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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A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: Algo Shelter to Skiff Mountain Road

 

Algo shelter

Algo shelter

Last weekend I was back out on a volunteer hike, and certainly pleased to have the milder weather conditions. It really didn’t get over 85 degrees, and in the shady spots it felt considerably cooler. I had a good share of uphills though which did warm me up a bit more.

I always like to check out campsites and shelters when I can because usually those are the areas that need addressing most, both in terms of cleanups and hikers with potential questions. So in this case this meant I had an added steep-ish jaunt southbound to the Algo shelter before covering the area north of here that I wanted to.  It’s only .6 up to the shelter, but its a good pitch, and one that definitely gets the heart pumping. Nothing too crazy, though.

Stupid rule? Discuss

Stupid rule? Discuss

I parked on route 341 at the bottom of Mt. Algo, and popped on my new trail runners and my new REI Trail 25 pack (watch that gear review video here). I was eyeing a bunch of Deuter, Osprey and Marmot day packs because the one I have is just too small at 18 liters to handle all my gear I tote along and that which I need to pack out. I went into REI the night before this hike and tried on a whole bunch of them. Many nice packs, but many were also expensive, and a lot more bells and whistles than I needed. I was also not nuts about the trekking pole loops on all the ones I tried.

Then I remembered the new Trail line of packs REI made, because I bought my daughter the 40 liter model for her first overnight pack. Besides all the great storage compartments, one feature that really impressed me were the trekking pole attachments. I fell in love with the system on this pack, and at $70 for a roomy 25 liters of space, I was sold. I took it on its maiden voyage on this morning and I’m very happy with the purchase. As I mentioned above you can click the link to see a video review.

Country turnstiles

Country turnstiles

I grabbed my trekking poles and hit the trail. I debated doing this part of trail at the end of the hike but if I had any chance of meeting hikers at the campsite it would be in the morning. Luckily the shelter is only about 1/3 of the way up to the summit. I did the whole climb a few weeks ago and its quite a workout. But luckily it wasn’t 100% humidity or nearly that this time. I was literally pouring sweat that morning! I hope this heatwave continues to break, it’s been rough.

Bridge over Macedonia Brook

Bridge over Macedonia Brook

I arrived at the shelter side trail and the water source there was completely dry. To be honest this came as little surprise to me. But of course it’s bad news to anyone staying there. The next source is either back down the hill and .8 more miles down the road into town, or up over the summit of Mt. Algo and down to Thayer Brook, a regularly reliable brook in the saddle between Mt Algo and Schaghticoke Mountain. This dry water source is something I report to the trail managers so they can post it on various sites like Whiteblaze, so more hikers are prepared if camping there for the night. There were no hikers here this morning when I arrived.

Jewel Weed - good for bites!

Jewel Weed – good for bites!

I then did my routine look around, and cleaned up trash and forgotten clothing I found in a few campsites. There was some food left in ziplocs and some duct tape left in the shelter which I packed out. I have to do this because while it seems like a nice gesture, this will attract animals and habituate them to the area if they think they can regularly find food left here. This becomes dangerous to humans, and affects animals’ natural instinct to hunt for their food so it becomes dangerous for them as well. So that nice gesture causes more harm than good, and you should always pack out what you don’t finish. While the duct tape won’t attract any animals per se, It’s still not leave no trace to leave things in a shelter. Wait for the next town or shelter with a hiker box and leave it there.

Linus at Fuller Mtn overlook

Linus at Fuller Mtn overlook

I checked the privy which was nice and clean. And nobody had thankfully made any fires I had to clean up. THANK YOU for following the rules and keeping our campsite beautiful. Which brings me to what I found written on the register. You can look at the photo above to see it in detail. Now I know there are many who feel this way, but I think it’s even more an example of how entitled some new hikers have become that they would deface the cover of the register to say what they think about our rules. Its these rules that keep our campsites free of trash, scorched landscapes, and brush fires, of which we’ve had several. I ended this hike at the site of the most recent one from late May. The scorched tree bottoms and deadfall were still scattered everywhere.

