The greening tunnel
Now that the season is in full swing, I have been very active with the club! Not only does volunteering feel good, but I always have fun with this great group of people. I am going to start calling my volunteer weekend writeups “A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller” to lend some consistency to those entries during the season.
About a month ago I attended the wilderness first aid weekend course at White Memorial Foundation in beautiful Litchfield, CT. We spent two full days learning skills for emergency situations in the backcountry as well as a CPR class. They were taught by the reputable SOLO schools based out of New Hampshire. Those of us who wanted to stayed over in the bunk rooms over the classrooms. Meals were provided, and we all did some cleanup chores throughout the weekend as any good volunteers would! I learned a lot, made some new friends, gained some confidence and a greater sense of security for when I’m out hiking, and as an added bonus I got to visit with a Barred Owl! It was being cared for by the conservation center because it was no longer able to survive on its own in the wild. This is by far my favorite kind of owl and I’m sure it thought I was quite strange talking to it!
Where we first filtered water!
Then the day before mother’s day we had our annual “Give a day to the A.T.” On this day, we all get together to do various trail projects. Whereas our “A.T. Day” in October includes some of these projects, it’s mostly a bunch of hikes of various length and difficulty to enjoy the trail we work so hard on. Like on our volunteer roundup day, we started with a gathering over breakfast to do introductions, service awards, and then break off into groups for the various projects. There were a lot of first-time volunteers which was great, and a few ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) staff visiting from their office in Massachusetts. I will actually be heading up there in a few days to meet their ridgerunners who I will be running into often this season I imagine, so it’s good to be on the same page and know each other! I’m also excited to see the regional HQ and be at the foot of Mt Everett, which my friends from Miami will be hiking over with Fielden Stream and I in just over a month for our first section into Massachusetts!
As we all divided up into our various project teams, I joined my trail patrol group which I would co-lead on this day and we went over the different paperwork, scenarios and Q&A before heading to the trail for our hike.
We headed to the river walk section in Kent, which is where I too did my training. From end to end its about 4.5 miles. This time we started at the northern end of the section, just below Silver Hill. We headed south and within the first mile already I had spotted a stealth campsite. Despite having 2 campsites with privies, and a shelter with a reliable water source less than a mile away, this hiker set up right off the trail, and left not only the remains of a fire, but some empty beer cans.
While I don’t know the circumstances that might have led this person to camp here vs. the resources just ahead, it’s something that’s becoming more and more of a problem. I want to give the benefit of the doubt that this person had some weather-related or physical condition that forced them to stop here. But, its hard to believe that when there is trash in the form of alcoholic beverages left at the site. I’m hoping that by talking about these things bluntly I’m helping to educate and advocate leave no trace practices and about the hard work volunteers do when people don’t follow the rules. I hope it doesn’t sound like a lecture.
A no-no in Connecticut!
We do our best to patrol the trail and educate hikers as frequently as we can, but unfortunately we can’t be there every day, and so people with less consideration or understanding of the impact of their behavior are doing these things more and more. I want to believe they don’t know any better. But there is also a growing level of arrogance and irresponsibility with some of the hiking community, as well as locals who disregard the rules. I know they all can read the signs we have posted in either direction from here. You can usually tell pretty quickly which things are newbie mistakes and which are flagrant disregard for the environment and the maintaining clubs.
We cleared that site and headed for the next campgrounds at Stony Brook. I headed up to the group campsite while the others headed to the individual campsites. This is a beautiful area with a large flowing brook of the same name flowing down the mountain between these sites. At the group campsite I found and cleared evidence of a small fire, as well as several bathroom wipes someone had left where they had used them. Maybe they buried them, but animals will find these and they will dig them up. If you’re camping up there you probably know you’re going to be miles away from a trash bin, and should bring a bag to pack it out. These wipes are not especially biodegradable.
Along the access trail there was a large site where a fire had been made and many of the logs were left leaning up against another, almost with the intention of returning here to save them for later use. Hopefully my clearing of the area will get the hint across. Another constant: where there’s a fire, there’s trash. And sure enough I had to clean aluminum foil, styrofoam and other trash from the site. This at least gave me the clue that this was likely a local and not a thru hiker. Most thru hikers would not bring a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup out on the trail with them. Also, most thru hikers don’t make fires because they’re too tired and had too long a day to do anything but setup camp, cook their dinner, and go to bed. On the upside, I found a lovely bunch of Trillium blooming here.
