Monday, June 30, 2014

Wilbur Shelter Fire Ring--June 21, 2014

In 2010, we made some improvements at Wilbur Clearing Shelter and Campsite.  We installed more tent platforms and tent pads and rebuild the area in front of the shelter to provide a more stable platform and drain off the water.
Conditions in 2010

2010 repairs underway

Since then, we've found that hikers are pulling stones out of the wall in front of the shelter to place in the fire ring.  This makes the fire ring bigger, and the wall less secure--eventually it will collapse, and the area in front of the shelter will wash out, again.

Hikers have something about fires.  Who doesn't like to gather around a crackling blaze in the evening, sharing stories, keeping the night at bay for a while?   As a concept, this is very attractive.  In practice however, it leads to some significant management problems at heavily used A.T. overnight sites, and the reality is not so pretty.

Resource Damage:  Ever notice at some overnight sites the woods seem unusually open?  No undergrowth or branches, ground packed down with no cover?  In the worst cases, there are stumps of small trees raggedly cut off.  This is from hikers scavenging for fire wood.  At busy A.T. campsites, the forest cannot keep producing dead limbs quickly enough to supply the dry fuel needed to build fires.  Inexperienced hikers will even cut live trees to try and burn them--with less than optimal results.

Trash:  Some hikers apparently think a fire will eliminate all of their trash like some magical incinerator.  Anyone who's had to clean up a shelter site will know that things like tin-foil, plastic and tin cans won't burn (who would have thought that steel can burn?).  Instead, they get buried under the ash and coals from the next fire, and the fire ring gets bigger and taller.  More rocks are found and added.

Forest Fire:  How many times have you come to a campsite and found the fire smoldering or in some cases blazing merrily away with no one around?  It takes a lot of water and stirring to completely extinguish a fire.  Much more if there is a deep bed of ash and charcoal.  Most hikers don't bother, figuring it won't spread (after all, the area is pretty much devoid of fuel anyway, right?).  Last year, several acres of land along the A.T. in Connecticut were burnt by a fire started on the Trail (Connecticut A.T. camping rules prohibit fires).

Finally, there's the stink of not quite burnt trash and green wood that lingers in shelters and on gear for weeks at time.

So you may have gathered, I'm not a fan of fires at A.T. overnight sites.  Not to worry, it's not My A.T.  For better or worse it belongs to everyone--we just have to clean it up.  End of Lecture.

A few weeks ago, in part to keep hikers from picking stones out of the wall in front of the shelter, we installed a DCR-supplied standard steel fire ring and grate.  We dug up the old fire ring (at this point about 2ft tall) and rebuilt the wall using many of the stones from the old fire ring.

Don disposes of the last of the old fire ring.

The new ring is installed and anchored to the ground

Jim spreads mineral soil on rebuilt platform

We took left over stones and put them around the ring--lipstick on a pig in my opinion.  A heavily used site like this will require regular visits by adopters and Ridgerunners to keep the new fire ring cleared out.  It won't take long for it to be overwhelmed.

Ready for more hikers

If you hike the A.T., it is unlikely you will arrive at a site without a fire pit of some sort (except in CT).  Before you decide to make one, think about wether you really needed it, or if it's worth the price.

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