A new life for an old friend: Straightening out a slanty Ethan Pond Shelter

 Ethan Pond Shelter is special among the shelters AMC manages in the White Mountain fleet. It is the oldest standing shelter, built in 1957 by an AMC Trail Crew. It is the only shelter built with vertical logs. It is the only shelter in a very long stretch of Appalachian Trail. It is our lowest use campsite, its most popular visitors being moose and bears. It is special, and when the time came recently to think about its future, we weighed the careful decision of repair and replacement, and even removal. And because of all these special reasons, including dry and stable framing, the decision came to repair our old friend and gentle spirit, Ethan Pond Shelter.

Ethan Pond Shelter, crooked.
The problem Ethan suffered was wracking due to lack of horizontal and cross-braced supports, as well as erosion in the front foundation rocks. The rehabilitation style would be to honor the native log construction technique, using trees cut and peeled on site. We decided on sets of cross bracing in as many corners as possible, as well as reinforcing the ridgeline and horizontal supports. Holding those braces in place are the modern convention of Timberlock screws, but covered with dowel plugs as utilized in the original construction.

Of course.....how do you straighten a shelter? Very carefully. And, it turns out, very quickly.

Anchor of two front posts
Armed with two griphoists, a spool of Amsteel (wildly strong rope, worth googling when you get a chance), and a general plan, the project began on a Wednesday afternoon. We started by setting up a front anchor to the two front posts, to ensure we wouldn't accidentally pull the shelter off the footing. The next step was cinching the shelter with a long section of Amsteel, and anchoring that to a second griphoist that would do the actual work of pulling the shelter into line. Looking at the picture above, it might look like some dental floss and not much else. But it worked.

Watching the shelter come into alignment was like watching a flower bloom, in the words of one of the crew. As the griphoist pulled slowly, the movement was subtle but powerful. If you closed your eyes briefly and looked back you would noticed the difference and the gentle movement. Occasional pops and cracks alerted us to the gravity of the work and the seriousness of the task. And then, the shelter was straight.

The task of straightening an old and dear shelter is not one of total straight lines, of measured SpeedSquare angles or of engineered perfection. Just like the crew that built it, the crew that rehabilitated it aimed for visual beauty and rugged perfection. Or, in brief, 'that looks about right.'
Rear and center bracing for Ethan

We have a deep and important connection to Ethan Pond Shelter through a local trails celebrity, Ben English, who was one of the crew who built it while he was on AMC Trail Crew. Ben, throughout this process, has been supportive, curious, and also kind enough to loan me the news article that I pulled these photos from. He helped me develop a nice chronicle for Ethan Pond, that you can find here. He has also promised a musing of his own on his relationship with Ethan, in its new form. 

Bracing Ethan's Walls 2015, and Raising Ethan's Walls 1957

There are some things that have not changed much since 1957. It took all summer to prepare the logs, and the photo that opens this post sums up the experiences of the two caretakers that spent their days peeling logs. The crew wore plaid and brown pants. They came from afar and came from New England. The techniques of log work, while aided by tools like chainsaws, still involved hand tools and patience.

By Friday the crew had installed all the braces and horizontal supports that we had planned on. And with baited breath, they released the griphoists.

Ethan Pond Shelter stayed upright, and will stand proudly for another half century. May Ethan Pond Shelter outlive us all. 

Ethan Pond Shelter, 2015


Professional Trail Services

Hello again, Trails World!

Earlier this Summer, I posted about a large project that the Roving Conservation Crew (RCC) completed in North Providence, Rhode Island. Today, I wanted to take some time to tell you all about a project the Crew has completed a little closer to home.

The Crew spent seven weeks this Summer (and, an additional week this Fall) working on the Bald Peak Trail, which heads towards the summit of Pleasant Mountain in Bridgeton, Maine. Through a very generous donation, the Loon Echo Land Trust was able to hire the RCC to complete a reroute of a badly eroded section of trail. 

