Mohican Volunteer Trail Crew: Weekend Workshop

The Mohican Volunteer Trail Crew is a dedicated group of individuals based out of AMC's Mohican Outdoor Center in the Delaware Water Gap of north Jersey. This crew is entirely managed and led by volunteers; Philip Romano is their fearless leader.

With the recent AMC activity in the Delaware Water Gap and the Pennsylvania Highlands, this region has become a hot spot for new recreational opportunities and community building. Jennifer Heisey is the AMC Mid-Atlantic recreation Planner and works with Philip Romano and the Mohican Trail Crew at times. Philip is focused on the continued development of the trail work skills for his crew, and was able to coordinate a training weekend covering Griphoist and highline use, as well as new techniques for hardening wet lowlands trails with Jennifer.

Jennifer turned to additional staff in the AMC Trails Department to help lead this weekend program. Jennifer contacted Sara Sheehy, AMC Regional Trails Coordinator based out of the Berkshires, MA, and I, Alex DeLucia the AMC North Country Trails Volunteer Programs Supervisor based out of the White Mountains, NH. Sara and I were happy to take the time to work with another group of AMC volunteers and agreed to travel to Mohican and lead this weekend workshop.

I had never been to Mohican, or north Jersey for that matter. I will have to be honest; I was expecting all of Jersey to be, …you know, Jersey. Well, driving down Mohican Road to Camp Road that leads straight to Mohican from Blairstown, you cold not feel further from the Jersey that makes us cringe. The pastoral setting mixed with dense hardwood forests came as a surprise. Being much further south from the White Mountains, Mohican was months ahead of New Hampshire as far as spring conditions. The Ground was thawed, the sun was out and the trees were all budding their new leaves (even as I write this we are receiving over a foot of snow in the Whites). In all it was a bit over eight hours for me, from the Whites to Mohican, but I picked Sara up in the Berkshires and she was able to share the driving.

Sara and I arrived at Mohican before 6:00pm and were the first to arrive for this trail work weekend. After a handful of recommended dinner locations, we settled on The Forge, right in Blairstown, NJ. Comfortable setting and huge portions made this an easy choice after a long day in the car. That day might not have been so long if we didn't take the scenic route through the Water Gap. Although, experiencing this region for the first time, I am glad we took that route.

After dinner we returned to Mohican and were invited to the main dinning room for live music. From what we heard, this is a weekly event at Mohican where some Mohican staff and other local residents gather together for a relaxing night of entertainment and conversation. It was interesting to learn that about half of the people in the dinning room for music night were locals and not guests at Mohican. That is a great venue and wonderful tie to the community. During the music, Philip and several other Mohican Volunteer Trail Crew members were showing us their photo album of their 2006 projects. You could see their pride and sense of accomplishment. And they should be proud of the work they have done, they seem to be a dedicated and enthusiastic crew of volunteers, and I had only met three of them so far.

We returned to our cabin, Trails End, where all of the trail crew stays at Mohican. This cabin is shared with AMC Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) groups on a weekly rotation. There are two separate bunkrooms that each sleeps 8 people, a full kitchen, and living room area with a woodstove. We all were in bed fairly early, but Sara and I stayed up a while longer preparing ourselves for the workshop the next day.

Most of the Mohican Trail Crew would be able to attend the training this weekend, but first there was a National Park Service breakfast to attend. That gave Sara, Jennifer, and I time to set up our materials for the Griphoist portion of the training weekend. We set up a high-line system, prepared equipment for a maintenance section, and ran through the material to be covered when the group arrived.

It was about 11:30am when the vehicles came rolling down the dusty gravel road and parked in front of Trails End cabin. After some introductions, in all about 12 people (with the youngest at 13 nicknamed "Pumpkin"), we jumped right into the workshop. I cover the basics of Griphoists, cables and wire rope, shackles, snatch blocks, shear pins, and slings. After that run through, we dove right into maintenance of the actual Griphoist machines. In no time their Griphoists were lubed up and ready to go, as good as new. Needless to say the crew was impressed at the relative ease to do regular maintenance and dramatic improvements that followed.

We then moved into application of the Griphoist for trail work projects, starting with dragging logs and rocks. After demonstrations and the magic of mechanical advantage, we moved to using the Griphoist for a highline setup. A highline setup is a great way to lift materials from their source off trail, and zip them through the air to the project site. One of this systems benefits includes less impact to the area surrounding the trail, not to mention moving tons of material without recruiting an entire Football team, using draft animals, or breaking any ones back.

