trail maintainer

All posts tagged trail maintainer

When I head out onto my adopted trail for seasonal maintenance trips, I like to keep my pack as light as I can, even with the additional tools. Since most of the work I have to do in the spring consists of cutting up fallen trees and clearing encroaching underbrush from the trail, I can get away with a wonderfully small set of tools that can take care of most of the work while adding less than 3 pounds to my pack.

Guthook’s arsenal of trail tools

This tool set includes:

  • Silky Gomboy 240mm Folding Saw (9.5 ounces): A very lightweight and sharp folding saw made for branches up to 3 or 4 inches in diameter, although with plenty of time and sweat I’ve cut through trunks up to 8 inches.
  • Silky Tsurugi 400mm Saw (16 ounces including sheath): Also very lightweight, but a fixed blade that’s about 16 inches long. Like the Gomboy, it’s best for branches that are up to 5 or 6 inches diameter, but I’ve cut 12 inch logs a few times.
  • Fiskars 15″ PowerGear Super Pruners (13.4 ounces): These loppers are pretty compact, but the geared mechanism makes them surprisingly powerful. They cut through brush up to an inch thick like it’s not even there.
  • Ironclad Gripworx Gloves (3 ounces): Good for preventing blisters while sawing away all day, and for keeping poking bits of logs from sticking your hands. And thin enough that you can still tie your shoes with them on.

Of course, two saws is unnecessarily redundant, but I just like both of them a lot.

Enough trail tools to take care of basic maintenance will fit in the side pocket of an ultralight backpack.

This small set of tools is great for clearing overgrown trail, or for most of the fallen trees I encounter (since much of my trail is high in elevation, the fallen trees are rarely very huge), and it fits easily in the side pocket of my Gossamer Gear pack. There are often obstacles that are bigger than what I can handle with these tools, but the vast majority of what I encounter is no match for them.

When I have digging to do, or when there are really big fallen trees, I’ll need to bring some bigger, heavier tools. But one of the benefits of the light tools is that I can take a quick trip to my trail in the beginning of the season, or a few times in the summer, and slice up all the easy stuff without having to haul a chainsaw or other heavy equipment. On those trips, I’ll note the locations of any larger issues so that I can come back for them later. Or, I can tag-team with a friend who has a chainsaw– splitting the load is a great way to deal with heavy group gear.

Of course, if you’re going to take up being a volunteer trail maintainer, you should make sure you officially sign up with the local trail maintaining club or land manager. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Pacific Crest Trail Association are great places to start looking.

Last year, I adopted a section of trail with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club to become a volunteer trail maintainer. Since then, I’ve been to my trail three times to clear fallen trees, trim brush, clean water bars, and clean trash from campsites. These are all things that I could have done on my own without officially becoming a volunteer maintainer, but making it official is the best way to keep an immense trail like the Appalachian Trail in good shape. Here’s why.

TrailMaintenance

My section of trail is about 8 miles long, and each of my trips to maintain it has taken 1 to 3 days. When I’ve finished my work trip, I send a work report to the district overseer– the sections of trail that MATC maintains are broken into districts throughout the state, each with an overseer. Each overseer coordinates a handful of volunteers who do trail maintenance on a given section of trail. If no volunteer is responsible for a section of trail, as was the case before I volunteered, the overseer either takes it upon himself to do the trail maintenance, or tries to find more volunteers.

So when I took over my section of trail, that freed up the district overseer from having to make extra trips to my section, and he can now focus on making sure other sections are maintained properly. Even better, if I or another maintainer run into something we can’t fix with the tools we have, as was the case for many maintainers after 2015’s harsh New England winter, he can coordinate groups of volunteers to tackle the problems together.

You’ll notice I’m talking about volunteers, not paid trail crews. The fact of the Appalachian Trail is that the vast majority of trail maintenance is done by unpaid volunteers. Paid trail crews usually take on major work that requires technical skills, like building stone stairways, relocating large sections of trail, or building shelters (although volunteers often do much of the heavy work for those, too). The most common stuff that you might complain about while hiking through an overgrown or muddy section of trail– that’s volunteer work.

Volunteering comes with an obligation to visit your section of trail two, three, or four times a year in order to maintain it, and that’s also important. While tossing fallen branches off a trail that you’re hiking on is helpful, one can’t rely on casual hikers to stop and clear all the blow downs. It’s important to have one or more people who are responsible for a trail, who commit to those multiple trips each year.

I often hear through-hikers or people who appreciate them asking how they can “give back to the trail”, but few responses ever focus on what is absolutely one of the most important things you can do to help hikers. Volunteer to maintain a trail. If you can commit to three trips to the trail each year (which I know isn’t something everyone can do– that’s the reason I only started last year), look into volunteering. It’s not just something to do on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail– National Forests and National Parks often rely on volunteer trail maintainers also. Here are a few big ones:

Appalachian Trail (get in touch with your local chapter)
Pacific Crest Trail
Appalachian Mountain Club (NH, NJ, ME)
For National Parks, find the “Friends of…” website for the park (many National Parks have official Friends organizations that help raise funds and maintain trails)