Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Race Brook Bridge Finishing Touches

Feeling the need to work off some Thanksgiving turkey dinner, Richard, Gary (his friend from Oregon) and I climbed up the hill to the Race Brook Bridge last Friday to do the finishing touches.  We counterbored 1" diameter holes in the stringers for the timber loks to sit in and then used the brace to drive them in.

We used some of the hemlock branches to whittle wood plugs for the holes to cover the heads of the timber loks.

With the plug smothered with linseed oil to slow the inevitable rot and hammered home the protruding end was cut off near flush with the top of the stringer, hiding the timber loks below.

The last finishing touch was to finish removing the stringer tops down to the saw cuts and put a small flat top on one of the base logs to serve as a step up to the bridge.

It was a fine day for finishing touches and there was plenty of trail traffic and folks trying out our new bridge!  A pair of hikers told us the old bridge was installed 15 years ago.  Anyone want to make a guess as to how long this one will last?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

One More Time-Race Brook Bridge

Our party of 7, hiked up the hill on a beautiful Saturday to find our bridge project as we had left it and with a bit of leftover snow on the ground here and there.  We set right to work rolling the upstream stringer over on it's back and finishing up the notches we had started on our last visit.  With that work in progress, Don and Richard headed on up the hill to the Race Brook Campsite and to the AT to check on conditions, blowdowns, etc.  We were soon satisfied with the notches on the upstream stringer, rolled it over for a check and finding it just right marked it's location on the sills for future use.  Then came positioning the downstream stringer and scribing the shape of the sills below up onto the stringer.  Finding our simple compass unsatisfactory for the purpose, Bob suggested using a stick cut to length for the depth of the notch we wanted.  This worked like a champ and we soon had a set of well marked stringer notchs.  The picture below shows a finished notch and the marking and starter cuts in the upstream stringer.

Finished Notch on the Left, Notch Ready for waste removal on the right

With lunch time at hand, Don and Richard returned from the campsite and AT with a couple large bags of trash and abondanded gear and reports of several smaller blowdowns removed and 1 large blowdown just upstream needing a chainsaw. 
After cutting down to our marks
Jim chainsaws down to our notch marks

...... it was chip away at the waste wood in the notches, taking turns with 2 gougues and 1 flat chisel with an occasional chipping away with a hatchet.  Meanwhile, Jim, Christine and Richard hiked to the upstream blowdown and made quick work of its removal.

 During breaks in the notching work, some of the crew followed an ancient custom and carved their initials in the underside of the log for posterity

The notches were soon done, test fit found them nicely resting over the sills and so it was time to mark the tops for flattening (oh and another cookie from Mary's cache)!

Marking the flat top with pencil and chalk line

Then the sawing to the marks and chipping with the hatchets began in earnest

And last the most important full load test of the completed Bridge!

Don, Christine, Loren, Bob, Mary, Jim, Richard

With eastern standard time back in effect, we packed up at 3PM and headed back down hill to reach Rt 41 before darkness arrived.  We had one blowdown to remove just beyond the stream crossing between the upper and lower falls.  Fortunately the other blowdowns all went downhill away from the trail.  We had a great day in the woods and were quite satisifed with completion of our bridge and the work we accomplished! 

My thanks to all who participated on this project.  We had a great time, our bridge will have a good long life and carry many a hiker safely over Race Brook.

Note: most of the pictures on this and the other posts on this project were taken by our ace photographer, Richard (thanks much Richard!).

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Race Brook Bridge Catchup

During our absence, Richard and some friends spent time chipping away at the bark on the 2nd stringer, tough work this time of year but it sure made our next days work proceed more quickly!
On Sat, Oct 27 we returned to the site to find all as we had left it and ready for our bigger crew of Jim, Richard, Loren, Bob, Mary and Steve.  Richard and Loren setup the rigging to move the 2nd stringer across the stream while the rest of us finished up the debarking. 
With all in readieness we started tugging on the come-a-long and soon had the 2nd stringer up on the new sills crossing the stream.  Time for lunch and think about our next steps. 
First order of business was to rotate each stringer to determine which side of each log should be face up.  Quite a bit of discussion on this subject and looking and measuring before we had a decision.  Thank goodness for our new cant hook for making this evolution alot easier!  Next was some noisey work, flattening the facing sides of the stringers with the chainsaw. 
With that done it was time to scribe the bottoms of the first stringer to fit the notches.  This process involves carefully transferring the shape of the sill log beneath each stringer on to the stringer using dividers and marker.  This was challenging as it was the first time we'd done this and because the stringers and sills were not at right angles to each other, calling for careful work to get the sill shape properly transferred. 
Steve scribes the first stringer
With all 4 sides marked (upstream side and downstream side of each stringer on both sills) we rolled the stringer over 180 degrees to bottom side up to examine our handywork.  Jim then put the chainsaw to work cutting down to our lines.  Chips then flew as we took turns with the mallets and gouges hollowing out the notches at each end.


