Trails Report - October, 2004
The 2004 trail season began with the completion of the new Ferncroft kiosk. A joint undertaking of the WODC and US Forest Service, the new kiosk is positioned at the entrance to the parking lot in order to maximize viewing by the majority of hikers who are heading for the Blueberry Ledge or Dicey’s Mill Trails. The angled corner placement also allows for easy snow plowing, so the kiosk can serve hikers in all seasons.
The actual kiosk display consists of three panels: A brief history of the WODC trail system, an enlarged image of the current WODC Map, and a panel of guidance for hikers and other visitors to the Sandwich Range. In many ways, the panels reflect the central objectives of the WODC: Historical interpretation and preservation; Recreational information; and Wilderness stewardship.
As the new kiosk opened for business, the old kiosk was carefully extracted from the ground and transported to its new home in Whiteface Intervale. With a renewed WODC map in place, the kiosk will now serve hikers bound for the Flat Mountain Pond and McCrillis Trails.
The Ferncroft parking lot has also received some basic maintenance: The protruding rocks which bedeviled the snow plow were crushed by Pierce Beij and his rock hammer, and the Forest Service added a fresh layer of gravel. And the encroaching trees and brush were pruned back, preserving the 24-car capacity of the parking lot.
(Also see Trailhead Report with photos.)
The May 15th trails day marked the start of the summer hiking season. About twenty people turned out to clear blow-downs from the major trails, avoiding the side-paths which would quickly develop if these obstacles remained until the Memorial Day hiking surge. At day’s end, the hungry group of volunteers enjoyed a stream-side potluck supper hosted by Ann Rogers.
For New Hampshire Trails Day - July 17th - WODC focused on the critical task of cleaning the many water-bars which protect our trails from erosion during heavy rainfalls. With a turn-out of two-dozen volunteers, good progress was made on this annual task of clearing the 600+ water-bars and drainage dips. A small group also detoured to the neighboring Gleason Trail to build ten rock water bars and drainage dips below the junction with the Flat Mountain Pond Trail. While not a formal WODC trail, lower Gleason forms a valuable loop with the Bennett Street Trail, and is equally worthy of our attention.
NH Trails Day was concluded with an evening BBQ at the Mead Conservation Center in Sandwich. This historic property is owned by the USFS and operated by the Squam Lakes Association, primarily as a base for summer trail crews.
This year, our collaboration with the SLA expanded to include a co-operative trail crew. The combined effort allows us to share the training and administrative work, while the wider range of experiences increases the appeal for the crew leader and crew members alike.
The collaboration began with the hiring of Jeff Boudreau - a former WODC crew member - as the SLA/WODC crew leader. Of the overall six-month SLA trail season, the five-person crew would spend eight weeks on WODC projects. Although somewhat shorter than our traditional 12-week season, it still held the promise a significant accomplishments, but with reduced administrative demands.
After many years of deliberation, the trail crew was targeted for the long-overdue restoration and preservation of Lawrence Trail. Although a relocation is still being considered in the vicinity of the Overhang, the final mile near Mt Paugus is unlikely to be moved, and was a logical place to begin this multi-year project.
Unfortunately, the project got off to a bumpy start, with two crew members leaving in the first weeks. After the delay of recruiting a (single) replacement, work resumed with excellent quality and quantity, especially considering the scarcity of rock at the work site. But just as we reached peak productivity, two more crew members quit, and the work came to a full stop. These problems resulted in a 40% loss of crew time, and only about half of the expected work was completed.
Why did these problems occur? Probably because of inadequate Trails Committee participation in the crew recruiting, selection, and intake process. As a result, the crew members were less prepared for our demanding back-country project, and not fully aware of the critical role each would play in our trails program.
Where do we go from here? Except for this year, SCA volunteers have been an excellent source of trail crew members. Of our previous twenty regular crew members, the WODC suffered only one early departure. We believe we can continue this success (within the model of a co-op crew) by restoring our previous involvement in crew affairs.
Of the $20k trails budget, approximately $12k has been expended, primarily for expenses related to the trail crew. The US Forest Service has also pledged $4k towards this year’s work, leaving the WODC with a final trails expenditure of $8k. When you consider the 1800 hours of essential trail work that was completed, it’s a great deal for everyone. It’s also important to remember that 75% of the work was done by volunteers. Only the crew leader was compensated for his time, but we still owe Jeff the biggest "Thank You" for his tireless devotion to the summer crew.
Safety is always a top-priority for trail work, and the WODC has been fortunate that our only accident in the last ten years involved a knife cut at lunch time!
Since most WODC trails are within the Sandwich Range Wilderness, motorized equipment is prohibited, and all work must be done with hand tools. (You’d be surprised what you can do with a $12 bow saw!) While the Forest Service does allow chain saws outside Wilderness, they can only be used by those with formal FS training and certification.
For your own safety (and to preserve the accident protection afforded to FS volunteers), please leave your chain saw at home! If you do encounter something too big for a hand saw, give the Trails Committee a call. The Forest Service will also be glad to send out a certified sawyer for the occasional non-Wilderness blow-down.
Before the last of our trail crew departed, we took the opportunity to complete a rather unusual and interesting project: The placement of stepping stones where the Old Paugus Trail crosses the Paugus Brook. This crossing has been troublesome for many years, with ongoing trampling of the stream banks as each hiker attempts to find the best way across. Many have crossed on a fallen tree, which stops a little short of the opposite bank, resulting in at least one unexpected dip.
With the trail crossing located at an old ford, stepping stones were an attractive option, especially compared to the cost of a 40' bridge. With the "Minimum Impact" wetlands permit already on file, the water low and warm, and the remains of the crew at loose ends, it seemed an ideal time to tackle the project. Although the partially submerged rocks were easier to move than on dry land, they were exceptionally large, and required four people, three rocks bars, and a grip-hoist to drag some of them into place. After two days of work in sneakers and knee-deep water, 13 rock stepping stones were in place.
The finished crossing is a joy to use, and will reduce the impact of hikers in the riparian zone. Of course, high water, ice jams, and floating logs may have their own ideas about where the rocks belong. Before the winter sets in, be sure to check out the crossing on the Old Paugus Trail.
In a time-honored rite of Fall, WODC volunteers spent another weekend on the remote Kate Sleeper Trail. Clearing blow-downs and brush at 3500' can be surprisingly peaceful, with only a few hikers (or runners!) crossing the trail on any given day. Sleeper is also home to a small cache of trail tools, which are setting the record for the slowest traverse from Whiteface to Tripyramid. Each year the tools move a short distance to the next set of rock steps or water bars, before being stashed in woods for another winter. So far, we manage to locate the cache each year. But I think of those tools often, and of the wonderful place where they pass the years.
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