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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Blaze of Glory

I assumed that this work hike would involve trail-clearing so I loaded my trunk with axes and machetes. I left Oneida at 8:30, driving west through Clockville and south on Nelson Road. Other than the guy in the Saturn who passed me and the car ahead on a double line, it was a gorgeous, crisp, sunny morning. The valley was filling with more yellows and reds than I've seen around Oneida in years.

Just before 9:00 I pulled into the designated meeting spot: the parking area at the southwest tip of Cazenovia Lake. Then I found out that Kathy Eisele had sent me an e-mail telling me that all we'd be doing was marking trail. It turned out that Yahoo had put her message in my spam folder, so here I was with a trunk full of blades instead of the one thing I needed: a hammer. Thankfully Kathy had at least one extra.

Once everyone was gathered we formed a caravan and drove to the Dugway Road trailhead. Coordinator Kathy Eisele handed out the new blazes to the group: me, Margaret Maloney, George Zacharek, Kiley Barr, Ron and Linda Wallace, Patrick Dermody, Bill Zimmerman, Jonathan Bienes, Kurt Wheeler and his three young daughters, Chanda Vincent, and Al Larmann. The youngsters went ahead to clear some brush near the far end of the trail while the rest of us who weren't supervising them paired off. Each pair got a stack of yellow plastic rectangles with two holes for nails. Our job was to replace the old blue blazes with these new yellow ones.

Kathy instructed us to skip about a dozen markers ahead of the foremost pair and begin blazing from there. This leapfrog pattern would allow us to efficiently cover the whole trail. My partner Margaret and I started working on our section and I soon learned that there's more to trail marking than I'd expected. The basic rules turned out to be as follows.

  • Blaze on the right side of the trail.

  • Leave the nails sticking out so the tree has room to grow before it swallows the marker.

  • To indicate direction change use two blazes, the one on top offset in the direction of the turn.

  • Don't overblaze; if the old marker was unnecessary, don't replace it.

  • Don't blaze cherry trees; the wood is valuable.

It seemed to me that many of the previously marked trees were so young that a nail might kill them within a few years. I tried finding larger trees, but in many cases the bark was so spongy and thick that I would have had to bury the nail. Sometimes there were no suitable trees on the right side of the trail, so we had to use a cherry or a tree on the left. All the rules seemed made to be broken.

Margaret and I alternated friendly chatting with scratching our heads over which blazes not to replace (the trail was seriously overblazed) and which rules to break when there was no satisfactory tree to the right of the trail. Per our instructions we turned around when we ran into the group of youngsters and started working on the other side. I didn't count how many blazes we replaced but when I got back to the
trailhead at about 1:10 I was amazed at the enormous stack of blue markers filling my cargo pocket. We'd done more work than I'd realized.

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