Although not quite done, we were running low on time and were anxious to see the results of our marking and notching, so we put the cant hook to work once again and rolled the first sill bottom side back down and with a little jockeying had the stringer notches sitting nicely over the sills,  :) ! Still some work to do on these notches, but it was time to pack up and head back down the hill well satisfied with our progress.  Here's our great crew!

The day was not a particularly nice one, cloudy, but no rain.  We were surprised with the trail traffic during the day.  At least 30 people accompanied by quite a few dogs came up the hill over the course of the day most headed for Race Mtn.  Clearly the Race Brook Trail remains a popular hiking spot.

Another Day at Race Brook

On Wednesday Oct 3rd we returned to Race Brook to continue work on the bridge repair.  It was a damp misty but warm day and the ususal suspects (Richard and me) were joined by Dave and Adam for the day.

On arrival we set to work getting the sills down to the stream side and set firmly on their rock beds. A bit more rock work was needed before we were happy with the result, but we soon had them planted as you can see in the photo.

Next was to maneuver the first sill down the slope and get it across the stream. This called for some tricky rigging.   

 Lunchtime found us looking with satisfaction at the result with the stringer sitting on the sills.  We noted that a key tool was missing making our manuvers much more difficult than need be.  A good cant hook would make this work much easier!


After lunch we set to work getting the 2nd stringer down to stream side.  This time it went quicker as we all knew how to operate the come-a-long, set the rigging and change it as the move progressed. We did have to make sure the small end of the 2nd stringer was in position to go across the stream to match up with the first one which had the big end on the far side. 

 After some work on debarking and securing both stringers in place, we departed pleased with our progress and already thinking about our next work day on the soon to be new bridge.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Return to Race Brook

The rains of Tuesday forced a one day delay in our planned return to our bridge rebuild work along Race Brook to Wednesday when Richard and I headed back up the hill.  Race Brook was running full tilt making the 2 crossings without bridges a bit dicey, but we made it across without getting wet.  Once at the site we set to work getting our snagged hemlock down.  With help of a come-a-long we tried pulling it sideways off the oak holding it up, no joy.  Plan B, rotating it off the oak gave the same result, no joy.  But Plan C, worked like a charm.  A hinge made 5' up from the butt cut folded nicely with the come-a-long pulling and delivered the trunk just where we needed it!
Above you see the stringer cut from the trunk enroute to the work area.

The come-a-long was a huge help in not only felling the snag, but in moving the log to the work area, indeed it could not have been done otherwise with just the 2 of us.  Further it was much easier and safer than 4 of us using log carriers as we had done with the first stringer log.  Below is another picture showing how we pulled the 2nd stringer into the work area with Richard working the come-a-long.

When all was said and done we had both stringers and both sill logs in the work area.  Matt had finished debarking the first stringer and sill and the second stringer and sill are now ready for debarking. 

It was a tired but happy crew that descended the hill satisfied with the results of the days efforts.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tool Shed Maintenance

September 15, 2012

Tool Shed Maintenance

As the end of the season draws near, Jim, Steve, Sim, Cosmo and Jack met on a somewhat cool and blustery morning to clean the summer's accumulation of trash, mouse droppings and damaged or broken tools out of the shed.  Jack sharpened some of our axes and gave a couple of impromptu lessons on the finer points of ax design and maintenance.  Jack's primary haunt is the Blue Hills Reservation near Boston, but he occasionally is able to get out to the Berkshires and give us a hand.
How many AT volunteers does it take to....

We also managed to get a fresh coat of stain on the tool shed--the west and south sides were getting pretty bare after more than 20 years out in the weather.  In addition, we trimmed back some small tree branches that were starting to scrape on the roof.

Jim gets the high points

We were assisted by some delicious fresh-baked treats from Julie.  We made a pretty good dent in the supply, but we couldn't quite finish them off.

Volunteer Fuel

Sim trims out the windows

Jack finishes up the east side

The Tool Shed is an important resource for the AT Committee.  Built by AT volunteers and located on DCR property near the Mt Greylock Visitor's Center, it's a good central repository for tools and equipment that are accessible to trail volunteers 24/7.  Without a place to store and maintain this stuff, we'd be operating out of people's basements and garages.  Volunteers can pick up a wide variety of specialized trail tools such as McLeods, pulaskis, pick-mattocks and hazel hoes--specialized tools for digging in root-filled and rocky soil, not usually found in your local home and garden center.  We are also able to store power equipment such as field mowers and the power wheelbarrow (used in the installation of the bear box at Crystal Mountain Campsite, detailed in an earlier posting).  Next to the tool shed we have outdoor storage for raw materials for bog bridges and other trail structures.   Photos for this page by Cosmo, Jim and Steve.

