Chainsaw School

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Shenandoah National Park, November 29 – December 2, 2021 — Once upon a time the kid thought he knew a fair amount about chainsawing – not everything, but enough.  After all, he’d owned one for 30 years and first used one about age 16.  Then I took my first sawyer certification course from the National Park Service in 2015.  It was a major wake up that hit me up side the head like a beaned baseball batter.

I realized that I knew nothing compared to what I needed to know; sawing small bore firewood is nothing compared to bucking huge oaks and tulip poplars; professional chainsaws are bigger and badder than the backyard models I’d been using.  So began a steep learning curve seasoned with a lot of caution.

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Previously chainsaw training for volunteers took place over a weekend with some homework done prior to class.  After some lecture and passing the written test, a practical exam followed in the field where students demonstrated the required competency to be certified.

For decades there has been a tug of war on chainsaw certification between the U.S. Forest Service (Department of Agriculture) and the National Park Service (Department of the Interior).  It’s my guess that the NPS moved toward the USFS judging that chainsaw training is now 40 hours and far more comprehensive.  Now we receive the exact same comprehensive training park service employees get.

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Ya gotta love COVID, grrrr.  The masks weren’t really that much of an inconvenience. 

The course did cover some things we, especially the volunteers, didn’t need to know.  When learning to sharpen chains, I noted that if my chain got dull, I’d simply change it and take it to the shop when I got home.  I have six, in part because I don’t have the patience to sharpen them.

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Demonstrating cuts.  The bucket is the fake log.

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Chainsaw accidents happen in a flash and they’re ugly.  We’ve always been drilled on safety, but this course went into a lot more depth.  For someone with several years experience, I learned more about safety and accidents than I knew before the course. 

Safety is a big damn deal as it should be.  Rule one:  If you are uncomfortable with your assignment, decline.  No one will fault you for doing so. 

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I passed on one this summer and the park service crew did too.  Too hairy.  It’s in a wilderness area where it’s well within policy to leave it.

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The course reminded me a lot of military training where everyone starts at square one and demonstrates competency at each step of the way.  Here is square one:  Safely starting your saw.  There are wrong ways that are very unsafe.

Steph has an electric chainsaw and used a standing start. Dan is using my saw which was already warm.  He used a ground start.

Steph was in my last recertification class and allowed me to borrow her saw for my competency demonstration.  They are very cool featuring less pollution, noise, and maintenance.  Their power is good and battery life ok.  I’d eventually like to get one, but would probably buy three batteries.  Of course, electric chainsaws are like printers.  The saw costs far less than the batteries.

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Note how John applies the chain brake immediately after cutting.  That’s a safety rule.

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We practiced making sawdust and demonstrating the cuts we’d have to make.  Everyone passed.

We stayed in PATC’s Huntley cabin, just outside the park.  It’s a fully modern and well designed building with a NYC apartment-size kitchen.  The three of us there took turns making dinner.  Let’s say everybody got a go on that assignment.  I made prosciutto, green apple and Gorgonzola pizza.

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We woke up to a light dusting one morning.

The capper was a display of some vintage and very ginormous chainsaws.  No chainsaw envy here.

The next day Gang of Four member Catherine “Badass” Berger and I pounded out the final 12 miles she need to complete the AT in Maryland and earn her Maryland end to end patch.   We found some work for the Maryland sawyers along the way.

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The final act. The curtain falls.

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Shenandoah National Park, November 26, 2021 — While Black Friday shoppers ravaged suburban malls and cyber stores, we five chose a day of service to prepare a bit of the AT for winter.

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I packed the car while the turkey was cooking yesterday.  The chainsaw comes along for the ride in case it’s needed to obliterate a blowdown too large for a pruning saw.

An unanticipated snow squall nearly forced us to stop at one point on Skyline Drive in the park. 

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Not much snow.  Most of it melted, but it did cover the tool cache when we picked up some tools.

