Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cheshire Bog Bridge Rehab and Open Area Work

Today our crew of volunteers took just a bit over an hour to rehab the bog bridging just trail south of Rt 8 in Cheshire.  John, the maintainer for this section, had cleared out the brush and grasses really well so it was easy to get at the bog bridges.  We replaced 8 base logs and were able to reuse all the 2X6 stringers.  Here's a pic of the crew at work on the project:

We reset the bog bridge sections on top of the soil/vegetation which raised them a good 4" as they had sunk into the mucky soil over the years.  We also recovered a section of bog bridging that had been used by a neighbor to "bridge" the highway drainage ditch.  It was put to good use on the AT in this section.  A final pic of the happy crew:

With this part of the work done, we headed up to Outlook Ave and the Reynolds Rock pasture.  We cleared out brush and small trees hiding the rock from hikers as they approached north bound so they now get a nice view of the rock.  After lunch we started mowing and trimming around the rough spots the brush hog cannot go without fear of destruction.  Sorry no pics as the rain arrived about 2PM and that was that.  Mike Balewender plans to arrive tomorrow and brush hog the pasture for us as he has the last several years. 

Another fine day in the "woods".  Looking forward to the next one.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saturday June 23, Bear Box to Tom Leonard Shelter

Cosmo, Jim, Dave, Steve and Dennis met at the Lake Buel Rd parking area on Saturday morning to move a bear box to Tom Leonard Shelter.  Our task was to carry this 90lb steel box up about a mile of trail to the shelter.

With four carrying it at a time, it's relatively easy to move the box up the trail.

Even better is meeting a group of international students from the Eisner Camp out for a group leader training hike.  We were able to "supervise" the rest of the box's journey to the shelter.

 It seems our trip was a timely one, the shelter register indicates a visit from a large bear about a week before.
Ready for the bears.  Note box chained to tree.

Another visitor to Tom Leonard is a local porcupine.  He (or she) seems to find the shelter particularly tasty, and has be regularly gnawing away at the timbers.  The surrounding rocky cliffs and numerous hemlocks make this prime habitat for these critters.  We are regularly treating the shelter timbers with a repellent spray (contains rotten eggs and dried blood), but it's not clear that this has any lasting effect.  We've also provided a baseball bat that hikers can use to administer their own deterrent.  Trapping or killing the beasts is illegal, and in this prime habitat would not reduce the population significantly.

Why would we want a box of bears at the shelter?  And why is it so heavy?  This is not an uncommon question we get from people not familiar with camping and hiking in New England.  The box is for hikers to store their food to keep it away from bears (and other critters such as raccoons and mice) while the hikers are sleeping in the shelter or their tents.

Black Bears are pretty ubiquitous in the Berkshires.  Most people don't see them because they are generally shy and avoid contact with humans.  They are however, active mammals and cover a wide territory looking for food.  Bears are omnivorous, they will eat anything from dead animals to donuts, and like most critters want to take in as many calories as possible while expending the least amount of energy.  Bears have good memories, if they score a 'jackpot' food source--say a foodbag full of granola bars hung inside a shelter--they will remember and make another visit sometime in the future.  With repeat visits, bears will learn to ignore the yelling hikers waving their arms and go right for the food--easy pickin's.

Hikers are instructed to hang their food high off of the ground and far from trees, but this can be very time consuming, and requires suitable trees and a large amount of rope--and is still not completely successful.  Plenty of videos on the Web of bears tearing down food bags.

Installing a heavy duty steel box with a latching lid is an easy way for hikers to keep food away from all kinds of critters, including the mice that often make shelters their homes.  Some rude or inexperienced hikes do seem to consider the bear box as a place to dump their trash, but most do not.  Once a bear learns that despite the delicious smells coming from the box they can't get it open, they will typically stop coming by on a regular basis.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Saturday, June 16. A New Roof for Nopel Shelter 

 Last fall, volunteers from the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) helped to carry up 18 sheets of metal roofing to the shelter.

