A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Winter Weekend Cleanups

The icy Housatonic below Bulls Bridge

The icy Housatonic below Bulls Bridge

When it’s not ridge runner season, I am out doing the volunteer equivalent of the role the rest of the year for my Connecticut AMC chapter. Doing so is how I found myself in the ridge runner role for the first time last summer! I love being outdoors, especially on the Appalachian Trail. And giving back and taking care of the trail, even when I’m not getting paid for it, is a pleasure and a privilege as well!

Since the new year I have managed to get out and address some trail issues twice — once in late January and also last weekend.

Stoney Brook

Stoney Brook

In January my buddy Ray from our Bull’s Bridge task force joined me for a quick hike out to the Ten Mile River campsites and shelter. This is a very popular camping area year round and often we find lots of fire rings here from those who like to rough it in winter and practice their skills. Of course, fires are not allowed on the A.T. in Connecticut. I suspect the rings we find along our section are primarily from local weekenders. Most thru hikers and backpackers have put in high miles and are exhausted by the time they get to camp so they opt for a quick boil of water on their stove to heat up their dinner and then go to bed.

Stoney Brook Group site side trail

Stoney Brook Group site side trail

I was pleasantly surprised not to find any fire rings at the campsite. However, in the privy was a bunch of dry wood someone had left there for a fire, which I had to clear. These hikers either opted against the fire or cleaned it up before they left which is better than not. There were also some nasty wipes in the duff can. This is not a trash can, it’s where we put soil and leaves (known as ‘duff’) for you to throw in the privy after you go to help the decomposition process. Since the bucket had no duff, I’ll assume these hikers didn’t know. Always pack it out though, especially wipes which don’t biodegrade for a long time no matter what they say.

Ice sheets from the ice dam

Ice sheets from the ice dam

We then went to the shelter and found a few trash items, and a few spots where there were clearly fires, as there were piles of ash in the mud in front of the shelter and evidence of burned logs. I got my work gloves nice and muddy cleaning that up, as the ash and all the dirt around it were very wet from recent snow and rain. The bench in front of the shelter was also stuck in the mud so we moved that a bit. There’s a great new picnic table there with one of the metal sheets on one end to put your stove on when you cook. It had a plaque on it indicating it was an Eagle Scout project. Thank you!  We checked the bear box for trash, and that the pump was working. Our broom at the shelter was broken so I packed it out with the other trash and let management know that would need replacing. The privy at the shelter was clean.

Heading up the campsite trail

Heading up the campsite trail

It wasn’t a long hike but it was nice as it always is, and the river was raging after the recent clearing of the ice dam that afflicted the Housatonic river in the Kent area, even closing part of the A.T. for a few weeks as well as many of the roads in town to access it.

Our overseer of trails was out in early February at Stewart Hollow Brook shelter and reported many more fire rings and wood stored under the shelter that was still all frozen to the ground. So last weekend with several warmer days behind us, I set out to clean these up as well as check in on the Stoney Brook campsites about half mile north. Both of these are also popular for locals and weekenders as they are close to a road, and the trail here is completely flat and along the river.  So we are often cleaning up things at both sites, though the shelter is more popular as it has a nicer privy and obviously the shelter and a picnic table.

Nature adapts

Nature adapts

I went first to the farthest campsite, Stoney Brook group campsites. Its about 50-60 feet up a side trail on a hill west of the trail. There were no fire rings here but there was some trash and a tree that had fallen and was blocking the privy path. So I cleared the tree and the trash and headed back south just across the brook to the side trail up to the individual campsites. This trail goes up a bit farther, with several campsites on tiers higher and higher up the hill. At campsite #2 there was a decent sized fire ring. I immediately scattered the rocks and once the ash was removed, I covered it with leaf matter to hopefully not let anyone else get the idea this would be a good spot for a fire. In fact, its where a tent is supposed to go!

Stoney Brook

Stoney Brook

At the privy, which is a brand new though still just a basic box with a seat (we call a ‘chum’ privy), I cleared a wet frozen roll of toilet paper left there. That’s very nice and all to leave toilet paper for the next hiker, but we all know it could be weeks before someone else comes, and rain and the elements will surely get to it first. Luckily for me it was frozen so I was able to remove it without a lot of mess. Pack it out please!

I then headed back to Stewart Hollow to tackle the big rings and stored wood. There was a very large one with multiple logs right next to the picnic table, and though still a bit frozen to the ground they had thawed enough where I could knock them loose. And that I did. I then scattered the burned logs and ash and covered the site with leaves. Of course I would never do this if it was still potentially warm… but that was not an issue today!

Please no fires on the CT AT

Please no fires on the CT AT

I moved onto two more elaborate fire rings in the other camping areas, complete with seats the people had made from stones taken from the nearby stone wall. So those stones went back and I did my best to cover these sites and make them less obvious and inviting. Much of the ash was still frozen so I removed what I could and covered the spots with leaves.  I then moved onto what were many very large logs and branches under the shelter. A few were stuck but I managed to get them loose and scatter them as well.

I had a snack and packed out any trash I found, and left a note in the shelter register regarding the task performed and a reminder of the rules. This was only two entries after the culprits’ entry bragging about their raging fires.

A favorite trail plant

A favorite trail plant

Thanks, guys. Glad you had a nice birthday celebration here, but rules are rules and best not to brag about it and leave your names? Maybe go to a campsite in New York or Massachusetts next time where they’re allowed… We’ve had several large brush fires along our section of trail each year from this kind of behavior — feel free to google it. We have the rules for a good reason. And its hard work clearing all of this.

On the hike back to the trailhead, myself and a day hiker noticed what looked like tire tracks. He was quite amusing and said it looked like someone brought a Harley out here. I suspect dirt bikes or mountain bikes with very fat tires. At the trailhead gate I was able to find the point of entry where they drove around.

Wood stored under the shelter I cleared

Wood stored under the shelter I cleared

So thanks to these guys we will likely be blocking the route with large rocks and trees. Trouble will always find a way to cause trouble of course, but we will do our best to make it very difficult for anyone to get a large or motorized bike out there again.  There are some great trails in Connecticut for mountain bikes and dirt bikes, I’m sure a quick google search would return quick results if that’s your preferred outdoor activity. Tires cause a lot of damage to the trail and the delicate wildlife that grows alongside it.

The riverbanks were lined with large sheets of ice — some the size of cars. This was all that remained of the ice dam. It was really an interesting sight.

Another thing I do after these hikes is report any large blowdowns or trail damage that our sawyer and trail crews need to address, as well as update our water report spreadsheet so hikers visiting our chapter page know if they have reliable water sources along their hike. All of the brooks were running at full force with all the recent rain and snow.

Beech in winter

Beech in winter

It was a brisk 33 degrees but felt downright balmy compared to the deep freeze of the recent weeks. I can’t believe as I write this in the end of February that it’s 65 degrees and will be 70 tomorrow!  I was able to get out on a short hike close to home today as I needed to clear my head of some tough recent events, and I was virtually sweating. What a beautiful February day. I will write up that hike as soon as I can. It was a new park for me and I was very pleasantly surprised to find another great local spot so close to home. I can’t always make it to the A.T. for my fix, so it’s a bonus to find these other options when I have less time.

Miles hike 1: 3

Miles hike 2: 4.8

— Linus

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