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Monday, April 28, 2014
#34: North Country Trail Spring Maintenance 2014
On the weekend of April 11, 2014 Andy, Elwira, John and I went out to do our spring trail maintenance. Our section of North Country Trail runs from 13 Mile Road to 16 Mile Road (Newago County, Michigan) and includes the side trail to Highbank Lake Campground. All told this is about 6.4 miles of trail that passes by several lakes rising and falling through many gentle short climbs. This weekend will be remembered for the great thunderstorm that ripped through the area Saturday night and Sunday morning. Besides the hail and very heavy flood causing rains the storm brought gale force winds that likely hit speeds around 60MPH and brought down numerous trees. Sadly I suspect the section of trail we had worked on Saturday likely has new trees down that we couldn't get back too. We certainly found downed trees that had not been there on the Highbank Lake campground side trail Sunday afternoon.
Since we have a nearly four-hour drive to get to our section campsite located just south of Cedar Creek on FR 5311 not to mention the time we spend driving to places like 13 Mile Road and elsewhere we maintain a somewhat lengthier section than many to make all that travel time worthwhile - it just makes sense. Usually we have just one car so we have to do out-and-back hiking. While that does mean we can be certain our blazes are in great shape in both directions it does double the amount of hiking with our tools. Consequently we typically do our section in two pieces: 13 Mile Road to Highbank Lake campground the first day and 16 Miles to Highbank Lake the second day. Of course, before we can start working on the trail we must drive to the campsite and since we rarely seem to leave the Ann Arbor area before 6:00PM even when things are going smoothly we don't reach camp until rather late at night. This weekend would be no exception. It would, in fact, have a later start for several reasons all of which were outside our control and perhaps can be blamed for some troubles later in the weekend (well, OK that's likely a stretch).
Even though we expected it to rain Saturday afternoon we didn't rush to get up and moving. After all, no one had gone to sleep before 1:00AM. But by mid-morning we were walking along the trail looking for things that needed to be dealt with. Surprisingly it turned out that we wouldn't have too much hard work to do. Plenty of small brush and a handful of blowdowns constituted the bulk of the work. A little bit of touch-up work on trail blazes, which is how Willow acquired that lovely blue tail, was done too. All in all as we passed by occasional patches of lingering snow as well as lakes that still had some ice floes bobbing about it was pretty easy work. The weather was holding off but we knew that couldn't last so after finishing off our late lunch at Highbank Lake Campground as a sporadic drizzle came down we put on our ponchos and headed back out. We planned to take a short cut which would use the forest service roads and a little cross-country hiking. I'm not sure how much of a short-cut it really ended up being but it certainly wasn't short enough. The storms we worried about started to pound us well before we reached the car. We had some confusion about where we were and the best way to go that may have slowed us up some but even had things gone perfectly I doubt we would've rreched the car before the downpour began. We poured our wet bodies into the car and drove into town for dinner rain falling hard all the way. One local, maybe he was a bit drunk, enthused loudly to the bar that the, "sky was falling." Certainly plenty of rain was and it would stop only briefly throughout the course of the next dozen or so hours. We returned to camp around 6:00PM and scurried into our respective shelters hoping the storm wouldn't last long. The rain stopped and the hail began. That was only the beginning of the extremely lousy, and potentially quite dangerous, weather we would be treated to all night long.
You can only stay in your shelter so long. That length of time diminishes when you feel you aren't sleeping well. So while John and Andy snored on I was moving about not long after sunrise. Elwira and Willow joined me soon after. The storms had finally abated and we quickly learned that the damage left behind was extensive. Trees had been brought down all over the place; Cedar Creek had flooded; drainage ditches on the forest service road were flooded. I've no doubt that trees are down and blocking the trail we had walked Saturday. Talk about bad timing. We found extensive blowdowns on the section of trail between 16 Mile road and Highbank Lake too as well as bonus blowdowns on the campground side trail.
As you can see doing trail maintenance can have its ups and downs. While you likely won't experience severe weather like we encountered during our weekend all that often it certainly can add a bit of spice to a weekend's worth of work. Even if you do not have a long distance trail like the North Country Trail near you chances are you have some trails near by that can use your help. If you do have a stretch of NCT nearby and want to learn more you can start by visiting the official webiste at northcountrytrail.org.
A Note about the audio: I am experimenting with a new external microphone for the iPhone. It's a Zoom IQ5 stereo microphone and the results are proving interesting. I don't quite understand why one channel is picking up my voice so much more robustly than the other but that seems to be happening. Perhaps I just need to learn the ins and outs of the microphone. It certainly has better fidelity than the little iRig Miccast I used before.
Photos can be found in the following places. The albums have the same pictures but present them differently: Flickr album, Google album
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