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.
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.
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.
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.