Monday, April 28, 2014

Trail Maintainers - the Unsung Trail Angels of Hiking

It's that time of year when trail crews are out tackling the issues of trail maintenance that come up on trails like the Appalachian Trail. Keeping pathways clear and usable for trail traffic is a time consuming but rewarding experience. Trail organizations offer ways for interested people to become trained, certified in certain areas such as chain saw to help clear and maintain trails. Without these efforts, trails would become unusable. Also, the changes of weather affect the trails, leading to erosion issues. Steep grades in trails require a reassessment and may need to be rerouted. Without trail overseers and maintainers, there would be no trails and limited ways of enjoying the wilderness experience.

Maintainer works on a reroute of the Appalachian Trail
The trail upkeep maintainers face -

1. Initial assessment of trail conditions - some clubs hire ridgerunners and others to patrol trails and report their conditions so maintainers know what to look for. This helps a maintainer avoid having to carry heavy equipment while looking for a blowdown or other hazard. If there are no ridgerunners or its out of season the maintainers must walk their section and look for hazards and issues that need to be addressed. This also includes trailside shelters and privies. They then must return and fix the issues they find.

2. Garbage removal - maintainers look for trash and clean it up, including trailside trash and trash in shelters and inside privies. As you might imagine, this is difficult and problematic work at times (and should be totally unnecessary if hikers carry out their trash and don't put trash in the privies!).

3. Foliage - maintainers are responsible for cutting back foliage, many times mowing or weed whacking high grass, and taking care of limb and tree blowdowns. They must carry in the tools necessary to accomplish the task, anything from hand clippers to chain saws (requiring certification). Trail blazing is also done as well as checking for signage.

A maintainer will need to walk in and either saw or take a chainsaw to remove the obstacle

4. Trail maintenance - with the precipitation a trail receives, maintainers look for issues regarding water run-off. In many cases with this and to stop trail erosion, they install water bars (where water moving down the trail turns when it comes in contact with the water and is directed to the lower edge of the trail and runs off) and check dams. Sometimes a steep graded trail becomes so badly eroded that a reroute is needed. Or a reroute can be considered to remove a trail from a road walk or to avoid a hazardous intersection. Trail clubs and maintainers are involved in the process as well as constructing the new trail
Building a Check Dam

5. Shelter maintenance and privy maintenance, including inspection, fixing of issues such as roof leakage, cleaning out and maintaining privies

Trail groups are in dire need of people who love the trail and want to help preserve the trail for future generations. Many offer courses, training, etc on various aspects of trail maintenance. PLEASE - find a trail organization near you and become involved! Even a little can help a lot!

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