As our season draws to a close, we hope you've enjoyed this look at what AT volunteers do.  You can do it too!  Our remaining projects are to complete the bog bridges near Shays on Sept 29th and finish the footbridge near Race Brook Falls campsite.  Then, on "AT Day" October 6th, we'll lead 8 hikes on the best AT sections in Massachusetts--followed by a free cookout at Pleasant Valley.  Finally, we'll end the season by closing Upper Goose Pond Cabin for the season on October 21.  To join us for any of these activities, or just to get more info contact us here: <>  and we'll get right back to you.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Race Brook Bridge Repair

Tuesday 4 intrepid souls, Dave Koerber, Don Fairbanks, Richard Wanderman and I made the long climb up the Race Brook trail to the site of a decayed bridge upstream of the upper falls.  For those who might not have seen this bridge, below you see it in better days with Loren Kahn and Dave McCullough making good use of it:

Below is the bridge as we found it on Tuesday.  Removal of the remains was pretty straight forward and rebuilding the abutments took most of the time.  We used rock to build up the abutments so that the new sills will rest only on rock, not soil, which should lengthen the life of the new bridge.

While Dave and Don worked on this end of the business, Richard and I worked to fell the first tree we had selected for the new bridge.  It was a nice straight hemlock, about 13" diameter at the butt and an easy felling job.  The existing bridge was made from much smaller timbers contributing to it's short life. 

Once down we limbed it up and started the debarking effort.  It sure is easier to debark in the spring when the sap is flowing well.  It was slow tedious going.

To fell the second tree we had selected we needed to move the first log harvested out of the felling area.  It took all 4 of us on the log carriers moving about a foot at a time to slowly manuver it out of the way and towards it's ultimate destination. 

With this log out of the way we set to felling our second tree.  This did not go as smoothly as the first tree and fell in an awkward direction and hung up on a nearby tree.  All hands were safe as we had taken precautions for this possibility and I believe we can safely get this tree down with a bit of effort and some additional tools.  This will be our first order of business when we return to resume work. 

As we were getting a bit tired from our efforts and the 4 o'clock whistle was about to sound we gathered our tools up and headed back down the hill, satisfied with a good days work.

The Hobbit Bridge

Saturday September 8, 2012

Bridge and bog bridges south of Shays Rebellion.

On Saturday morning (leading into a very rainy afternoon) Don, Dave and Cosmo met to start replacing and re-building bog bridges in the "Mosquito Coast" area of the Housatonic Valley.  We were joined at lunchtime by Jim and Christine in from other events in the area.  Christine is the maintainer for this section of the AT.

This long, flat section of the AT links the Riga Plateau and Jug End in the southern Taconics to East Mountain and the southern end of the Berkshires that the AT rides north to Vermont.

The AT crosses the valley on land purchased for the Trail by the National Park Service in the 1980's as part of the effort to get the AT off of roads and onto permanently protected lands.   Some of the land here is in active agriculture, while other sections are more marginal--you could call it a swamp.  To get hikers through these low, wet areas, a network of bog bridges, board walks and bridges stitches the trail together between farm land, low hills and abandoned fields.

The wet, swampy land is a perfect habitat for winged insects, always on the lookout for fresh mammalian blood to provide a shot of protein to produce their next generation.  This can come as a bit of a shock to hikers used to the breezy ridges of the surrounding mountains.

We set this project on the schedule near the end of the summer, hoping to miss the worst of the swarms.  This year's minor drought helped keep the population down as well.

Hubbard Brook Bridge
When the AT first went off of the local roads, one of the major obstacles was crossing Hubbard Brook and it's associated wetlands.  The AT Committee built a major span and extensive boardwalk over the brook when the land was first acquired, and as the Trail continued south into the woods, installed approximately 30 sections of bog bridge over low spots and minor drainages between the brook and Rt 41 (Undermountain Rd). 

Now, some 20 years later, some rehabilitation and fix up is needed.  At the time, the Committee used a new material, 'plastic lumber'.  In those days before Trex became common on decks and patios, this material looked like a good choice for installation in areas where native timbers would quickly rot and require frequent replacement.  This material has survived well, but is slippery when wet and so flexible that it sags considerably between supports. 