Sara finished up the day by leading a discussion and taking a looking at the project site and collectively deciding what could be done to improve and harden this section of VERY wet trail. After some discussion we decided to drain the area, install a large rock waterbar, several stepping-stones, and construct a timber turnpike. A turnpike is a boxed in section of raised tredway providing a dry walking surface and opportunity for drainage along the side of the raised tred.

Saturday went by quickly. The Mohican Trail Crew had great questions and were very eager to learn more. Before we know it, it was after 6:00pm and we were sitting down to overflowing bowls of beef stew and vegetable minestrone. It is increasable the apatite one acquires even after one day of trail work! That night, after a good meal, we exchanged stories, laughed, relaxed by the wood stove, realizing that it does not get much better than this.

Sunday was nonstop from the moment we opened our eyes. Sitting around the long table that morning, drinking coffee, Quinn, one of the Mohican Trail Crew members, leaned over to me and said; “You see this? Great conversation around the table, families gathering their things for the day, another group looking out the window talking, everyone looking forward to a great day of hard work…this is trail crew, this is what it’s all about!” After a filling breakfast, which included Philip’s home made wineberry jam from wineberies that the crew picked from around Trails End cabin, Sara gathered the crew outside for our tools and safety talk for the day. We were joined by three additional volunteers from a local Boy Scout troop for the project. The whole crew was anxious to get out and start digging in the dirt and flying rocks on the highline.

At the project site, only a few hundred yards from Trails End cabin, on the Rattlesnake Trail (I could be wrong on that, I am sure Philip will correct me), Sara broke the crew up into working groups. A few people when whit Philip to fell some trees for the framing for the turnpike. Sara worked with another group to start laying groundwork for the rock waterbar, stepping-stones, and turnpike. I took the rest of the group up the highline to start harvesting materials that we would then “fly” to the project site.

Most of the morning for all working groups was preparation and gathering materials. Sara’s group was successful in quickly setting several rocks for the beefy rock waterbar that was to be installed. We broke for lunch, answering the calls of our grumbling stomachs, and returned to the cabin for some left over stew and minestrone.

We returned to the project site, slightly sluggish from the afternoon gorging, we took a full measure of what was left to be done and the time we had to accomplish this. There was a considerable amount left for this section of trail to be passable until the crew could return in two weeks. All of the morning prep paid off and we were able to nearly finish the rock waterbar, install several rock stepping-stones, and finish the turnpike. Throughout the day many members of the crew were able to take part in a number of different tasks. All were eager to learn and more than motivated to complete the projects. After a round of photos for the 2007 Mohican Trail Crew album, we were collecting tools and materials and bringing them back to the cabin.

We said our thank yous and our good byes, and Sara and I were off, in the car again all too soon. Driving away we started talking about the importance and value of volunteer groups such as the Mohican Volunteer Trail Crew. Throughout the weekend Philip and other crewmembers said that they do not do this work for the recognition. They dedicate their time, energy, skills and commitment to the betterment of the trails in a region they care about. All that they ask for is the ability to do the best job that they can by having the right training, the right tools, and the right attitude.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with this crew. It is working with a group of highly motivated and dedicated volunteers that reminds me of the foundation of the Appalachian Mountain Club and my passion to support groups such as this. And even though you say that you don’t need to hear it, I will still say you are doing a great job down there, and keep it up!

A note from Philip Romano:

“I want to take some time to thank the AMC for the workshops last weekend. With the Mohican Trail Crew moving forward I find it takes a small army to get the JOB done. With all the extra plans we have made the last several months I am glad to see the volunteers make time to come when ever I call on them. With weekends limited and time precious it makes us proud to be part of the AMC when these great people take the time to help us. Jennifer has done so much to help us the last year moving us forward. Dave and Scott always find some way to make room for us and to go out of there way to help us, and for Alex and Sara to take what is most likely the limited free time they have and drive down to help us. The Mohican Trail Crew found the workshops a great learning experience and gave them a great boost to start our season. With time and budget limits we appreciate the training opportunities and would look forward to more in the future.”
Thank you
Philip Romano
Mohican Trail Crew

The Mohican Trail Crew has a large number of Weekend Work Parties on the schedule for the 2007 season. If you would like to be part of this dedicated and energetic crew, please see the full 2007 schedule of AMC Weekend Work Parties and contact Philip Romano for information on how to join in on the fun!