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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!

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