The Hobbit Bridge (note path worn by hikers alongside it)
Our mission today was to shore up some of the most saggy parts, install some new sections where muddy areas persist and (regretfully) replace the "Hobbit Bridge", a construction that makes excellent use of the floppy qualities of the planks, but is so slippery that hikers bypass it in favor of the muddy stream bank.  We've replaced it with a considerably less charming 12ft long box bridge made from pressure treated 2x10's. It will last a long time in the shady swamp and be a bit less challenging to cross. 

Christine and Don complete the framing on the replacement bridge

The completed (boring) bridge

There is no intent to make the AT completely safe.  That would be impossible--and depends a lot on what one considered 'safe' to be.  Statistically, hikers (and volunteers)  are in more danger driving to the worksite or trailhead than they are working or hiking.  However, when hikers 'vote with their feet' and bypass a trail structure in such a way that damages the surrounding environment or widens the footpath, trail clubs must take measures to prevent or reduce impacts from trail visitors--hence, sadly, the demise of the Hobbit Bridge.

Don (invisible in his dark raingear) and Dave relocate an existing bog bridge
Rot-resistant Tamarack for new bog bridges awaits

In other work this rainy afternoon, we carried in the remaining bog bridge materials and began work on rehabilitating the sagging existing ones.  We'll have another visit to the area on Sept 29th to finish this project.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Race Brook Hemlocks

Earlier this week I took a hike up the Race Brook Trail to scout the repair to the log bridge over the brook and check in at the campsite.  Shortly after leaving the trailhead on Rt 41, I was in the stately hemlocks along this trail and noticed that there was more sunlight reaching the forest floor than I had remembered from a couple of years ago.  My concerns were soon confirmed when I turned some low hemlock twigs over and found the white specs of wooly adelgids.  The US Forest Service says:

 Native to Asia, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is a small, aphidlike insect that threatens the health and sustainability of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) in the Eastern United States. Hemlock woolly adelgid was first reported in the Eastern United States in 1951 near Richmond, Virginia. By 2005, it was established in portions of 16 States from Maine to Georgia, where infestations covered about half of the range of hemlock. Areas of extensive tree mortality and decline are found throughout the infested region, but the impact has been most severe in some areas of Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.
Here's a picture of what I found (sorry it's a little fuzzy, the best my camera could muster):
 I suspect the infestation started some years ago unnoticed and perhaps has come to light with the additional stressor of the drought we've experienced this year.  Some trees are already near skeleton trees:
We have alerted our partners at ATC and NPS of this situation.  As this infestation spreads and kills the large hemlocks in the area it will undoubtedly have impacts on the vegetation in the area.  This is the first sign of this pest on AT lands in Massachusetts that I am aware of. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Aug 25, Bog Bridging on Mt Greylock

Saturday Aug 25th, Bog Bridge Install, North of Mt Greylock

We loaded up the truck from our materials storage area near the Mt Greylock Visitors Center.  We had about 40 pieces of lumber to carry in to the work site on the AT just north of the Bellows Pipe Trail junction.

Loaded up and ready to go.

Bog bridging (also known a puncheon) is used to carry hikers over intermittent wet or muddy areas along the Trail.  The goal is not to keep hikers feet clean, but to keep hikers from widening the footpath as they try and walk around wet and muddy areas.  If left un-bridged, these areas will just become wider and wider, creating increasing impacts on the adjacent vegetation. 

Whenever we can, we try and resolve the problem by improving the drainage, or installing large step stones, but this is not always possible in very we areas, or locations where water is collecting on top of bedrock.

Bog bridging lasts about 10 years and tends to stay on top of muddy areas, rather than sinking in.  In remote locations, we prefer to use native trees cut from the nearby forest.  However, this is time consuming, and eventually we will run out of suitable trees.   In most AT locations in Massachusetts, it is possible to use rot resistant rough sawn lumber from local saw mills.  Tamarack (also know as Larch) and Black Locust are preferred species, as they are modestly priced and are naturally resistant to decay.  This does mean that we need to carry in materials for most bog bridging work.
Don and Dave bring in some planks
Sim carries in a base timber

In some locations, we have used man-made materials such a Trex or similar products.  While they last a very long time, they are expensive, heavy, and look very unnatural in the back country.    We also try and avoid pressure treated lumber, as we hesitate to introduce poisons into the local environment.  We've also found that PT lumber can dry out and split in direct sunlight.

Dave and Sim replace some missing planks
On today's project, two sites were replacements of existing bog bridging where the planks had rotted off of the base timbers.  Four other sites received new bog bridging, as they are showing signs of widening.

Don and Greg set some step stones

At two other sites we added stepping stones leading on and off of an existing set of bog bridging.  This protects a slightly longer wet section not quite covered by the existing bridging.