View Full Version : Trail Maintenance article

05-25-2004, 07:37

By Lee Graves
May 21, 2004
The Richmond Times-Dispatch (javascript:NewWindow( 'FIISrcDetails','?from=article&ids=rchd');void(0);)

The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,174 miles from Georgia to Maine.

We were concerned with about 20 feet of it.

It looked like mush. Water coming off the mountain wasn't draining properly, making this section in Rockfish Gap a soggy mess to walk through and prone to deteriorate further if not repaired.

Exactly how to repair the trail was under discussion. Fran Leckie, maintenance coordinator for the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club, conferred with several club members. Would it be best to build a water bar - rock- or wood-embedded - in the path at an angle to deflect the flow? Or how about creating better drainage at the lowest point and stabilizing the path with chunks of slate for steppingstones?

Option B sounded good. Jim Hunt, club president, Mike Shelor, a board member, and I stayed while others in the crew headed south for more repairs. In all, about a dozen people were spending their Saturday with chain saws, weed whackers, picks, digging bars and other tools to smooth the way for the thousands of hikers who would be tromping through the woods in the coming months.

"Maintenance is one of the two primary missions of the club," Hunt said. "The other is hiking."

According to the Appalachian Trail Conference, based in Harper's Ferry, W.Va., nearly 4,800 people volunteered more than 185,000 hours last year to maintain the AT. The Old Dominion club, based in Richmond, is one of more than 30 organizations maintaining sections of the route, including eight tending to 549 miles in Virginia.

The Old Dominion club takes care of the trail from Rockfish Gap (where Interstate 64 crosses Afton Mountain) south to Reed's Gap (at state Route 664 west of Wintergreen).

Stewardship ultimately is a personal responsibility. Within that 19-mile stretch, individuals monitor defined sections and, when necessary, muster the troops for work that takes multiple hands.

On Saturday, we tended to portions of Leckie's stretch. For Hunt, Shelor and me, that meant creating a more stable path through this 20 feet of mush. At Shelor's direction - he'd just returned from a trail-building class, only the most recent in a lifetime of outdoor pursuits - we defined the channel so water would flow better, scraped and drained the rest of the area and cobbled together a rather nifty set of slate steps to give hikers stable, dry footing.

"This will work as a short-term solution," Shelor said.

The effort did not go unappreciated.

"Thanks for the work you're doing," said hiker after hiker as a dozen or more passed through during our toils.

Hunt and I, tools in hand, headed out to check on other work parties in our group. Leckie and several others sweated over two water bars they were building with stones.

Farther south, we met Jim Schroering on his way back from the Paul Wolfe Shelter at Mill Creek. One of the central questions of the day - and the butt of numerous jokes - was whether the privy at the shelter needed immediate attention. No bed of roses, he said, but he'd seen and smelled worse. It would go on the to-do list for a subsequent trip.

As we hiked, Hunt explained that the club, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, schedules roughly one maintenance trip a month. Leckie, a longtime club member, coordinates the work based on what she sees and what individuals report about their sections.

As we passed the shelter at Mill Creek, we chatted with two women - weekend hikers, they said - who were settling in. Another group, relaxing by a spur path, waved, and once again we heard, "Thanks for the work you're doing." Nobody complained about the privy.

Zigging and zagging through the cutbacks, we hiked up to Humpback Gap and headed toward the final work party southeast of Humpback Rock. Ed Parsons and Ed Schlinger had left by the time we arrived, but we saw their handiwork. Tree trunks the circumference of truck tires lay by the path, piles of fresh sawdust giving a tang to the air.

The day's work was done, spring cleaning along a trail that thousands of hikers have completed since 1936. More than 1,180 set foot from Georgia this spring in hopes of hiking all 2,000-plus miles.

It's good to know that when they reach the 20-foot section we repaired, they'll be less likely to stumble or slip.

Texas Dreamer
05-25-2004, 08:21
I vote we make SavageLlama the official Whiteblaze newspaper-scourer (it is too, a word--sort of). Hey Llama, how do you find all these articles?

SGT Rock
05-25-2004, 09:30
Sounds like a good idea.

05-25-2004, 16:11
I vote we make SavageLlama the official Whiteblaze newspaper-scourer (it is too, a word--sort of). Hey Llama, how do you find all these articles?
I get subscriptions to 375 newspapers and then scour them every morning over coffee. :D