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We hiked to the top of the mountain and then fanned out to rake leaves out of the waterbars.  The power of five did the job in two hours.  That’s 10 hours of labor, about average, so it all makes sense.

We want the leaves out so they don’t freeze and dam the flow of water through the waterbars which are features that shunt rain and snow melt off the trail to prevent erosion.

After work we retired to the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville, VA for wood fired pies.

This is the last required maintenance of the year.  Next up will be the monthly inspection hike in December looking for damage and blowdowns.

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Hoodlums 2021 Finale

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The trailing edge of early morning sunlight. The reds have dulled leaving the last of the copper and gold to color the ridgelines standing sentry over the Shenandoah Valley.

Shenandoah National Park, November 20, 2021 — As mother nature turns down the color temperature of the fall foliage, the Hoodlums trail crew gathered for its last work trip of the season.

The Hoodlums organized into three work parties.  Two were assigned crosscut duties on north district blue blaze trails while the remaining group worked hard to put the finishing touches on the Compton Peak project to restore the tread to the original CCC trail.  Compton was yours truly’s duty station.

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Photo by Mike Gergely from Facebook

Piney Ridge crosscut crew.

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Photo by Mike Gergely from Facebook

It’s sad when a grand old oak falls.

I showed up early to check on the work Caroline Egli and did two weeks ago.  It was in good shape.  We weren’t certain because we were building with wet soil that is mostly sand.

Best of all, the leaves have hit the dirt meaning that our plan to rake them out of the waterbars on Black Friday is a go assuming cooperative weather.

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Your Compton crew minus the cell phone camera operator.

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Our first concern was whether the ground was frozen.   If frozen, picks tend to bounce off the dirt like bullets smacking armor.  We were fortunate.  The tread was hard packed from decades of pounding boots, but not particularly difficult for a pick to penetrate.

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We set about building and replacing waterbars and check dams, chopping roots, and leveling rocky sections.

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We dig trenches about half as deep as the log and crib them with small rocks to set and lock them in place.

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We ran out of previously cut logs so we had to make more using a vintage crosscut saw.

I asked Nikki why she volunteers.

Crosscut in slo mo.  Turn up the sound. 

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Once you cut the log, you have to schlep it up the hill.

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Hoodlums:  Where all the women are strong and the men think they’re good lookin’!

The buckets are for hauling dirt to places where we need it.

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No problem!

After digging “excavaciones profundo” and humping logs and rocks all over the place, the restoration of the original CCC work on Compton is 99 percent complete.  Hope everyone enjoys the improvements.

It’s worth mentioning that drumming the ground with a pick, toting logs, crosscut sawing, and all the rest of the exercise associated with trail work is better and much cheaper than therapy.  When the Hoodlums are working, the doctor IS in!

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Trail Repair Update

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So much silt that we had to spread it downhill.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, October 30 – 31 — Mother Nature is splashing fall color all over the mid-Atlantic.  The leaf peepers are out in droves.  It’s just a tease.  Soon hard winter will muscle its way in and own the joint until the spring wake up.

Until then, we’ve got work to do before the ground freezes so hard-ass that that our picks and fire hoes just bounce off.

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Saturday:  Jessica Say has volunteered to be the next maintainer of the Pogo** Campground in Maryland,  It was a delight to take her on her orientation visit.  She walked the ground, toured the new tent pads, learned how to clean out a fire pit, and most importantly, how to take care of a composting privy.

She also will be maintaining an AT section further north in Maryland.  That’s a bunch!  Thank you Jessica for stepping up.

**Pogo Rheinheimer was a young man who loved the AT.  Sadly he was killed in a boating accident.

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Jessica at the Hoodlums trail maintenance workshop in September.

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Caroline loosens silt which is raked away.

Sunday:  Readers may recall that a couple of months ago a severe, localized storm was forecast to dump up to six inches per hour on parts of the park.  We don’t know what actually happened.  We do know the results.  Nearly all of our erosion control structures filled with silt.  Some were buried deep enough that they were difficult to find.

