Alligators, and Eagles, and Marshes Oh My!

Take a Hike on the Beach
We have so many amazing volunteers who help us during the peak trail work season in the White Mountains from April to October, but somehow, that is still not a long enough season for volunteering on trails.  No, we have seen a spike in interest in off-season volunteer vacations among our adult volunteers with the US Virgin Island and Southern California PCT Crews – which we are running again in Winter 2015!  Therefore, we decided that we should continue this excellent trend by heading to sunny Florida to work on the Florida National Scenic Trail.

The Florida Trail is a sister national scenic trail to our own Appalachian Trail.  We’ll take the estimable skills and experience our volunteers have from working in New England down south where we’ll no doubt learn some new trail skills! 
The Thompson House

From January 17-24, 2015, we are going to stay at the FTA’s Volunteer Base, Thompson House near Crawfordville, Florida.   Out of these cushy confines, we’ll head to the trail each day in the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge area where we will work on basic maintenance and maybe some larger infrastructure construction projects as well.  Working on the Florida Trail will mean we get to experience marsh ecosystems and maybe see some American Alligators and countless different bird species.

Sunset on the Florida Trail
So join us for this new opportunity, and enjoy some warmer climes in the winter too! 

For more information on our Volunteer Vacations, check out our Trails Blog with some great stories from our 2014 excursions:  http://trailsblog.outdoors.org/.  

For more information on the Florida Trail Association, visit their website at http://www.floridatrail.org/

For more information on St. Marks NWR, visit:  http://www.fws.gov/refuge/St_Marks/

And contact me, Brendan Taylor, North Country Trails Volunteer Supervisor, at btaylor@outdoors.org for more details about the project or to register

Hope to see you on the trails! 



Rock Work Advanced Skills Training will be offered the weekend of the Adopter Appreciation BBQ, September 13-14, 2014.  This workshop will be open to all AMC volunteers, regardless of program.
You will join experienced leaders to learn the fundamentals of safely moving rock, trail stabilization and treadway protection.  We plan to do some trail work off the Mount Washington Auto Road. Weather permitting we will do some rock work on the upper section of the Nelson Crag Trail as it goes over Ball Crag.  This section of trail needs work to harden the treadway and provide definition with rock structures like rock steps, scree wall and rock rubbling.  There are also some cairns in the area that need rebuilding. 

Depending on the weather we will decide upon the appropriate location for the training session which will be held rain or shine.  Lower on the mountain, rock work done in the 1970's could use rebuilding to improve the treadway and drainage on the Madison Gulf Trail as it approaches Lowe's Bald Spot.

Tools, hardhats and all the equipment will be available.  Bring work boots, gloves and appropriate clothes.

Meet Saturday morning at 8:00am at Camp Dodge for Safety discussion and briefing on the work.  Breakfast and Trail Lunches available. 

We will drive up the Auto Road to the work site and return for the BBQ by 3-4:00pm.  Overnight accommodations and meals are available at Camp Dodge, during this 2-day Rock Work Session. 

To register, please contact Brendan Taylor at btaylor@outdoors.org for a registration packet. 

White Mountain Adopt-A-Trail program needs your help to fill a void of backlogged trailwork – all while enjoying stunning vistas from the alpine zone on Mt. Washington!


A Day in the Life of an Alpine Steward

For more than two decades Alpine Stewards have roamed Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. These volunteers, representing AMC, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, educate hikers about the ridge’s fragile environment, Leave No Trace ethics, and hiking safety. Learn more >>


Enjoying the Differences on the PCT

Soaking up the morning sun
For the first time, an AMC Adult Volunteer Trail Crew worked in sunny southern California.  From March 15-22, 9 AMC volunteers and staff partnered with the Pacific Crest Trail Association to work on the PCT just north of the Mexican border.  Working in the desert chaparral ecosystem is quite a bit different than working in our rocky forested New England Mountains, and added to that, the PCT is a hiker/equestrian trail meaning there are different standards to meet in the trail work.

A Lizard Lunch (photo by Linda Guinter)
Each day, we were greeted with sunny and 70-80 degree weather – a much needed respite indeed from the never ending winter in New England.  Of course, it is also very dry down on the border, so there is no moisture in the soil; this made working on the tread like working on a beach and prevented us from using any power tools, even in non-wilderness areas, because of fear of a spark leading to a wild fire.  On top of that parched beach sand was crumbling rock, baked constantly by the sun and battered by the fierce winds, which breaks it down making it hard to construct trail structures.  Underneath those crumbling rocks though are a wide variety of unique species, including snakes, ground squirrels, lizards, and poisonous centipedes that sting and eat the bigger lizards!  Desert survival is not for the faint of heart.
Deberming with a McLeod - a rare tool in New England

In addition to all of those native species, the PCT is home to horses as well.  Equestrian trails are not common in the northeast, and the PCT’s sister trail, the Appalachian Trail, is for hikers only.  Maintaining a trail for equestrian use requires meeting different standards.  The tread has to be wider, the corridor bigger, and structures are kept at an absolute minimum.  

