Monday, September 30, 2013

Another Day, Another Privy

September 28, 2013

They say whenever you get two or more AT volunteers together, the talk inevitably turns to S**t.   Managing human waste is an important part of what we do as trail managers.  Elsewhere in this blog, I've discussed why we just don't want people to camp anywhere they'd like.  The consequence of this is that when we concentrate use in a few locations (to preserve the rest of the Trail from impacts), we concentrate everything people do--from cooking to sleeping.  And people's byproducts are concentrated too.  

In some places on the AT (I'll refrain mention any specific places, but the state begins with a "T"), trail visitors are asked to "disperse" their waste and bury it in "catholes" about 6" below the ground's surface.  This works well for quick decomposition of the waste, but in an area around a shelter or campground, the available real estate for this activity is quickly used up--and not all hikers are skilled in making their deposits.  Add to this the intense traffic the A.T. generates and pretty soon the whole area around the shelter smells like an outhouse (well, it actually IS the outhouse).

The solution then, is to concentrate the deposition of waste in a place that does not impact the water supply, nor unduly degrade the hiking experience with odors and insects.  At most A.T. overnight sites in Mass (and now, elsewhere in New England) we have chosen to use "mouldering" type privies, where the waste is contained above ground and decomposed relatively quickly by aerobic bacteria and other critters.  At some overnight sites, where there is lower use, more room, and soils are easier to dig, we may choose to retain the traditional "Pit Privy".  Essentially a hole in the ground over which rests a toilet seat (and usually an small building to protect the user from weather and offer some privacy).

There are two problems with this: 1) The hole fills up. 2) The stuff does not decompose.  Burying waste in the ground slows decomposition, as oxygen-using organisms aren't present throughout the mass of waste.  Anaerobic critters take much longer to do their thing.  Old privy pits may remain essentially unchanged for years.

OK, enough talk.  In Mass, of 14 overnight sites we have three with pit privies.  About every 3-5 years, another pit needs to be dug and the old one covered with dirt.  This week it was Shaker Campsite.  Last dug in July of 2009, it was full pretty much to the top.

Step 1:  Pick spot for new hole.  This should be close to the current one, but not on top of an old hole or too far away (privies are heavy).  

Step 2: Dig the new hole.  We tipped the outhouse onto it's back so we could re-caulk the area where the vent pipe comes through the roof, and so some dirt from the new hole can be used to cap the old one.

Steve starts the digging

Don's turn to dig

Step 3: Keep digging.  The deeper the hole, the longer it will last.  Every shovel full of dirt we take out of the hole is 2-3 more deposits the hole will hold.  Eventually, the hole becomes so deep that the dirt can't be lifted out--about 31/2 feet deep is pretty much the limit.  The outhouse must completely cover the hole, so the hole measures about 3ft x 3ft.  The outhouse is 4ft x 4ft.
Steve is just about there

Not quite to China, but here's another 4 years of capacity

Don finishes up the caulking on the vent pipe.
Step 4: Move the outhouse.  No pictures here as all three of us were involved.  Important considerations: 1) Don't step into the old hole. 2) Don't step into the new hole.  Pile rocks on top of the cap of the recently covered hole to alert the next crew that this is not the place to dig a new one.

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