This compares to 2018 when the Park experienced nearly double its annual rainfall.  Then, these same waterbars and check dams were able to handle all that huge rain volume without problem.  If climate change features more intense storms, this could be an example.

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Readers will recall that a Virginia Conservation Corps Crew (AmeriCorps) rebuilt the upper two thirds of the mountain.

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The crew was unique in its all-woman composition, a circumstance they appreciated.

With two-thirds rebuilt, that left the bottom third for Caroline and me.

Our dilemma was to find a mutually agreeable time when we could finish the bottom third before the first freeze.  Fortunately, the bottom third is fairly flat requiring far fewer waterbars and check dams in comparison to the rest of the section.

We took turns on the tools – a pick-mattock and a McCloed fire rake.

McCloed:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLeod_(tool)  The McCloed is the Swiss Army Knife of trail tools.  It is a hoe, a rake, a light pick and a tamper.  Best of all, it stands up by itself.

Per Park policy, we’re using as few wooden and stone structures as possible.  Instead we’re installing swails known in the trail world as rolling grade dips.  These earthen mounds, when properly compacted last for years.  They are quicker to build.  The jury is still out on whether they are easier to maintain.

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All told, we put in six hours of solid work.

Next up is the last Hoodlums trip of the year, weather permitting on Nov. 20, and our annual Black Friday soirée to rake the leaves out of the waterbars to facilitate drainage.  The irony is that new leaves will wash in over the winter and we’ll have to rake them out again in the spring.

Stay tuned.

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The AT is a place to serve

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The Appalachian Trail, October 27, 2021 — This month’s “AT Journeys” magazine reflects on the AT’s history and features essays on the experience of some of it those highly connected to it.  The essays prompted me to ask myself, “Why?”  This is my answer.

For me the AT is not some romantic ideal.  I don’t go there to find myself or heal from hurt.  Instead, it represents a kindred community and an open-ended opportunity to rake, pound, shovel, and make sawdust.

Selfless service has been the central ethos of my life.  It began as a family value, was reinforced by my military service and yet again at the culmination of my career by the very purpose of the Corporation for National and Community service, the parent of AmeriCorps.

Community service as a post retirement mission was a given.  My lifelong love affair with nature, backpacking and endurance athletics led naturally to the Appalachian Trail which runs less than an hour from my house.

I thought the best way to prepare for my, then pending, 2,200 mile AT thru hike should include involvement in service to the trail, a deposit in the karma account.

Two months after retiring I was cleaning waterbars, clipping vegetation and the other tasks novice maintainers do.  By the end of that summer, building log structures and stonework had been added to my rookie resume.  I was hooked.

Later, that thru hike proved to me the priceless value of those who lend their muscle, money and intellect to preserving and protecting trails.  Mother Nature can easily reclaim her ground if we don’t take care of it.

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Since scaling Katahdin I’ve been privileged to clear blowdowns, empty privy compost bins, be a ridgerunner, and serve in leadership roles.

The selfless example of the countless volunteers with whom I’ve been privileged to work is the beating heart of this experience.  Some have been showing up for decades.  Many drive hours just to get to where they’re volunteering.  These givers stand in sharp contrast to the takers in our society.

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No one volunteers for the pay.  Everyone does it for the camaraderie and satisfaction of knowing their effort matters.  Their example keeps me coming back.

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A successful thru hike and years of hiking with our ridgerunners have allowed me to witness the evolution of trail culture. Change is inevitable, driven by the advent of lighter equipment, new technology, social media, and the march of new generations.  It morphs a little each year, but the underlying spirit of the community remains constant.  All told, the AT offers an amazing place to serve and do.

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The End is Near

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Shennandoah National Park and Annapolis Rock Maryland, October 22 – 23, 2021 —  It’s that time again. In the park the end of the trail crew season is in sight.  We have one more trip next month.  In Maryland time expires for the last ridgerunner standing.

