Spring cleaning delayed.


Home, April 14, 2020 — As the debate about when America can go back to work stutters along, I’ve been wondering when trail maintainers can start digging dirt again.  We want to work too. Time’s a wasting.

I am under no illusion that someone is going to flip a magic switch and the world will shift from black and white to living color regardless of the political pyrotechnics.  The virus doesn’t care.

Until there is an effective vaccine, COVID-19 can be a potentially mortal threat to anyone who catches it. Respect alone for this potential will certainly cause some people to avoid crowds and certain public places.

Nevertheless, at some point the parks and trails will reopen to the public. People think they’re far from others when they are in the woods as if civilization can’t follow them there.  It’s an attractive illusion, so they’ll be back.

For one, I’d like to have the trails safe and ready when they come.


The problem is that the trail you tidy up in the fall …


… looks very different in the spring.

Between now and when the people come back, nature will be hard at work.  Spring has sprung and the weeds are growing.  It won’t be long before they take over the joint unless they are cut back.


Why worry about weeds?  They are the way ticks carrying Lyme disease get to hikers.  Lyme disease or COVID-19?  Each is ugly in its own way.

Weeds are only one of the jobs that need to be done in the spring.


The tread itself needs maintenance.  Water control structures silt up or rot over the winter.  A bear destroyed this one.  This waterbar has to be cleaned and rebuilt.  It’s clear from the detritus that it’s no longer effective.


Blowdowns also have to be cleared.


We’ve has several howling windstorms recently which increase the probability of finding blown down branches as well as tree trunks.


Everyone I know is itching to get a jump on spring maintenance before hikers return.  Trail maintainers like nothing better than packing up for an honest day’s work, although I despise the two-hour drive each way.


The tool caches are ready.  With the people gone, we could get a lot done when it’s easy to maintain safe social distance.  Maintainers in our area are spread about one to two miles apart.


But, like they say, the trail will be there when the time comes. True dat.  Meanwhile, I’m on the bench yelling, “Put me in coach!”  Where’s coach?  He’s sheltering at home just like the rest of us.



A Soggy Weekend

  Shenandoah National Park, VA, Saturday and Sunday May 16 – 17, 2015 — The Hoodlums trail work weekend was pro forma until it wasn’t.  I came up Friday to jumpstart the week and work on the section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) for which I am responsible as an overseer. 

Rain was threatening but I still managed to muck out and repair six waterbars. They are structures placed at a 45 degree angle to the trail that direct water off the trail, thus preventing erosion. I’ll write in more detail about infrastructure and how it is built at another time. 

  Friday evening was uneventful as several members of the gang gathered at the Indian Run Hut to camp and save a long early Satursay morning drive. 

With rain in the forecast we were hoping to get our projects done. A ton of chainsaw work was on the list. My team was assigned to rebuild a troublesome chunk of a popular side trail in the park. 

  Luck favored us and everyone got ‘er done and we retired to the Elk Wallow picnic area for our Cajun themed pot luck. 


 Well, we almost finished our dinners before the sunshine changed to its liquid form. We hustled into our rain gear and continued to chow down. There are no covered pavilions under which to shelter so we noshed in a light rain – another delight I remember from my Army career. 

  Just as we were about finished, the sky opened up. It was over.  We broke for our cars, most of us sopped through to the skin. A few of us returned to Indian Run where we have an awning to continue in front of the fire. 

Dry clothes beat a hot shower that night. I was sleeping in my hammock for the first time in the rain too with prayers that I would stay dry.  I did in spite of a heavy barrage of thunder and buckets of rain. Yea!!!

Sunday was penance day. The most onerous task for maintainers is weeding. Since vegetation is the vector for Lyme disease bearing ticks, this task is the most important thing we do for those using our trails.  Sweat stung my eyes for seven hours. Finally exhaustion and the swing blade won. Most of my section got done the rest will have to wait. 

Tomorrow starts crew week. Our first task: breaking big rocks into little ones. There is some doubt about it.  Rain continues in the forecast and you don’t swing slick-handled sharp tools and heavy rock mauls in the rain, that is unless you have a death wish. Time will tell. Stay tuned…