Although less than a mile in length, the trail work proved to be very difficult due to the lack of topsoil that existed in the area of the reroute. Once the top layer of organics and soil (commonly referred to as “duff” by the Trail Crew) was removed from the new trail, the Crew found that they were working with bare ledge, which is not exactly ideal for trail working conditions… It was time for the Crew to get creative! Over the next seven weeks, the RCC used stones and native timber to build a series of stone steps, check steps, ladders, and stairs to ascend Pleasant Mountain. The final product came out wonderfully; users from all over are now enjoying a more sustainable route up the mountain. I’d like to encourage any and all of you to get out and hike Pleasant Mountain, via the Bald Peak Trail, and check out some of the RCC’s work. The views from the top are fantastic!


Quinn the girl…..at Guyot.

Guyot is the most rugged and remote campsite in the AMC fleet. The most direct route is over 7 miles into the heart of the Pemi, along the Twinway and across the summits of Zeacliff, Zealand, and Guyot itself. The more challenging way is via Bondcliff and Bond, or across the Twins. Guyot Campsite was most recently profiled in AMC Outdoors.

This summer, Guyot has been stewarded by Quinn Nichols, a self-described ‘small-towner New Hampshirite.’ Quinn was one of my first new-caretaker interviews this past winter and was offered a position almost immediately. Funnily enough, she didn’t immediately accept the position and when time went by too long she thought it was too late. We reached out, corrected that misassumption, and brought Quinn into the caretaker fold.

Each caretaker has the ability to bring the full breadth of their unique individuality to the position. That said, we do have job requirements and expectations, the quantitative hard skills of trail work, campsite maintenance, and composting, as well as the qualitative skills of visitor education and outreach. The unique expression of self comes about in the way a caretaker makes the most of their time in the field, and how they share that experience with others. As I’ve shared before, that comes in the form of photos, essays, raps, and even gingerbread houses.

This week I decided to showcase Quinn and her creativity, as she has been chronicling her experiences in her blog, called Quinn the Girl. Why ‘the girl’? Because when she was growing up there was another Quinn in school, and he became known as Quinn the Boy. Learning this lowered my gender inequity hackles. It is a blog she started to chronicle her personal journeys for her fans at home, who are friends and family, and I love it for the personal touch. And, as such, she wants everyone to know that it does not represent the views of AMC but her personal adventures.

Guyot is a challenging site, it is the highest-use site and also inadequately sized in terms of platform space. It is hard to get to, and people often arrive tired and dehydrated. The remoteness also means the Guyot caretaker is fairly isolated from roads and other AMC staff. So when I read the title of Quinn’s most recent post, about bringing the childish spirit and the joy of play into your life, I confirmed what I had suspected about Quinn all along: her gift to the world is laughter.

And, as further proof, just before I posted this, Quinn came through our Trails office after her stint in the woods. She mentioned that there were 91 people at Guyot on Labor Day weekend, and she was still laughing.


Pilot Year of Teen Trail Crews on the Bay Circuit Trail!

The volunteers trail program grows every year, and one of those new branches on the volunteer trails tree was the pilot program for Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) teen crews. During my AmeriCorps service as the Community Engagement Coordinator for the BCT, I tackled the planning, execution, and reflection for these two weeks of crews (with much help and support, of course!) There were months of meetings, talking about the big and small details, scouting projects, ordering materials, logistical planning, coordination with our partners, and more.

The crew enjoying their lunch
After much anticipation, the non-residential program ran from July 13th – July 17th. We partnered with Old Colony YMCA of Brockton and worked with a group from a local middle school. For four hot, gypsy-moth-filled days we worked on the BCT-connector trail at Mass Audubon’s Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, MA. The crew installed timber check steps to combat the heavily eroded trail, and installed two timber water bars to direct water off the trail. We were lucky to have organic strawberries and carrots hiked in to us by farm staff from Moose Hill, as well as have one of their staff do an afternoon nature walk with our group. On Friday, the crew did a half day of basic maintenance of the BCT in Easton, MA, and then took the afternoon off to explore DCR’s Borderland State Park.