In the mean time, the AT section on the south side of Compton Peak, for which I have been responsible and now shared by Caroline, needs a lot of work before the ground freezes.  A recent high intensity storm literally wiped out some of the erosion control structures.

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A Virginia Conservation Corps crew rebuilt the upper two thirds, but the lower third, which is sandy like Saudi Arabia, was completely silted up.  If we don’t get it done before the ground freezes, mother nature herself will rebuild it over the winter.  We may not appreciate her work come spring.

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Meanwhile, the Hoodlums divided into two parties.  One was dispatched to Jeremy’s Run, a serpentine blowdown factory featuring a number of wet-feet stream crossings.

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Jeremy’s Run is located in a federally designated wilderness area meaning only traditional tools may be used.  Photo by Ruth Stornetta via Facebook.

The other group continued to work on the rebuild of the AT on the north side of Compton Peak.  I’m told we have surpassed 700 hours of volunteer labor on this project so far this year.  Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll git ‘er finished in November.

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The Hoodlums at Compton split their labor.  One group continued to repair and replace waterbars and check dams at the bottom of the mountain.  This trail is one of the most popular in the park featuring a nice viewpoint and a unique columnar basalt formation at the summit.  It’s also the first time hikers can be on the AT from the north (Front Royal) entry station.

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The work party I joined was assigned to finish the stone staircase near the top of the mountain, so that’s the bulk of the story we’re telling today.

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The first thing you do is find a large rock, one that will stay put and heavy enough to resist bears checking for lunch underneath.

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Step two is to dig a hole to put it in.  We use pick handles to measure the size of both rock and hole.

Then you have to get the rock to where you want it to be.  The rocks are hard to move because they are too big for people to pick them up, the terrain is lumpy with other rocks, and they are awkward.

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Watch the fingers and toes!

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Then you have to set it and test for wobble.  We broke off the piece that stuck out.

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In the interim, the hikers keep coming.  It was a picture perfect day and the park was jammed.

The number of hikers passing through can hinder progress.  We give them priority except when we’re doing something that could be a safety problem for them.

Rinse and repeat to create more steps.

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We finished early enough that Caroline and I could clear three blowdowns on the AT between Compton parking and the north park boundary.   This was the most magnificent of them all.

This large ash likely fell during a wind storm Thursday before last.  There are many reasons you don’t want to near one of these trees when they come down.  This is not the first time a branch has been driven so deeply into the trail tread that we couldn’t get it out.  Had to cut it off.

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Done.

A day earlier I helped the ridgerunner decommission the Annapolis Rock caretaker site for the winter. Thanks to REI for donating the tent.

When leaves begin to fall so does the caretaker tent at Annapolis Rock. The autumn continues, but the ridgerunner season ends. It’s the saddest day of the year for me. 

To date we’ve had more than 30 ridgerunners since I became responsible for the program.  They are special people who join a long line of others who have selflessly helped protect and preserve the AT which, in and of itself, is a national treasure. But there’s a lot more.  In our area alone, it runs through three national parks, one state forest, five state parks and a couple of wildlife conservation areas.

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The Great Blowdown Hunt

The Appalachian Trail in Virginia, September 25 – October 7, 2021 — What was intended to be a simple hike to help deflate the COVID spare tire around my waist became something different and an obsessive blowdown quest after a windstorm littered the trail with downed trees.

Our last blog mentioned that I dropped my young friend Chrissy off at a trailhead in Central Virginia.  The plan was to join her at the southern boundary of Shenandoah National Park and hike to Harpers Ferry.  There we’d decide whether to hike on into Pennsylvania.

Few plans survive contact with reality.  Chrissy was half way through the park before I could catch up.  That left 102 miles to Harpers Ferry, decent but far short of the 160 – 240 for which I’d hoped.

