Monday, May 3, 2010
Spring Cleaning: Trail Maintenance on the North Country Trail
Hiking trails require attention. If they do not receive attention they become overgrown, hard to follow, perhaps even dangerous. With attention a hiking trail, even one that does not see much foot traffic, can remain a high quality pathway ffor years.Three times a year I join friends and we go to a stretch of the North COuntry Trail to give it some special attention. We are just a few of the hundreds of volunteers who help maintain the NCT. The NCT, like the vast majority of long-distance trails, is maintained by dedicated volunteers. Some take care of just a mile or so and others take care of considerably longer stretches. Some trail segment could be in remote locations. Our section though is not among these as it is bounded by two minor roads in Newago County. We just have to drive across the stae to reach the trail. Our section rolls through modestly hilly forest passing by several lakes as it worms its way between 16 and 13 Mile Roads. We also maintain, and helped build, the spur trail that leads to Highbanks Lake campground. All in all we are responsible for about 6.5 miles of trail.
As a trail maintainer your job is to make sure the trail is in good shape. You want to keep the tread way clean, remove blown down trees, remove dead overhanging limbs that could fall on a passing hiker, remove dead trees that are next to the trail and are showing imminent signs that they will fall, and do any blaze work that needs doing. You do all of this with hand tools. If a tree comes down that is too big to handle with a bow saw you have to leave it for the certified sawyers to deal with. We hate doing that and have spent considerable time and energy (1,000 stroke logs) to avoid having to call for the chain saw gang. You walk along your trail enjoying the pleasures of being outside but you keep an eye out for all the things I just mentioned. If you are fortunate you won't have much work to do. If you stay on top of sections that become quickly overgrown then you will not have to spend countless hours whipping them into shape. We used to have a stretch of trail that was incredibly overgrown with thorn bushes and the like. After hours of work on several different visits we have tamed the section and now it only requires a few minutes of pruning. But there will probably be another such section growing up someplace and unless we nip it in the bud we'll have our hands full once again.
We take a weekend to tackle our section. After all,, you have to hike in and back out with your tools. While many sections are short enough that this can likely be easily done in a day we like to take our time and do two-thirds (about 9 miles) one day and the remain third (4 miles) the following day. You might think that you could hike the trail in just one direction and catch everything you need to catch but this is not always true. You do see the trail differently as you travel in different directions. Besides who wants to deal with setting up car shuttles?
You come to know your section of trail pretty well as you take care of it but that does not mean it becomes dull. Grand events, like a modest-sized forest brush fire liven things up but smaller scale events happen too and there is always something new to see. Last summer we came across some wonderful snakes, this spring the remains of a just-happened fire.
You also do trail work because you are becoming part of something greater than yourself. You are helping take care of something that should last generations and be enjoying by hundreds and hundreds of people. That is a good feel. ANd it is a feeling you can share with your fellow trail maintainers. You might even get lucky and encounters people using your trail segment while you are working on it and be thanked by them. For these reasons and more I think it is a very worthwhile volunteer activity. Especially if , like me, you enjoy hiking the trails anyway. Why not give something back?
- Posted from my iPhone