At the individual sites we had to clean up two fire rings, one of which included some massive rocks. Had I not been with a group I’d be pretty peeved having to do that alone. They were very heavy and it took at least fifteen minutes for the five of us to clear and cover it.
Linus and Jiffy Pop on the Housatonic
We moved on to Stewart Hollow brook where we took a lunch break, signed the register and then got to the work of clearing trash from the shelter and privy, and one fire ring we found behind the shelter. Again, its just baffling to me how we can post a sign saying no fires at every one of these sites and people will just do it. At this point our work for the day was over and we headed back to the picnic area a few miles north for our social and wrap-up.
This past Sunday I did another patroller hike in the Ten Mile/Bull’s Bridge area. This was a special day for many reasons. I was thrilled to have my son “Jiffy Pop” along for his first day of volunteering with the AMC, and I also had been wanting to spend some time with my new friends on the Bulls Bridge task force and learn about what they do. My friend Ray is one of the members of the task force and he invited us up to join him Sunday and to do exactly that. I was planning on taking Jiffy Pop down from the bridge to Ten Mile River campground and shelter to learn about what I do and assist me, and Ray and his team also patrol this section regularly. So we planned to do that walk together today with my son.
Up until just a few years ago, people would come from all over, near and far, to party down by the river. They’d bring BBQ grills, coolers, chairs… a large spread. Then they’d have their party or their picnic or both, and promptly leave most of it there, or at the trailhead and go on their merry way. While they were at it, they would fish without a license, swim where you’re not allowed to swim, and get themselves into all sorts of situations, despite the posted signs stating these things were forbidden.
Jiffy Pop cleaning up a campsite
So the AMC and the other local land managers came up with a plan to have a group of volunteers man the trailhead and educate people as they came in about what’s allowed, and keep out what was not. And its a good thing. I remember our first section hike on the A.T. in Connecticut in 2013. When we passed by here there were piles and piles of garbage. It was revolting. And really sad to see. That was all trash that was left behind that someone had to clean up, and it wasn’t the people who left it. Its a shame people can’t be more responsible but I’m sure you’re seeing the pattern here. So for the last few years the task force has been a fantastic solution. Like me, these guys volunteer their time all season for free. So if you see them, thank them for their hard work to keep the area beautiful and safe.
Ray, Jiffy Pop and I headed down the trail, which at this point from the kiosk is a blue-blazed trail which soon intersects with and forms a loop with the A.T. It is going to be called the Homestead trail soon, as there used to be an old homestead along it just past where it intersects with the Appalachian Trail. You can still see the two chimneys from the home – the original stone and later brick chimneys. And during the winter when its not leafed out you can see the foundation of the old barn. I had not been on this trail before though I had passed it many times thinking it was just a dead end since it said it was not maintained. Just before we headed off towards the homestead, we went down to a spot along the river and Ray told us about some of the situations they’ve had to deal with there. We saw lots of beautiful Columbines in bloom and I snapped away with my camera. We then headed down past the homestead and to the old Ten Mile River group campsite which is no longer in use and now along this homestead trail. However someone had set up and camped here recently and so we had Jiffy Pop help clear and brush over a fire ring and camp site for the first time. He loved helping. I was so proud!
We then crossed the Ned Anderson memorial bridge which was lined with cobwebs and a fun conversation piece for Jiffy Pop. At the campground we met two backpackers that were out for an overnight section hike and were camped in my favorite spot by the river that I set up in last month. We chatted a while and they said they had also seen the blue heron I saw on that trip. We cleaned up the trash in the privy and another small fire site at the shelter. On the way back we met a northbound flip-flop hiker headed to Maine who had started in Shenandoah, as well as another couple out for an overnight.
I also wanted to just say that the buckets in the privy are not for trash, they are for composting material like leaves or woodchips for the privy. Please don’t leave your trash in here. We just end up having to pack it out.
We headed back over the bridge and picked up the A.T. northbound back to the blue trail and the trailhead where Ray gave Jiffy Pop an Appalachian Trail junior park ranger pin and we had some birthday cake one of the other Bulls Bridge guy’s wife had made him and that he had left for us. As I was writing up my notes, a few more of the guys showed up and we spent a little time with them before we left. We met a lot of nice day hikers and families out that day too, and my son had a great time and is looking forward to doing it again. Hopefully he can talk his friends into it now that he had such a good time.
And as you can see above I enjoyed spotting all the wildflowers like Columbine, Chicory, Oxeye Daisy, Violets, Buttercups, Spotted Wintergreen and some I was unable to name as I packed up my wildflowers book for my upcoming move. Feel free to chime in if you know the others.