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.
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.
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.
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.
They also helped take out of commission an illegal campsite near the Compton Gap parking lot. It was a combination campsite and outdoor latrine.
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.
We also found that a popular boulder was being used as a bathroom where children sometimes explore.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.