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My wife dropped me off at the Big Meadow wayside (restaurant) around noon.  We grabbed lunch and hoofed it north to the Rock Spring shelter for the night.  At some point a passing weather front generated a pretty good blow.  Our tents popped in the wind and it was noticeably cooler in the morning.  We didn’t think much of it.

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Not long after pushing off for our second day, we started finding trees down across the trail. The count reached more than 60 before we reached Harpers Ferry.  In my experience, that’s a significant number for that kind of (relatively mild) windstorm.

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Like a rumpled old throw rug, the AT is infamous for its rocky tread.  A few blowdowns here and there only add a few wrinkles for the most part.  By the time we were done, the blowdowns had become an obsession a trail maintainer could not resist.

Meanwhile, the blow continued during day two as we hiked on to Pass Mountain.  There we encountered an insufferable chaos of southbound thru hikers who were loud and obnoxious.

We retired to the tenting area and ate a quiet dinner sitting on logs near our tents.  Ironically, we were alone the next night at Gravel Spring.  The silence was lovely.

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Breakfast at Indian Run hut.  At some point I learned Crissy’s 38th birthday was up-coming.  My present was two fold.  One was a stay at Indian Run where the public is not allowed, Hoodlums keep a supply of split firewood and we could have a nice fire with chairs upon which to set.

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The other was arrange the timing so her birthday was spent at Mountain Home B&B owned by my friends Scott and Lisa.  The main building is a fully restored anti-bellum mansion.

In the restoration process, Scott and Lisa learned that the “cabbin” used as a hiker hostel was formerly quarters for enslaved people and that one of the surviving original locks displays an African motif, evidence that it was most likely wrought be an enslaved person.

The next stop was the Bears Den Hostel.  By this point, backpacking had become Glampacking.  I dubbed Crissy the “Millennial Magellan.”  We spent the last night at David Lesser shelter before my spouse shuttled us home from Harper’s Ferry.

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Along the way we passed the 1,000 mile sign.  At this point, northbounders have traveled 1,000 miles and southbounders hit triple digit mileage with under 1,000 miles to go.  For them, it’s a big deal.

Chrissy HF  Chrissy points out the length of her journey on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s relief map of the entire AT.

Phase one was over.  Chrissy left for family activities in her native Western Pennsylvania.  But what about the blowdowns?

Here’s a sample.  I toted up the numbers for each AT district and forwarded the menu to each district manager whose job it is to keep the trail properly maintained.  They will take care of their respective areas.

Me?  I started obsessing about Shenandoah’s north district where I do the bulk of my volunteering.

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As luck would have it, my friend of 25 years, Tina aka “Bulldog,” and fellow Gang of Four member reached out.  The weather is improving and it’s time to crank up our monthly hikes.

She posted on Facebook, “We haven’t hung out for awhile, I said. Let’s go to lunch, I said. His retort, let’s go clear blowdowns on the AT. Sure, I said.” 

You never miss an opportunity to recruit a swamper, especially one named Bulldog.  Never!

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I consulted with my district manager.  What could we do in a day?  Could we tackle a couple of lingering oldies in the process?  Boom.  We had a plan.

We got about half of the north district blowdowns.  We’ll get the rest on the Hoodlum’s work trip next Saturday.

I love making sawdust!
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Hoodlums Trail Maintenance Workshop

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Shenandoah National Park, September 16 – 19, 2021 — Trail maintainers don’t grow on trees.  We make ’em.  The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has a good track record of teaching the variety of skills volunteers must know to do the needed work; in the right way, and safely – everything from the use of traditional tools and chainsaws to rigging.

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For more than 30 years, the North District Hoodlums trail crew has organized a skill development workshop in September.  The workshop is designed to train people, from fresh first-timers to those with advanced skills, for the challenges they can expect to encounter doing trail work.  We can accept up to 30 participants.