Switchback before our work
Switchback after our work
It is okay though that structures are used sparingly because the PCT was designed where many of the older trails in the northeast developed through social use without any planning at all.  In New England, most trails are considered fall line trails, meaning they climb ridge lines straight up the side of the hill.  This allows for a shorter trail distance, but substantially increases erosion as the water rushes straight down the gullied trails.  This in turns requires an increased number of rock and timber structures to drain and retain the tread, further increasing our recreational impact on the land.  Conversely, we worked to deberm the tread on the PCT to allow water to flow gradually off the side, and we rebuilt a switchback as well.  These switchbacks allow PCT users to gradually climb a hillside and keep the need for soil retention and drainage structures to a minimum, which is good for the land as well.
Cleaning the Roost after Dinner

Despite these differences though, it was still good trail work.  We enjoyed the warmth, the good hard work, and the delicious meals at the Red Tailed Roost Volunteer Center.  Most importantly, by the end of the week, we had improved nearly 1-¼ miles of the PCT through our efforts and we cannot wait to return in 2015!     

Alpine Steward Day-in-the-Life Video

Thanks to the efforts of Marc Chalufour of AMC Outdoors and Craig Repasz, Alpine Steward, we were able to produce a fantastic short video of a day-in-the-life of our Alpine Steward Volunteers.  The video, just under 5 minutes long, talks about the routine of a Steward, the work they complete on Franconia Ridge and Mt. Washington, and the benefits their volunteer efforts have on the alpine ecosystem.

To check out the video for yourself, watch
Alpine Stewards: A Weekend on Franconia Ridge

The Good Life on St. John, USVI (written by MR)

I keep waiting for it to be warm. Where I live, February is not warm. Pinkham is not warm. Boston is not warm. When we land in Puerto Rico, I think I’m home free but the airport is air conditioned to a chill and my layover is too short to justify an exit. Finally I’m on the ground on St Thomas and the airplane crew pops that cabin door --WHOOSH. I’m eagerly peeling off my layers even as I walk the tarmac towards the taxi line. Other travelers are giving me strange looks, especially when I stop to attack the laces on my boots and banana-peel off my socks to swap them for the flip-flops in my pack. Ha-ha! I think. I am someplace new and different, and I have a whole week to explore what most people call paradise.

Cinnamon Bay - Home to our Crews
The taxi ride to Red Hook takes me though St Thomas. Lush grasses and brush grow from every patch of soil, they encroach on the bright purple funeral home, the splashy billboards advertising rum, the sullen, abandoned cerement husks of homes.  Once on the ferry to St John I’m struck by the views. The water is a color I’ve never seen before in real life: aquamarine. Of course! The sky is a deep blue dotted with white fluffy clouds, and lumpy green islands spot the sea.  The whole place is vibrant with ridiculous color.

Threading through the busyness of Cruz Bay, over the crazy hills and curves the taxis lumber against, the tourists snapping photos off the viewpoints, I finally arrive at Cinnamon Bay, my home for the week. The rest of the crew is out exploring but I will meet them soon. Our humble camp is lovely; I am immediately at home in my cozy cot and airy tent, surrounded by green.  There’s a constant low din from the forests as all manner of small things sing their songs. An idyllic beach is just a few minutes’ walk from my tent, and at night, it’s virtually abandoned. Walking the beach every night, I find bioluminescence plankton washing up in the surf. Little green flakes floating around my feet, glowing on the sand, reflecting the stars.

Using the Grip-Hoist to Move Boulders
There’s an immense satisfaction in hard, physical work – as any gardener or hiker knows. Many of us can’t really see what we do, on a daily basis. Work all day and our accomplishments are visible only by a time-dated trail in the outbox, or discretely updated files. So it does feel like a vacation to spend all morning moving dirt and rocks, and walk back up to the van over newly rehabbed trail – a well-designed rock step, a sturdy waterbar. These improvements will likely outlast us, a quiet legacy. And of course the company is fantastic. Monday I collect fill with Carol. Tuesday Sue, Steph, I work the grip hoist together and haul a dozen monstrous rocks ever closer to our construction site. Wednesday, rocks go airborne and, with our crew leaders’ patient help, send those rocks down tensioned cable to the project site. We are all giddy! Thursday and Friday we set the flying rocks into the permanent home on the trail. It is exhausting, inspiring, and so rewarding to hike back up over our work site each day at noon, stepping on staircase, traversing our check steps, anticipating a well-earned lunch back at camp, and an afternoon of exploring.

Reef Bay Ruins
With my free afternoons I go hiking, snorkeling, and swimming. The hiking is spectacular – while St John is mountainous, many of the trails were once Danish roads so are well-graded and easy to walk. There are ruins to admire and a rich, tragic past to explore, and I find myself wishing I’d brought a history book to learn more about the place. The water is pure indulgence. That brilliant Caribbean blue and cold enough to be refreshing and warm enough to stay in for hours. The abundance of life is striking! I see more fish than I can count and describe, manta rays, urchins, and intricate corals. Hermit crabs are everywhere on the beaches and in the forests, as are friendly brown lizards and white-tailed deer. Trees and flowers cover the landscape – everything from cacti on the southern, drier areas of the island, to lush ferns and flowering brush on the northern end.

The Crew Enjoys Lunch on Honeymoon Beach
We celebrate our last day on the island with a hike from L’esperance to Genti Bay, and back via Reef Bay and the petroglyphs. Last swim in warm waters, last ruins to ponder. Later, looking over the water, sipping my last fancy island cocktail, I’m looking forward to my walk on Cinnamon Bay beach tonight, watching the light wane and the stars appear, the bioluminescence shine, feeling my toes in the warm sand.

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