Field Season Fever

There is a sentiment known to the long distance hiking community known as “Springer Fever.” Commonly felt around February or March, the Fever causes long distance hikers to dream of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. It is a pull towards the trail, towards the spectacular sunrises and evening conversations and the freedom of a four-month walkabout.

For the past few years, around this same time of year, I get the professional equivalent of Springer Fever, which I call “Field Season Fever.” I feel the promise of a long list of summer projects, the culling of the top candidates for new caretakers, and the long days and even longer weeks of time spent working in the woods with dirt on my pantlegs and scratches on my arms. It is a sense of excitement, located approximately in my upper torso but occasionally reaching to my fingertips. It is the adrenaline rush of a 12 hour work day. It has driven me to quit full-time jobs and promising careers in law, academia, and politics. It can best be described as a passion, and at worst a dangerous addiction.

At this point in 2011, I have definitely fallen for Field Season Fever, from staffing campsites to planning projects to the first draft of a summer schedule. The interviewing and hiring process, which had started in late January, kick-starts the Fever with every excited candidate, gushing with their passion for stewardship and conservation. Next comes the finalizing of and planning for approvals for maintenance and capital projects. Next comes, of course, the ordering of 200 yards of bark mulch for human waste composting at our 13 campsites.

Perhaps the most tantalizing sign of the upcoming field season is first field visit, and the 2011 season kicked off with one of my favorite projects: the boundary line of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail corridor in the Mahoosuc range.

Last week, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Land Protection Associate, Alison Scheiderer (also a former West Rotator for our caretaker program) visited to prioritize projects and to get out on the line. “Out on the line” meaning bushwhacking through woods buried under three to four feet of snow to track the painted boundary line that marks the corridor of protected Appalachian Trail land in the Mahoosucs.

Earlier this winter I had remarked on this blog about the glorious new protected public land in the Mahoosucs, those 5,000 acres. I had mentioned also the backlog of stewardship that came along with this acreage, of trail work and signage and road access. The boundary line and monitoring of it are one of those questions. The variations in boundary line and the challenges of steep terrain and sparse clearcuts are all things that Alison wanted to check out, to see the landscape for herself and catalogue how it fits in with the 2,000 or so miles of boundary line she is responsible for, in one way or another, along the Appalachian Trail.

March 30th marked the first real field trip day, as we drove along the rutted and snow-covered Success Pond Road, watching for the new boundary line and picking out the summits of Goose Eye, the Outlook, and the Tridents. We took the bushwhack into Trident Col campsite and followed bear tracks through the site. Lunch was had on rocks warmed by the sun. We talked of land management, summer field project dates, and, of course, swapped war stories of the times we got lost, the times we broke our snowshoe, and the things we loved the most about our jobs.

Field Season 2011: I’m ready.