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For sure, trail work isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t an amateur sport either.  The necessary tasks, techniques and procedures are spelled out in manuals and policies.  Knowing what to do and where and how to do it are important if your goal is to protect and preserve the physical trail itself.

Above all is safety.  We use heavy tools, sharp axes and pruning saws, rock hammers, and chainsaws.  We lift heavy logs and rocks.  We skew older.  While we are covered by workman’s comp; it’s best not to test its limits.

Workshop preparation starts a year in advance when the workshop coordinator reserves the space in the Mathews Arm campground.  S/he reviews the lessons from the previous year and discusses them with the various leaders within the Hoodlums crew.  During the summer with September on the horizon people apply, projects are identified, and project leaders appointed.

Several of us came up early to help split firewood, collect and organize the needed tools, and generally help our fearless leader.

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Photo by Mike Gergely

For the past 15 years Mark Nebut, who is a professional chef, and his brother and sometimes other family members have cooked scrumptious meals to which we look forward with great anticipation. Note the Coleman propane coffee pot.  This is big time glamping for us.

Other brother Dave Nebut recently took charge of the workshop as our organizer in chief.

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Photo by Mike Gergely

We divided into three work groups.  The advanced and novice groups continued our summer project on Compton Peak.  I led the basic (first timers) group on Pass Mountain.  Ironically, we were working on the first and last mountains in the north district.

The basic group totaled six including me.  We gathered at the Beahms Gap parking lot where we introduced the group to the tools we’d be using and the work we’d be doing.  First the work was demonstrated, then the group members each attempted to replicate the results themselves.

We cleaned or replaced 30 check dams and 24 waterbars.

We also built a rolling grade dip.  That’s a waterbar (drain) that is made of a dirt swale instead of logs or stones.

All told we racked up six hours worth of high energy work which was emblematic of this crew’s enthusiasm.  It was a fun day.

What do you do after a day of hard work?  What else?  Gather around a campfire and share stories.  We made a decent dent in the wood pile.

Sunday featured a half day of classes on how to build a rolling grade dip, the use of string trimmers and swing blades, and on crosscut saws.  The lunch that followed capped the day.

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The Thursday before the workshop was my lucky day.  An Appalachian Conservation Corps (ACC) crew needed a project and I had one ready to go.

The section I maintain sustained some serious damage from a microburst storm right after Hurricane Ida.  The sandy soil had silted up the water control structures.  Immediate repairs were needed to prevent severe erosion.  My Hoodlum colleague Cindy Ardecki helped lead the project.

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The ACC crew is an all-woman AmeriCorps group composed of recent college graduates in subjects such as forest ecology, bio science, environmental science and the like.  Listening to their conversations was fascinating.  Most of them joined the ACC for the experience and help deciding on the direction they wanted to pursue for their careers.

The crew cleaned and repaired waterbars, built rolling grade dips and cleaned and replaced check dams.  Their work will make a huge difference.

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Beauty and the Beast

Breaking news:  The section I’ve been maintaining since 2015 now has a co-maintainer.  Caroline Egli joined the Hoodlums this summer.  She’s eager to learn more about trail maintenance and I can use the help.

After the workshop we hiked what is now our section and discussed the recent work and the work that needs to be done before winter.  For example, once the leaves are down, the waterbars have to be raked out to keep them open.  I normally do this on Black Friday.  Beats shopping.

Otherwise, most times you’ll find us working either the Friday before or the Sunday in conjunction with Hoodlums work trips.

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Once in awhile the views from Skyline Drive are simply spectacular.

Next up:  A hike of the PATC AT 240 from Rockfish Gap to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA.  It starts Friday.  The purpose:  Put a dent in the COVID 15 muffin top.

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The page turns.

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2021 PATC Ridgeerunners absent Sara at the Blackburn Trail Center on Aug. 26.  L to R:  Witt Wisebram, me, Chris Bowley, Darrel Decker, Kaela Wilber, and Branden Laverdiere.