Preparing to set the timber waterbar
One of four new check steps
The crew learning how to build our boardwalk
With one short day of rest, I prepared to lead the overnight basecamp teen crew. We had a full crew of nine participants camped at Lorraine Campground at DCR's Harold Parker State Forest. Our project was to re-route the BCT off its current path of an unstable, poison-ivy covered stone wall. We installed ~100 feet of boardwalk to traverse the stream and surrounding wet area the stone wall crossed, providing a safer, much more enjoyable and sustainable crossing. The group did an outstanding job despite the hot, humid weather and ever-present poison ivy. On our last day we switched gears and did general maintenance on three miles of trail at The Trustees or Reservation's Ward Reservation in Andover, MA, then enjoyed the afternoon at the solstice stones on Holt Hill.
Digging holes for our base logs - many rocks to be moved!
Two new sections of boardwalk
Working through the ups and downs of a pilot program can be a challenge, but our experiences and reflections will be immensely helpful for the continuation of the program in years to come. Not to mention, much-needed improvements were made to the trail and will help improve users experience and protect the trail and surrounding environment. Trail work isn’t always the most important part, though, and, as always, my favorite part of each week was watching teens spend time outdoors, work as a team, learn something new, and gain an appreciation for the natural world.

On another note, this will be my last post about BCT, but there will be more posts from others to come! My AmeriCorps term with the Bay Circuit Trail came to an end in early August, but I am happy to be joining the Professional Trail Crew in Maine for the fall. Happy trails!
**P.S. AMC/BCT worked with Friends of North Andover Trails to get a team of local volunteers together on Monday, 8/24. Thanks to their hard work, the remaining 30 feet of boardwalk across the stream is complete. The new & improved section is open for your enjoyment!


Another Teen Trail Season Come and Gone!

It’s week 10 of our Teen Trail Crew season – that means summer is done and school is upon us!  As we close out the busiest part of the full trail season, it’s time to start looking back at what we accomplished.

We’ve done more of the same of course, heading back to Imp trail for our usual staff rock work training.  It was a muddy mess and the Crew Leaders may not have realized it at the time, but if they didn’t learn a mountain of rock work skills while mired in the mud, they learned a far more valuable lesson of the importance of tenacity and fortitude.

Once we unleashed the Crew Leaders and crews on the trails, we went back to old standby projects, like our local neighborhood trail, 19-Mile Brook.  There, we helped our fellow trail workers on the AMC Pro Crew tidy up a new section of trail.  And this week, as is the tradition with the last week of each season, we headed across the street and up into the Great Gulf wilderness with a smaller crew to chip away at the more remote projects in the Whites.


Not all was old hat this year; we did go to new places as well.  Like the alpine zone trails all around Madison Spring Hut, where we had the chance to perform some much needed alpine trail maintenance thanks to a generous $2,500 grant from the Waterman Fund.  The two weeks of Teen Trail Crews we had up there with Waterman Fund support went a long way to helping to keep people off the fragile alpine flora and on the rocky, ever-worn trails. 

Even though so many of our trails up here are beaten paths of exposed earth in desperate need of some TLC, we don’t worry because we’re always educating and preparing the next generation of trail workers and conservation leaders.  We develop teens throughout their high school career from simple base camp crews to the 4-Week Leadership and Conservation crew.  On the 4-Week crew, the teens complete loads of trail work, but learn about all the efforts the AMC and our partners like the Waterman Fund put into protection and promotion of the wonderful White Mountains!


Boomerang Gang: A Berkshires story of Trail work and Resilience

Resilience means looking at the bigger picture and not dwelling upon what’s right in front of you. Continuing even though what’s in front of you might be taking up most of the picture.” – Hannah

The Final Week of Teen Trail Crew has jumped out from its dark corner in surprise, and makes its presence unavoidably clear.  A band of staff now battered, bruised and rough around the edges, we round the corner and enter into the last remaining stretch of the 2015 Berkshires Trails season.

