5 trail workers, 4 weeks, 1 Leadership Team

The Leadership Team and leaders on Bear Mountain, Salisbury CT, during their Leave No Trace Weekend

Last Friday, the Berkshires Leadership crew finished four weeks packed with tough work, mud, sweat, swimming, laughter, sun, rain, long hikes and beautiful views. The crew began their four weeks of trail work back in June on the Hopper trail in Mt. Greylock State Reservation. They started out with a rock waterbar project. Learning to set rocks is a difficult and often slow process, yet the crew still succeeded in installing two waterbars. And after a few initial quiet days they also succeeded in getting to know each other, becoming a giggly, conversational, enthusiastic group.
That weekend the crew traveled by van up to New Hampshire to become Wilderness First Aid certified alongside the White Mountains four week Leadership crew. During their second week, after a five hour ride back down to the Berkshires, they were back at work on a tricky section of new trail construction of a section of the Appalachian Trail on Mt. Prospect. The crew worked on this section for two weeks, moving loose rocks out of the tread, and setting them as cribbing on the downhill side of the trail to stabilize the tread and prevent erosion. In between these two weeks of work the Leadership crew went on a two day Leave No Trace Trainer course, during which they learned, and taught one another, the principles of LNT. The crew’s final week was spent at Upper Goose Pond on the Appalachian Trail. They worked long hard days to create two beautiful timber turnpikes in a muddy area, and were still able to enjoy dessert while watching the sun set over the pond. 

"Workshop Wednesday": Learning to use a Crosscut
For their last three weeks, in addition to completing trail work projects, the Leadership crew also learned a new and advanced trail skill; these sessions were aptly named “Workshop Wednesdays” (regardless of the day they fell on!). On their second week they learned about axes and spent an afternoon practicing chopping. On their third week they discovered the magic of the griphoist and used it to pull a huge rock uphill for their cribbing project. And on the fourth week, they learned about crosscut saws, and used crosscuts for the rest of the week to process the wood for their turnpikes. 

While I knew it would be hard for them to sum up it up briefly, on their last day I asked each member of the crew to write a few sentences about their experience:

Sarah-Rose & Siobhan use the Crosscut with great form!
Over these 4 weeks I’ve learned an incredible 
amount about trail work, the Berkshires and the people I met along the way. I’ve realized how important trail workers are to both through hikers and section hikers. I’ve also learned how full 10 hour work days can really be. This trip has been an incredible way to experience the A. T. from a new perspective.
-          Siobhan O.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was when we were working and hikers would come by and thank us for our work because it reminded me that even though we are only here for four weeks, we are making a big impact that will last for years and is really appreciated by many hikers.”
-          Alex K.

I learned two things on this trip: That I could push myself harder than I ever thought, and that I truly love the outdoors.”
-          Damir P.

“It made me realize how connected I truly am to the natural environment around. It was such an incredible experience with great people. Trail work is hard work, but it’s also so rewarding!
-          Sarah-Rose B.

All my life the outdoors has been a place of safety and refuge for me. Watching the first hikers to cross our newly-finished turnpikes and testing the rock waterbar we set on Mt. Greylock made me feel like I had done something important and lasting, to give back to nature and preserve that place of refuge for others.
-          Bird L.

The Leadership Team was well-acquainted with mud from week one. Thanks for all your hard work!!   


Participation, Trail Relocation, and an Exclamation: Moving the AT around Speck! Pond Campsite

I'm going to let you in on a secret. Among all the campsites AMC maintains, there is one so extraordinary, so wonderful, and so pristinely beautiful, we consistently use an exclamation point when we refer to it. That place is Speck! Pond campsite, in Maine.
Aaron, 2015 Speck! caretaker

Speck! is at the very northernmost end of AMC's region here in the White Mountain Region, an isolated outpost at the raggedy edge of the rugged Mahoosuc Range, at the edge of the highest pond in Maine.  For the Speck! caretaker, their nearest AMC employee is over 50 miles away by Appalachian Trail, the Imp caretaker.