Prior to that,  Boy Scout Troop 3 on an Eagle scout project helped to remove the old roofing and install a temporary layer of roll roofing to get us through the winter.  Also, during that project, they re-built the earthen platform in front of the shelter, trimmed out overhanging trees and carried in a bear box.

Last week, we had 5 volunteers at the shelter to install the metal panels on the roof to complete the project

Jim and Kevin worked on installing panels on the front roof.

Don and Steve started cutting roof boards where the skylight panels would go.

After lunch, the remaining metal panels and skylight panels were installed on the rear roof and the ridge cap was attached to finish the project.

The skylight panels are a weak spot in the roof, a falling branch or tree could puncture or shatter the plastic.  We feel that the benefit to hikers of more light in the back and loft of the shelter is an acceptable tradeoff.   It also makes shelters easier to keep clean. Skylight panels can be replaced individually as needed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Turnpiking north of Pittsfield Rd

Today was another great day to have fun in the woods, and that's just what we did!  We being: Jim, Dave, Josh and Aaron, Sim, Pete and Don, plus our 2 DCR Ridgerunners, Melissa and Dennis!  It was a good thing we had a big crew as there was plenty of gravel to move: 

The day was dedicated to turnpiking the AT northbound from Pittsfield Rd in some really muddy spots.  Fortunately, the mud had dried out from our earlier rains and Sim, Jim, Josh and Aaron were able to get to work laying out the turnpikes and digging out some of the dried muck while Dave and Pete harvested some small trees for the turnpike boxes.  The rest of the crew set to work moving gravel into the woods. 

We were able to use both the power wheelbarrow and the old fashioned manual one, but the Honda gave us a hard time and would only do it's job with the air filter removed and in first gear, pretty slow going.  Still, it did move alot of gravel!

In a couple of spots we got some rock work in as we needed to leave a gap for water to cut across the trail (look behind and to the left of Dean below)

When all was said and done we had turnpiked the major muck spots between Pittsfield Rd and the first set of bog bridges and there was precious little gravel left along side the road.  We'll come back after a rain or 2 and use the rest of the gravel to touch up spots once we see where the water wants to go.  We had a dirty, tired crew at days end, but a well satisfied one with a job well done and a much better trail for hikers to use in wet conditions!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Brush Clearing near Gore Pond

Tuesday June 12th

We had an excellent crew out on the Trail yesterday!  A combination of new and old volunteers and Ridgerunners from DCR (Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation) met at 9am yesterday at the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Cheshire.

The Team Assembles
It's a jungle out there
We were out to clear a section of trail where the brush had overwhelmed the footpath.  Back in December of 2009, we had a pretty nasty ice storm here in the Berkshires.  At elevations between 1800 and 2000 feet, many trees were damaged.  This also happens to be at an elevation were Beech trees predominate--particularly in northern and central parts of Berkshire County.  The ice snapped off the tops of the trees, giving the underbrush in the area a large increase in sunlight.  In these sections of the Trail we now have a veritable garden of blackberries and beech sprouts that need to be clipped back often.  Other areas such as Becket and Walling Mountain and Finerty Pond, face a similar challenge.  We'll be getting to those areas later in the summer.

After a mile and a half hike from Furnace Hill Road to the work site, we formed two teams, each with a brush cutter and two swampers to clear the cut branches and stems off of the footpath and to clip any higher branches.

All in all, we cleared about a mile of trail Now that the worst of it is cut back, the maintainer for this section will be able to keep up with the seasonal growth with just a few visits per season.

A cleared section

From the photo above, it looks like we may have been a bit over-aggressive in clearing such a wide swath.  The standard approach is to clear a 4ft wide by 8ft tall clear space centered on the footpath.  This keeps things pretty much clear, even when the vegetation is wet.  In the locations were we are working however, the stuff grows back very quickly--raspberries can grow a foot in a week.  Don't worry, there will still be plenty of fruit within easy reach of hikers come mid-July.