Resilience has to do with patience, endurance, ability to learn from the past and to use it to make the present and future better.” – Hugh

Once we moved past the excitement of new in the beginning, past the celebration of ascent to the peak in the middle, but before we encounter the bittersweet of the end, we have found ourselves capable and willing to take on anything thrown at us, day after day; resilient.  
“Resilience is one of the most important things you can have. You [can be] so sick and tired…but you have to come back the next week ready to lead with a smile on your face. It sets the crew off in the right direction.” – Jesse

Workings as a Crew Leader for the Teen Trail Program during past seasons were not without their challenges:

“[As a crew leader], there was a participant on my crew that was really rude to me and made my week a living nightmare. I was so tired, frustrated and upset at the end of each day, but then it would start all over again each morning. That was the longest week I’ve ever been through; it just took all I had to get to Friday” Molly

“[As a volunteer participant on a Leadership crew], we had built a series of stone steps up Jug End [on the Appalachian Trail]. The next year when I returned as a crew leader, [our project was to] rip out those steps in order to build a better rock staircase. It was really hard to get on board with that: to have a project that you had put so much work into get ripped out. But you just have to push through that and help build a better staircase.”  -Jesse

The 2015 Trail season was not spared of difficulties either:
“A few weeks, ago we were in resilience mode. Having been [leading crews] for a while, you tend to just get tired, your body and everything. We had to just keep going. It’s the point where you’re faced with the option of either doing your best even if that’s difficult - or taking the easy way out.”  - Hugh

“I got sick this summer. It was really frustrating to come back to work and realize I couldn’t do everything as well as I could before.”- Molly

“…it down poured during lunch and participants started ringing out their pita sandwiches like they were soaked towels…” – Maggie

We began developing a few interesting ways of dealing with these challenges:
“…I speak in a lot of different accents…” – Hugh

Though accents, games and donuts aided the staff through difficult times, the true source of overcoming these challenges was their own strength of character:
“Resilience might have a lot to do with optimism, maybe sometimes blind optimism. There [is] nothing saying that the next week [isn’t] going to be the same way, but I just needed to stay optimistic about the summer.”     - Molly

“I started [with the Berkshires Trails Program], oh man, how many years ago? I started at 15 and I broke my wrist during the second week of my 2 week crew. They asked me if I wanted to go home and I looked at them like, ‘are you crazy? There’s only 3 days left!’ You’ve always got something to give, and there’s always more to do. I think that’s what keeps bringing me back year after year. It’s a never-ending battle.” – Jesse

“[Last week] we had no time for breaks or games. We had to just put our heads down and work two hours extra every day. At this point in the season we knew it had to be done and we were ok with putting in the extra work to do what was expected of us.” – Hannah

After all this, why keep doing this type of work? Why does our staff willingly show up to work each morning, rain or shine, knowing bugs will be plenty and backbones will be sore?

“Being a crew leader is what keeps me coming back. Being a role model [for the volunteer participants] like the ones that I had as a kid is really awesome, and I really like that.” - Jesse

“I found it was the rewarding, energetic and fun weeks that drove me, as a crew leader, to have resilience. Even if this rock wouldn't set on the first or 15th try, I knew that it was possible and we had options to make it work…” – Maggie

“There are two main things and I think they’re equally as important. First, is that the work is satisfying and creative and it’s stimulating. It’s satisfying for both my brain and body; I have to think things through while it’s physically challenging. Second, are the people. There’s this amazing community, and a different group of people each year. This job just draws really amazing people to it. “ - Molly

“The people are incredible, and who else gets to put down everything in their daily lives and go to the woods and throw some rock bars around.” – Hannah

The 2015 season has witnessed the transformation of our staff from fresh faced to bold and dirty.  They have dug in their heels when challenges pushed them, and they’ve charged forward in spite of it all. The 2015 Berkshires Trails staff are about embark on their final week, and they are as ready and capable as ever to lead with their unbreakable strength and smiles. 

“…I found resilience is the key to starting fresh every week and every day with new energy.” – Maggie
Trails = Rock

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