Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rebuilding Trails After Hurricane Irene

Trail work calls many a climber but with life getting in the way it’s only a lucky few who actually get to enjoy this dream job. One needs time and energy to spare to fully enjoy climbing a peak all the while trimming, chopping, and tossing. For us stalwarts, trail work is a kind of luxury. Year after year we observe the effects of weather and people on the mountains while marveling at the ever evolving beauty of wild flowers and other vegetation as our slow pace allows us to monitor the progress of spring and fall.

Sometimes we get too close to a branch and drop blood on the trail, or suddenly become a delicious buffet for a hive of Yellow Jackets. Gushing head wounds are the best as patient and caregiver take a break from the trail to partake in murder mystery and general hospital all in one. Obviously the audience is limited but one day when retiring from trail work we will be more than ready for the big screen.

Repellent works nicely thank you against black flies and by the time deer and horse flies abound summer has arrived and trail work pauses. Anyway, we have to admit that but for a handful of spring days black flies do not harass volunteer trail workers since they much prefer “fresh” peak baggers!

Let’s mention the invaluable fringe benefits of a tree hugging job: mud caking, soaking dew showers, balsam needles coating, pitch smears, spruce scratches: all combined to keep one forever young and cute.

There are countless ways to participate in trail work depending on one’s availability. It’s all under DEC governance and rules but mostly via the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), Adirondack Trail Improvement Society (ATIS) and the 46ers. Volunteers can either register for one or several of the trail days organized every year by the ADK and the 46ers or become the steward of a particular section of trail, an agreement renewed on a yearly basis. Being a steward is more of a commitment but it gives the adopter schedule flexibility.

Luckily, as there is much more to do than volunteers can undertake, the DEC, ATIS and ADK have professional trail crews in the field every year for a certain number of weeks depending on projects and funding.

Tony Goodwin has been Director of ATIS (founded in 1897) for 25 years and never lacks for things to be done. As he is known to utter, “Trail work is never done”. In his capacity he takes care of 105 miles of public trails and walks most of them once every year! At the ADK (founded in 1922), from early spring to late fall, Wes Lampman, Director of Field Programs, does not have a minute to himself either. The ADK oversees close to 200 miles of trails.

As for the 46Rs (founded in 1948) volunteers clear 36 miles of trail every year. The toughest job for volunteers is no doubt adopting a herd path as some have been doing since 2004. The relatively high turnover in stewards testifies to the mental and physical fortitude it takes to actually do herd path maintenance. Most herd paths are far from trailheads and often consist of roots, mud and steep ledges galore. One volunteer in particular, Matt Clark, deserves our admiration for his unfailing commitment (8 years and counting) to the Redfield path.

Then the occasional hurricane re-routes trails and brooks not always for the best. Following Irene’s furry, the DEC sent a large and experienced trail crew composed from the various neighboring regions staff to clear trails during most of September allowing the re-opening of the High Peaks in record time.

As a result of Irene’s massive destruction, many a brook and a river found themselves occupied by heavy machinery trying to restore the past in an attempt to temper future flooding. The resulting uniform landscape seen from every bridge is not getting a round of applause and the jury is still out on the efficiency of the work. Below is a picture (A) of the new and improved Roaring Brook bed (New Russia side of the Giant Wilderness) as it goes under Route 9 to enter the Boquet. Photo B shows the same brook 20 yards upstream from the brook work where a house partially collapsed during the tropical storm. Photos C and D are views of the same brook 100 yards upstream!

Irene did have one positive impact. The Orebed Trail ladders had been in need of extensive repairs for years until finally thanks to Kris A. Alberga, District Forester (DEC), Wes Lampman (ADK), Ranger Jim Giglinto and a few generous climbers, rebuilding began in mid-August. The work progressed until Irene decided to take control of the situation. The newly built ladders (E) resisted Irene’s onslaught but the environment was drastically re-organized (F). Consequently, upon close inspection, Ranger Giglinto determined that the new gentle and stair-like slide above would make for an easy enough climb without any further manmade assistance. Unused funds earmarked for this work will be available for other projects.

The numerous bridges and dams which were crushed or pushed aside may make fall and winter travel tougher than usual as it will take time (and money) to re-position and rebuild them (if at all in certain cases). Duck Hole (photos G & H) will no doubt be an ongoing story for months if not years as the debate will rage about the pros and cons of rebuilding the historic dam. However, there seems to be a consensus about the urgency of rebuilding Marcy Dam.

In the meantime, we wish you and ourselves many more years of trail work and all joys and rewards that come with it. Photos (I & J) show Gary Koch and Pete Biesemeyer doing just that along the Upper Range Trail this past spring. Pete has been doing trail work every year since 1954 while Gary adopted his first lean-to in 1986 and became a trail steward in 1989. Both would easily convince any passer-by they are not a day over seventeen!

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Christine Bourjade

Christine Bourjade is a member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. She is a lean-to adopter and long time trail steward.




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