AMC trail work stairs

AMC trail work stairs

While some new growth is coming in, and it will eventually recover, this was not a planned burn. This was a stealth camper who made a fire and it got out of control. I hope that when people walk through here and see this they understand and respect the potential for disaster if they break the rules anywhere they see fit. Anyone who’s been to the Riga Shelter lately, or had been to the cabin on Silver Hill before it was destroyed by an out of control fire might appreciate this more.  But its a sad state of affairs when people feel the need to do graffiti and mock rules that are there for a reason. Connecticut is only 53 miles of trail. Any seasoned thru hiker can make it through in under 3 days. I don’t really think they are the culprits here though because most of them don’t really care about fires at the end of a long day. Too much effort. I think it’s more locals and weekenders. And the register is a place to leave positive thoughts and reflections and communicate with your fellow trailmates.

Real or fake?

Real or fake?

I headed back down to the car and put the trash and other items in the car, then headed across the street, over the turnstile and into the meadows below Fuller Mountain.  I enjoyed the same bucolic views of the Mountains on all sides, and the wildflowers along Macedonia Brook, which you cross on a log bridge. The trail then heads quickly and steeply up the south side of Fuller Mountain. We did this section a few years ago and I don’t remember it being quite so steep. There’s a lot of great stairs our trail crews have made, and fortunately unlike the New York section we did the previous weekend, the trail goes around the cliff walls.

Rocky trail

Rocky trail

But there’s quite a large amount of rock here and dramatic cliffs next to the trail. I startled the first of three garter snakes here. And I did pass a SOBO through hiker and informed him of the dry water source at Algo, and to go ahead onto Thayer Brook if he needed to refill. As I made my way to the top I took several breaks to catch my breath and take in the dramatic landscape. This climb would likely have been easier had I not just done Mt. Algo.

It eventually levels out on the shoulder of Fuller Mountain, just past a large glacial erratic known as Glacier Rock. This rock is a bit off the trail but you can see it when it’s not as leafed out. I took in the first nice viewpoint a bit farther up the trail, which faces east to the Kent valley below.

1 of 3 snakes todayFrom here the trail climbs a bit higher up to the peak of Fuller Mountain, and then down into a ravine before skirting the side of Pond Mountain, which I believe the original trail used to go over to get here from its former route in Macedonia Brook State Park. There was a small stream in that ravine but it too was completely dry. There is one more viewpoint here so I stopped for a quick break and then headed for the road crossing at Skiff Mountain Road. They have been working on new steps north of the road and I thought they were going to be out there today but got the dates mixed up. There was a small stream just before the road and that was actually running enough and clearly to be a good water source. A source this size can dry up quickly in continued heat though, so please rely on more permanent sources listed in your guides.

Fuller Mountain vista

Fuller Mountain vista

There was also a flat area here which we brushed in as people were using it as a stealth site. Many years ago when Fielden Stream and I came through here we saw an open, empty tent surrounded by large empty liquor bottles. Clearly a squatter of some sort. I debated filling up at the stream but I had enough to get me up to the brush fire site and back without issue. I also saw a pair of northbound section hikers here who were headed up to Caesar Brook campsite, many miles ahead.

Brush fire remnants

Brush fire remnants

I crossed the road and ascended the beautiful new steps and arrived at the brush fire site. As I talked about it above and in the previous entry I won’t go on about it anymore. But please take away what the lesson is when you see the results. As Smokey says, “only you can prevent forest fires.”

At this time I decided there was not enough time to go up to Caleb’s peak for that last view. I had to be back home in a few hours and had to go all the way back first. As thru hiker volume was low and so were day hikers this day, there was no reason to go up except for the view (though it is nice!)

More rock walls!

More rock walls!

I made my way back and passed a few day hikers heading up to the Ledges, who had some questions about the ’96 stairs’. I told them it was totally doable, even fun, and not to worry , to just take their time.  I made it back to the car pretty quickly, in one go of it. Though I did quickly pause to admire the views again on the way down. It was time to head home, but I knew I’d be out again the following weekend, so that always makes it easier on the soul. I get withdrawal pretty quickly once I’m off trail.

I also made another video, where I address some of these same issues I encountered as part of my duties. The sound gets a little noisy at times, I’m still working on that. But I thought it would be good to have a visual component to my blog entries when I can. I also made the short gear review on this hike.

Mt Algo from the north

Mt Algo from the north

… It’s now Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, and I’ve been packing most of the night for an overnight with Fielden Stream and both kids, which I am super excited about. I know there will be complaining, but I know it will be something they cherish when its all said and done. The forecast looks great, and I look forward to my daughter seeing what backpacking is like, and how I help hikers out there in camp and on the trail. We leave in a few hours so I better get back to preparations. I’ll report back on it next week!

Miles: 7.7

— Linus