaluators.  Last week we taught our first course which included both park employees and PATC volunteers.  We are flattered that the park trusts us with this responsibility and enjoyed meeting folks working in the park that we may not have otherwise met.

Elizabeth was a student in the class.  After school on Tuesday we  dashed out to the Elk Wallow trail to clear a blowdown too large for the maintainer himself.  The base was 24 inches.  Elizabeth got to practice sizing up the tree and formulating a bucking plan.  She got an A+ naturally.

A week earlier Caroline and I cleared blowdowns on the AT section we maintain and some more on the fire road to the Indian Run maintenance hut.   While she was waiting for me to catch up, she used her master marketing skills to recruit a new Hoodlum.  We’ll see if he shows up next  week.

All told it’s been a productive off season.  Mary came to visit, I started baking cookies for Rocky and my other friends who are hiking long trails this year, Caroline and I made some inspection visits, I swamped some for Dan Hippe, and I got a new tent.

See you next weekend when the Hoodlums ride again.