Shenandoah National Park (mostly) August 26 – September 14, 2021 —  Come Labor Day the summer chapter in our trail story ends and the page turns toward autumn.  The cast of characters is down to one.

When the five o’clock whistle announces the Labor Day weekend wind down, the clock runs out for five of our six ridgerunners.  For them it’s time for next steps.  Two have taken seasonal work with the mid-Atlantic AT boundary monitoring team.  They check surveyor’s monuments to ensure that the bench marks and the witness trees are still there and search for encroachment on federal land.  One headed for Vermont’s Long Trail and there bumped into the ridgerunner who had her job in 2016!  Small world.  Witt returns to endurance running.

Branden is the last man standing, at least until Halloween.  Until then, he’ll patrol Maryland’s 42 miles during the week and spend weekends caretaking at Annapolis Rock.

This year’s team was particularly noteworthy for their dedication, teamwork, innovation, and extra effort.  Everyone associated with them will miss their enthusiasm and presence.

Meanwhile a lot happened before the story ended.

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Chris reported this rat’s nest on the AT in the middle of the north district.

I had time to kill while waiting for Chris to catch up and swamp for me.  Sawyers are not allowed to saw without an assistant – to call 911 when we screw up.  That gave me  time to recon the blowdown and develop a plan of attack.  Along the way I was saddened to discover that my favorite tree in the park had passed.

I first discovered it on a foggy walk in April 2013.  Hikers spend more time looking down than up in order to keep from tripping on the ever present rocks and roots.  In the fog that day, the old oak startled me looking very ominous, reminding me of the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series.  I’ve loved it ever since.  Soon we’ll be sawing up its bits and parts and nature and gravity slowly reclaim it.

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Chris’s did a great job using his folding saw to clear as much as possible to make it easier for hikers to pass.

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Chris acted as the swamper and moved most of the pieces out of the way.

The rest was a simple matter of converting gas to noise by chopping the thing up from left to right.  Now it’s history.  Elapsed time:  10 minutes thanks to the recon.

Is that it?  No!  There’s more.

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You stood tall next to the AT at Beahms Gap until you succumbed to the emerald ash borer.  Now you’ve got to go.  Since you can’t do it on your own, Mr. Stihl will help.

There’s a teaching point here.  Note how the tree is lying across the trail.  What you cannot see and neither could I is the tree’s crown.  There was too much vegetation in the way.  Here’s what happened:

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The part of the trunk on the left side of the photo should not be expected to rise.  The tree was once very tall and the majority of its weight was across another blowdown parallel to the trail.  That blowdown acted as a fulcrum allowing the trunk to rise when cut.  Once in the air I could see clearly what happened.

This is not particularly dangerous.  We are trained to watch for possibilities like this.  Nevertheless, the day you think you’ve mastered the art of bucking blowdowns, you should think again.

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Another blowdown in the history books.

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The next stop was dropping my friend Crissy at a central Virginia trailhead.  She’s walking 500 miles before moving to Colorado to be with her father who is ill.  I’ll join her in a couple of weeks to hike the last half.

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You’d think there would be enough nature on the trails, but noooooo. Backyard buck is chowing down on the landscaping to build strength for the mating season.  Note the cat in the chair.

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While the deer was destroying the flowers, the guard cat could not care less.

Next steps:  Tomorrow brings trail work with an all-woman Virginia Conservation Corps crew followed by the Hoodlums annual instructional workshop on trail maintenance.

Sisu

Hoodlums Crew Week

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Two rock hammers and a rock bar.  Guess what we did?

Shenandoah National Park, August 1 – 7, 2021 — The park is tinder dry, but the moderate temperatures and low humidity made up for the dust exploding in our faces as our picks loosened the dirt and the rocks we needed to move.

We were there for our annual Hoodlums Crew Week, an opportunity for us to tackle big projects requiring time and muscle.

