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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Work Hike Details (July 4)

For many more pictures from this hike, see the Picasa web album.

Grace and I met Steve, Mike, Carol, and Kathy at about 9:00 in Cazenovia. From there we carpooled to a section of trail a few miles south of Stone Quarry Art Park. We divvied up the pick mattocks, shovels, rakes, buckets, bow saws and sundry supplies and headed south. Grace and I talked to Steve as we followed the winding trail through the woods. He's a retired Air Force doctor who does volunteer work now, so he's an interesting person to talk to. Of course Grace, being a Columbia student, had more in the medical line to talk to him about.

These beautiful little flowers were all over the place. At the time, Grace and I thought they were wintergreen, but they turned out to be partridge berry.

We got to the site, dropped the gear, and followed Steve as he explained the whys and wherefores of the project. There was a beautiful view down to the stream on our left from along the top of the steep right bank. For a hundred yards or so the trail ran along that edge and then crossed near the ravine's downhill entrance. But the crossing itself had become a problem. The stream banks, along with the trail leading down to them, were steep enough to cause falls. Today's goal was to close off that section of trail and establish a crossing upstream.

Steve had chosen a point where the stream flowed over a broad, flat, level shelf of solid rock. We would be cutting a new trail that curved to the left off the existing one, forming a switchback with a gentle slope down to the crossing.

The main engineering task was to level off the trail and extend it out into the stream so that hikers will be able to take a single, short step down onto the stone. Since the edge of the stream was very muddy, this meant constructing a platform. Steve told us what size rocks we needed and sent us to gather them from the soon-to-be-ex-crossing. I started hauling buckets of these rocks up the trail while Steve went to work with his chainsaw.

By the time I'd formed a decent pile of rocks downstream of the crossing, Steve had returned with two sawed-off pine logs about six feet long and eight inches in diameter. He placed the logs about three feet apart on one end of a sheet of Eco-plastic fabric. He and Mike began carefully placing the rocks onto the fabric between the logs, fitting them together to form a solid foundation. I, Grace and Kathy kept hauling rocks while the platform slowly took shape. Soon Steve folded over the Eco-plastic and tucked it in, making a sort of rock sandwich.

Before we could start piling on the dirt, we had to have a dirt supply. Fortunately there was one forthcoming: the switchback trail we were about to carve into the slope. Steve spotted an adorable little salamander, and I got some shots of it while he explained about digging the trail. I also got some shots of a harvestman that was very anxious to be part of a photo op.

Per Steve's instructions, we used the mattocks to chop and slough off the top layer of organic material and roots, and then went to work with the shovels and rakes. The idea was to make a trail with a consistently gentle slope, and a slight outward slant so that rain wouldn't collect on it. We cut the upward edge with the mattocks, pulled back the organic layer, shoveled the underlying dirt downward, collected the dirt in buckets, and shuttled it down to the platform. Pretty soon we couldn't see where the trail ended and platform started: we were building a level terminus to the crossing. As we were finishing up, we met a pair of hikers with their dog. They were the last hikers to travel down the old trail.

The new trail was taking shape, so we branched out into new jobs. Grace and Carrol took hammers and went to work removing old blazes and nailing up new ones. The rest of us piled branches onto the trail just beyond the new bend so that people would know to take a left. I spied a medium-sized pine tree lying uprooted about forty feet north of the old path, so I grabbed a bow saw, cut if off at the base, and wrestled it back through the woods. This would have been a lot easier if the base hadn't been pointing away from the trail to begin with; I had to turn it around before I could start dragging. By the time I'd hauled it onto the newly closed section of trail, I felt very close to my father. I'd had an excuse to do something egregiously manly, which was just his style.

By the time I got this done, everyone but Kathy was at the other end of the new section, clearing trail and blocking off the old stream crossing. Steve was just about ready to wrap things up when Grace and I said our goodbyes a little before 1:00. We had a date with my nephew for another Link Trail hike!

As we walked back through the woods to the car we marveled at the dramatic change we'd wrought in just a few hours. I agreed with Grace that it was a shame to close off such a beautiful section of trail, but I pointed out that people will still make their way around our little jumble of brush to have a quiet lunch off the trail. And besides, the new, improved trail looks fantastic!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Letter to the Editor

This is the letter I'll be sending to all the local papers. I'm happy with it, although I think it may need some trimming before it sees print.

When I was a kid I could walk along Fairview Avenue for a mile without seeing a car. I could wander through woods where my father took me to swing on vines, pastures where I knew tasty woodchucks were living, and farmer's fields where I learned that corn leaves could cut like knives. My father told me about tadpoles turning into frogs. There was transformation in nature, and that knowledge brought a new magic into my world.

I can't go back to the frog pond where my father first showed me those tadpoles. I can't take you to the vines. The land is all posted. And when I walk with my five-year-old nephew along that same stretch of road that I first walked alone when I was his age, twenty cars race by before we can walk a mile. No one in their right mind would let him do it alone. The world has changed.

Ever since my earliest wanderings I've loved secret places. Isolated forest glades carry a touch of the mystical, but it's those hidden spots that lie just steps off the beaten path that make me feel like I've entered another world. Last summer I found a doozy. It's called the Link Trail, and you could walk twenty feet from it and never know it was there. If you step inside, you may feel what I felt: some of that old magic returning.

Maybe you're not as emotional as I am. Fine. But I defy you to see your enthusiasm reflected in the face of a five-year-old and describe the experience as anything but magic. And that magic is exactly what you get when you share nature with a child. So take the kid out onto the trail. If he likes construction, tell him about all the people and expertise and equipment that it took to build a trail over a ravine, or the long staircase near Canastota Creek. If she likes fantasy, show her the fairy dust sprinkled beneath the old log from countless larvae chewing into it. If you're religious, bring him to God's cathedral and read him Job 12:7-10. If you're into history, show him the patches of bloodroot and tell him about the Native Americans who used them for dyeing, and if you're a conservationist tell him why you're not allowed to pick them. If she's obsessed with death, show her the rabbit fur in the coyote droppings and the saplings growing on dead trunks--show her that you don't get death without rebirth.

But whatever you do, unstick that kid from the glowing rectangle du jour and get him out onto the Link Trail. And remember, nothing you do for a child is ever wasted. Don't believe me? Take a look at See the beauty I've seen. See the magic I've shared with my nephew.

And get that kid out there.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Work Hike Video

It may take me a while to prepare my entry for the July 4th work hike; there was a lot of great strategy and leadership and hard work, not to mention fungus and flowers and arachnids and a beautiful little orange salamander. But for now, here's the video I took. It shows the results of about eighteen person-hours of work.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


I was talking to Al Larmann the other day, and he was telling me that most of the people who subscribe to the NCTA Newsletter are older folks. The more I thought about this the more it bugged me, because of all the great joys I get from the Link Trail, seeing my nephew embrace my enthusiasm for it is the greatest. I think that the Link Trail is a jewel that should be shared with young people most of all! So I started mulling over potential ways to attract younger people to the trail.

The first idea I came up with was geocaching. Wikepedia has a good summary of what that is.
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container (usually a tupperware or ammo box) containing a logbook and "treasure," usually toys or trinkets of little value.

Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica.[1] There are over 820,000 active geocaches in the world right now.
The idea of geocaching is simple enough. I have a good idea of how to do it. What I'd like help with is what to put in the caches. I mentor a young boy in New Jersey, and I know what he'd say: Bakugan cards! But New Jersy isn't Cazenovia. I don't know what young people around this particular area would most like to find in a geocache. So please, comment on this post with your ideas, or e-mail them to me. I'd like to start geocaching on the Link Trail soon.