Personally, I make the trip to Speck! Pond once, maybe twice a season. However, I'm pleased that I am able to make the trip more than that this year, as we are relocating the Appalachian Trail around the site. What follows is a story of participatory process, of stewardship, and of, well, working and living in a beautiful place.

First draft of relocation

Trail relocations are not taken lightly. It is a complex process with multiple partners, and the purpose must be in service of sustainability and stewardship. In terms of process, there are layers of approvals: the AMC Trails Department ourselves, the land manager of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, and then, in the case of the Appalachian Trail, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Regional Partnership Committee approval process.

Approaching Speck! from the south
In the case of stewardship and sustainability, the primary reason for relocation is that, overall, campsites thrive when they are on a spur trail off a main trail. The visitor experience for those staying at the site is improved, and the site sees less casual use and thus less impact. In this specific case, the concept for relocation came from a series of input sessions led across AMC and the Board of Advisors about our campsite program in 2013. The input sessions were structured to both teach participants about the principles of ideal campsite design, and then, armed with this knowledge, evaluate the state of our current campsites. Already, this input has led to relocating the Liberty Springs Tentsite caretaker platform back from the trail, as well as developing cooking areas at campsites. And, in the case of Speck!,these fresh sets of eyes to the improvements to our sites led to us identifying that, yes, we could move the Appalachian Trail out of Speck! Pond campsite.

So how does this work? First, we (AMC Trails) made a site visit in 2013, and thrashed around in the brush to see what a trail might look like. After receiving Parks and Lands, and also ATC approval in 2014, in 2015 we are carrying out this project, with the support and assistance of two Camp Dodge volunteer crews. The trail route will be, like all Mahoosuc trails, slightly rocky and moderately steep, but, as we say in the Mahoosucs, you're always choosing between a rock or a wet place.

As I type this now, two of our Campsite Program staff are heading to Speck! Pond to begin the work of cutting out the trail, and in the first two weeks of August, Camp Dodge crews will be out there stabilizing the new trail with rocks. Those north--bound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers will be some of the first to enjoy the new trail.

And you know what? I think that is pretty Speck!tacular.


Learning and Teaching with AMC NH-JAG

This week concluded our work with the Woodsville High School JAG students. Last week we introduced our crew to rock work in preparation for the massive, beautiful staircase we hoped to build this week. After just three and a half days of work, our crew came through; the finished project was indeed beautiful and even more massive than expected.  As we left the trail on Thursday, we walked down 40 fresh new steps and along 30 feet of newly side-hilled trail.

Our staircase is the first structure installed on the Lone Oak Trail on Mount Gardner in Bath, NH (which leads to a beautiful view that you should check out!). The land through which the trail meanders is conserved by the Upper Valley Land Trust and it is one of their steepest trails. The steepness of the Lone Oak Trail ensures plenty of projects for future JAG trail crews in the fight against erosion.  In the years to come, the trail will need many more stairs and some sections may need to be rerouted to more moderate grades.

Building a staircase is no small task and our crew had a lot to learn at the beginning of the week. On their final day of work they had the opportunity to teach what they had learned to six JAG students from Laconia Middle School, who visited for the day. The Laconia students had themselves been doing some maintenance on a trail near their school and were excited to work with a more experienced crew. 

We closed our three weeks of work with Woodsville JAG with a barbeque back at the high school (with Mt. Gardner in the background!). Next week we look forward to commencing work with Berlin High School JAG students. We’ll be sure to post some updates as we install stone steps, bridges, and turnpikes in the Berlin area.
Woodsville JAG trail crew and Laconia Middle School JAG students pose for a group photo with Mount Gardner in the background



Camp Dodge 4-Week Leadership Crew

Written by Crew Member Ally Scholtz  7/8/15.

The Crew splitting up for work on Carlo Col
I can honestly say that participating in the 4 week leadership trail crew at Camp Dodge has been one of the greatest and most fulfilling adventures I have ever been on.  As a group we made a point of trying to get to know each other and “breaking the ice” on the day we arrived.  It became clear very soon after talking with my fellow 4 week crew that these next weeks would be a blast! The next day we repackaged the food and group gear and did some group bonding before heading to our worksite off the Carlo Col trail.