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This time we continued our restoration of the CCC’s work on the AT on the north side of Compton Peak.  The primary objective was to replace a ragged set of steps with something more elegant and practical.  This staircase had to be torn out and rebuilt.

The crew totaled six permanent members and four more who augmented us on various days depending on their availability.  We had to dig up and move almost everyone of those rocks.  That’s what they call a heavy lift.

We lived at the Pinnacles Research Station, our normal crew week hangout, but occupancy was limited to four inside. We had a bug proof enclosure outside where we could socialize and the deer came to visit.

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On Sunday I came early so Chris Bowley, our ridgerunner, could join me to do so some overdue weeding, after which we joined the others for dinner and beer.

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Monday and Thursday featured an assist from a Virginia Conservation Corps group made up mostly young folks who are between high school and college.  They helped carry logs we planned to use for our project, built a couple of check dams, and also weeded some overgrown AT sections for us.

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They also helped take out of commission an illegal campsite near the Compton Gap parking lot.  It was a combination campsite and outdoor latrine.

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After cleaning up the TP tulips and burying the feces, we moved a ton of logs and sticks to make the area unusable.

Campsites that are noncompliant with backcountry regulations are proliferating at an alarming rate  throughout the park.  The culprit is social media, particularly an app called “Guthook.”  Hikers can leave notes and GPS locations visible to all users.  Once a site is established, with the aid of the app, it attracts evermore users until the vegetation is dead and the dirt is bare.  That’s when the erosion starts.

Previously the rangers would try and camouflage the sites, but now hikers can find them with laser precision and easily remove the camouflage.  The next step is denial with dead timber too large for one person to move alone.

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We also found that a popular boulder was being used as a bathroom where children sometimes explore.

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Not anymore.

Everything starts with the foundation.  Dig ’em in deep and they’ll still be there in 50 years.  Also building with larger rocks, aka BFRs, helps prevent bears from flipping them in search of bugs to eat.

This is a behind the scenes look at the reality of setting a step.  Ultimately the entire staircase has to fit together.

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It’s tiring work and the team has to continuously think and talk it over.  Sometimes it looks like chaos.  Sometimes it is.

Ultimately it’s like a giant puzzle.

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Steps 1.0 begins to form.  This configuration would ultimately be scrapped.  Too many voids, the tread wasn’t wide enough.  Most of all, they were ugly.  If it looks bad, it is bad.

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Final version.  If it looks good, it must be good!  We ultimately removed about a third of the steps making the trail much easier to use.

Meanwhile, further up the trail other work was happening.  This is how old men and women get stuff done!

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At this point, we’re returning the tread to its original location.  The rocks we’re digging up were the original CCC rip rap.  Here the trail had become two lanes with the old rip rap in the middle.  The trail from Panorama to Mary’s Rock has done the same.

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We also cut logs to supplement the rock rip rap.  Rip rap is waste rock and other materials used to help keep the tread from expanding; thus preventing erosion.

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We got a lot done.  In fact, we’re about two-thirds of the way through the project.  With luck, we’ll be finished with this trail by year’s end.

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Sometimes unusual things happen.  A woman leading a horse wondered off a nearby horse trail that briefly coincides with the AT.  We helped her get turned around and heading in the right direction.  The AT is foot traffic only with a very few marked exceptions.

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The last day, we split with one group weeding the Pass Mountain blue blaze trail.  I took on an AT section south of Rattlesnake Point.  This was taken after the head was refilled with string.  Crew week over.

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The weekend wasn’t over yet for me.  Sunday the Bears Den hostel was having a hiker festival.  I grabbed my grandpa’s crosscut and set up a station where people could slice off a chunk of log for themselves.  The results were entertaining.  I would carefully explain how the saw works and how important it is that the sawyers each pull, not push.  Let’s see what happened.

Testosterone is not your friend guys.

We had no idea a wedding had just happened.  The happy couple got a unique souvenir and an unusual photo for their wedding album.  The did a good job too, an omen?

The little guys did ok too.

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