Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Great Afternoon at Reynolds Rock

A group of 5 students from the Academy at Swift River spent the afternoon yesterday at the pasture off Outlook Ave in Cheshire clearing out brush that has grown up over the years. It was a cool sunny afternoon, just the right conditions for this work. Many a clump of honeysuckle and a few small hawthorns came down opening up more of this area to routine mowing. The crew got some brushing done on and around Reynolds Rock and spotted a porcupine den as a bonus!

Sorry no pics this time. Great crew, looking forward to our next project together!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

How about those trail signs (plus a little history)?

Ever wonder how all those trail signs get made?  Well, pretty much by hand.  Not to say we have a olde-tyme carver sitting in a workshop somewhere hand carving every letter--we use a router--but most of our signs are routed "free hand" that is to say without a guiding template.

We now have two generations of signs on the AT in Mass.  The first generation was made by volunteers in the early days of the current management partnership between the AMC, Mass DCR (it was DEM, then) and the NPS (National Park Service).  The Park Service was in the process of purchasing land to carry the trail in between all the great state parks we are blessed with here in the Berkshires.  From Jug End and East Mountain, to Greylock and Clarksburg, these are 'jewels on the AT necklace'.  

In the late 80's, the AT was pretty much on roads between these parks, as the private property it had originally traveled on was sold or developed.  Massachusetts was not alone in this problem, other Trail states were facing the same issues.

In response, Congress authorized the Park Service to partner with states to acquire land to protect the trail.  Massachusetts was in the forefront of this movement, expanding the boundaries of several state forests (notably October Mountain).  In addition, the Park Service purchase tracts as well, particularly in Sheffield, Tyringham, Dalton and Cheshire to provide a home for the AT that would be forever protected.

More on the AT Corridor later--back to the sign thing.  Once the land was purchased, a regular and comprehensive means to guide hikers was needed.  So a standard sign design was developed (white routed letters on a brown background).  In very short order, volunteers with the then new Mass AT Committee had made and mounted around 30 new signs on the AT.

As the years have passed, some of these have begun to show the effects of 30 years hanging out in the woods and are now being replaced with new signs (same design) as needed.

A new sign starts out as a blank piece of 1x10 pine about 24" long.  Text is formatted and printed onto paper which is in turn taped to the blank.  Using a router, the sign maker routs the pine board through the paper template.  Then the sign is stained brown and two coats of white paint are applied into the routed letters (the really time consuming part).  Then the sign is matched with a backing board of 2x10 pressure treated lumber.  The backing board is attached to a tree or post, and the sign bolted to the backing.

This season, we are replacing the signs at the entrance to Upper Goose Pond.  These are quite large (about 6ft wide) as they are intended for boaters entering Upper Goose Pond from Lower Goose Pond.

Because of the size of the letters, we enlisted the assistance of a local Williamstown contractor who agreed to donate the use of his computer controlled router (Thanks, John Hammond!).  Once set up, it can cut in the letters on each board in about 2 minutes.  However it can't paint them automatically, so we'll be filling in all of those letters by hand before mounting the new signs on a project day in early May.

For the tool geeks reading, here's a video of the router cutting the letters in the first of the six signs:

If you'd like to join us in installing these signs, check out our schedule at:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Project #1--Hubbard Brook Boardwalk Repair

This boardwalk just south of the Shays' Rebellion monument in Sheffield has been having problems staying on it's feet.  This past winter, three sections tipped sideways, making it impossible to walk on.  Fortunately, our mild and relatively dry winter permitted hikers to bypass the broken sections.  We knew that once things started to melt in the spring this area would become a mudhole, so we scheduled an early project day in March to try and correct the problem.

It seems we timed it just right, we had a beautiful, sunny day.  The red-winged blackbirds had arrived from the south, frogs were singing, and we had 9 volunteers ready to go.

We toted about 200lbs of lumber and tools to the worksite, about 1/4 mile from the parking area.  Pete, Jim, Adam, Dave and Don worked on getting the fallen sections up off of the ground by setting jacks under the framing and slowly raising it up. 
Jacking it up

Setting a jack

Bob, Mary and Dave were cutting 6x6's into 2ft sections and constructing cribs of stacked timbers to slip under the sections of boardwalk once they were raised to the correct level.
Crib #1 under construction

Setting the crib under the framing
We had some concerns that the cribbing would just sink out of sight into the mud beneath the boardwalk, but by completely covering the bottom of the cribs with boards we were able to increase their footprint enough for them to remain stable--we hope.  By lunchtime, we had all the sections jacked up, and one crib set.  An hour after lunch we were done and once again, we have a passable trail through this swampy area.
Load Test

  We had enough time left in the day to head over to a field near Rt 7 and recover some bog bridges from an area being flooded by beavers.  Last year we had to relocate the Trail to avoid the flooding, but now it appears that the water will continue to rise as the beavers expand their territory.  We placed the recovered bog bridges in the lowest section of the relocation--dry for now, but likely to see some water as the season progresses.  More about beavers and the Trail in a future post.

Photos by Jim Pelletier and Cosmo Catalano

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mass AT Project Schedule is on-line

We've just completed the AT "Tuesday/Saturday" work party schedule for this season.  You can view it at this link:

We'll keep it updated as things change in response to conditions and reports.  Those of you into Google Docs know you can set a notification  that will e-mail you whenever there is a change to this schedule.  Look for "Notification Rules" under the Tools menu.  If you want to print this document, use the Print icon in the Docs menu rather than the one from your browser.  This will generate a PDF which you can actually print on paper.

This warm weather has pretty much sent the snow downstream, so I would imagine we'll see some early hiking activity very soon.  If you do go out, please be aware that fire conditions are very high this time of year, and even a small spark can set off a quickly spreading brush fire.

Our AT trail volunteers will start getting out on their sections soon, but if anyone encounters trail problems (deep mud, trees down, damage to shelters or campsites, etc), please don't hesitate to contact us

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