                The first day of actual trail work was a washout rainy day. The rain created a sense of urgency and we ended up putting in 15 check steps that first day. Not once did the group complain or get bummed out about the rain and mud. The next few days of trail work were spent working in smaller groups and getting to know every member of the group on a more personal level. The one common thread between all of us is that we all wanted to volunteer to give back to the outdoor community and help build trails. Later in the month it became clear that through volunteering and working on trails, we are really working on ourselves.

                Later in the week there was a definite shift in the group between relying on our leaders and trying to learn leadership skills ourselves. We all knew that we would be our own leaders on the fourth week and to prepare for this we began asking our leaders for more responsibility as well as backcountry cooking lesson.  Looking back now as the group fills out the food req, I feel so much more ready and prepared to help be a leader in the group than myself on the first day ever could have dreamed.  This is a definite perk of being a part of such a positive, motivated group of people, we motivate each other to be or best selves, we push each other out of our comfort zones, and most of all we learn from each other. Now on the 3rd week, we are all stronger and more prepared for whatever the world throws at us than we ever would have been if we had never had this experience. 

The Crew getting the Green Tech talk at Mizpah Hut
                Last week we all pushed ourselves both physically by carrying heavy logs and as leaders, and it definitely showed in the 22 check steps we put in near the Ethan Pond shelter.   Last weekend we all became wilderness first aid certified and this next weekend will all become Leave No Trace certified.  This week we have been touring different parts of the AMC such as visiting Mizpah Springs Hut, and talking to the caretaker of a campsite. Tomorrow we will be visiting the Mount Washington Observatory and hopefully chatting up some of the Pro Crew at the barbecue Friday night.  This week has really given me an idea of what the AMC does and has to offer as well as given me some more knowledge of what it means to work in the outdoors.
                Looking back on the first week it is amazing to see how much we have grown as a group as well as how much we have grown as individuals. Now because of this crazy 4-week leadership crew adventure I feel more confident in my abilities as a leader as well as more confident in myself as a person.  This experience has been the most fulfilling adventure I have had in the great outdoors, it feels so good to work hard and give back. I will be sad to leave at the end of next week but I will never forget the wonderful experiences I have had working with the AMC teen volunteer trail crew.


AMC NH-JAG Gets Digging

Hello from AMC NH-JAG 2015! What’s JAG you ask? JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) is a federal dropout prevention program for at-risk youth. Many JAG programs offer a summer work component to help their students gain work experience before graduation. This is the fifth summer that the AMC has partnered with local JAG programs to offer summer jobs on a trail crew.

After weeks of training, scouting trail projects, and preparing for the season, we started work with the Woodsville High School JAG students two weeks ago. The first week was spent working on the Chippewa Trail (on Black Mountain in North Haverhill, NH) where we built timber check steps in a continuation of a project started last year. 
Crew leaders scouting a project on Mount Jasper in Berlin, NH
This past week, the crew worked in Cooley-Jericho Community Forest in Sugar Hill, NH. This is an area that was intensively logged until the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust purchased it in 2011. Earlier in the summer, AMC volunteer crews installed bog bridges on a muddy section of skid road-turned-trail. This past week, our JAG crew added two more bog bridges to complete this section of trail. However, our main project consisted of ‘armoring’ 45 muddy feet on another trail. ‘Armoring’ is a tread-hardening technique for mountain bike trails that amounts to paving the trail with a mosaic of flat-topped rocks. This project was a great introduction to rock work for our crew, which will be building a rock staircase on the Lone Oak Trail (Bath, NH) next week.

Armoring installed at Cooley-Jericho
Crew member digging a hole for a rock at Cooley-Jericho
Stay tuned for more updates from the AMC NH-JAG trail crew as our season continues!
Woodsville High School JAG trail crew at Cooley-Jericho

-Merike and Sarah, AMC NH-JAG 2015 Crew Leaders

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