Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 27th--Hazard Trees at Crystal Mtn Campsite

For our 2nd project of the season we scheduled a hazard tree removal at Crystal Mtn Campsite.  What area 'hazard trees'?    These are trees that are either dead, dying or uprooted in areas where hikers are likely to congregate such as campsites, trail junctions or viewpoints.

Clearly we can't begin to take down every tree along the trail that is not 100% healthy--nor would we want to.  All parts of a tree's life cycle are important to a healthy forest.  Standing dead trees provide valuable wildlife habitat.  I would imagine you have seen the large oblong holes above a mound of wood chips at the base of a dead tree.  This is the work of the Piliated Woodpecker looking for insects. These holes in turn provide habitat to other animals.  Trees that are down on the ground provide soil nutrients and more insect habitat as they decay further.

Hikers are expected to be responsible for their own safety while in the backcountry.  However, when places for hikers to camp or congregated are created, there is an added level of responsibility for trail managers.  So at an overnight site, as trees near shelters, or tenting and eating areas reach the end of their lifespan, or a weather event damages large branches or tips trees over, we need to cut them down proactively to reduce the likelyhood they will collapse unexpectedly injuring hikers or damaging structures.

So that mission found Jim, Don and Cosmo headed up the power line right of way that provides the most direct access to the AT.  While very steep and eroded by ATV use in several locations, it saves a five mile hike on the AT.

The lingering snow was crusty as we made the steep climb providing good footing in most places.  Under the ice in the rutted ATV tracks water was flowing well, and although we postholed in a few places, snow conditions were pretty good.  At the Trail we found about a foot of snow, fairly well packed by previous travelers.

Cosmo fells two hazard trees
Upon reaching the campsite (be advised that there are neither mountains or crystals at this location--but that's what it's called), we identified 4-5 damaged trees or standing trunks that were near tentsites and the central fire ring area, and proceeded to fell them and buck them up where they blocked access.

 Note that unlike most of our overnight sites, Crystal Mtn has no shelter or tent platforms.  There are areas that have been cleared of vegetation where tents can be pitched as well as a privy.  Last season, we carried in a picnic table and a 'bear box' for food storage--significantly upgrading this 'primitive' site.  In addition,  this campsite is also the the furthest one from a road crossing on the AT in Massachusetts.

"Tapping" a maple to install the register box
While felling was under way, Don and Jim replaced the deteriorated register storage box.  After some effort to get the old box off of the tree a new one was bolted in place.  A sure sign of spring, as they drilled holes in the tree for the bolts, a steady stream of sap ran out.  

After a quick lunch at the picnic table (nice not to have to sit in the snow), we let Don have the 'honor' of toting the old box back down--he had the same honor of bringing up the new one.
Look, a walking register box.
Despite a stiff breeze that had sprung up, the snow had softened considerably under the strong sun and things were a bit slick on the steeper sections of the power line on the way down.  In a few more weeks hikers will become more numerous and have a campsite with less hazards from falling trees--as well as a nice, dry register book.

The RPC Committee???


What the heck is an RPC Committee?  

Well, before you start, be advised that this post has no photos of people having fun in the woods--it has no photos at all.  So if you'd rather not dig into the management of the AT,  feel free to skip to the next post where Jim, Don and Cosmo are messing around in the snow at Crystal Mtn Campsite.

So, for those of you brave enough to keep reading, an RPC Committee is a "Regional Partnership Committee".  At a minimum it has representatives (trail volunteers) from each AT maintaining club in the region (ours is the New England Region: CT, MA, VT, NH, and Maine) and staff from the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and the NPS (National Park Service).  At every other meeting, staff from other agency partners (US Forest Service, various State Parks, and even occasionally Baxter Park) also join us.  Our New England RPC just met last week to address upcoming trail projects in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut--as well as discuss policy regarding overnight fees at campsites, wind turbine development in Maine, maintenance of the Trail Corridor Boundary and invasive plant mitigation on some sections of Trail.

What is it for? 

Briefly (a nearly impossible task), the four RPC's (New England, Mid-Atlantic, Virginia, and Deep South) are the way for both ATC and NPS to connect to the trail maintaining clubs in each region.  NPS is the overarching Federal administrator; the "APPA" park office is the lead agency for land acquisition, law enforcement and natural resource management.   They address encroachment or misuse of Trail Corridor Lands, criminal activity, and inventory and monitor historical/cultural sites and rare plants and animals on the Corridor.  They also maintain an inventory of all trail 'deficiencies'--places where the treaway is eroded, damaged, or requires other physical repair.  They collaborate with the US Forest Service where the Trail is on National Forest lands. APPA is also the conduit for Federal funding for the Trail.  They are big brother, but in a friendly way--as long a communication remains open.

ATC staff assists the clubs in compliance with NPS regulations and supports volunteers in the 31 trail maintaining clubs in the areas of trail and overnight site construction, Corridor Monitoring and Natural Heritage monitoring; and in general, navigating the federal regulatory and funding maze. 

All of this is stitched together with "Delegation Agreements" (documents transferring responsibility from the NPS to ATC, and then from ATC to the individual trail clubs).  Further, each trail club has an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with all of the partners in their state.  In Mass, for example, there are 12 different signatories from MassHighway to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Finally, all of this is put together in a "Local Management Plan" (LMP) created by each club and ATC that describes how everything from Hang Gliding to Military Manouvers on trail lands will be addressed.

So back to the RPC.  

As you can see, it's Complicated.  Its a long trail that must address a wide range of regulatory environments, and the different styles and resources of all of the Trail Clubs.  Regular face to face meetings--as well as e-mails and phone calls are necessary to discuss current issues and plan for new and ongoing work projects and maintenance. 

ATC is governed by a Board of Directors who are advised by a Stewardship Council.  The Council advises the Board on Trailwide policy, and the RPC is that critical connection between the Council and the trail clubs.  It pretty much works, but it requires a lot of open communication between all parties.  Especially since our agency partners (NPS, USFS and various state agencies through out the Trail) can have significant staff turnover, the voice of the volunteer clubs and their collective historical knowledge resides with the RPC--they play a crucial role in putting the words in all of the documents listed above into physical results on the trail and the experiences of every hiker.

For more info, contact your local AT Trail Club, or check out the ATC website at  It's actually not a grim as it sounds, you are working with great people who have a passion for the Trail and are committed not only to its physical maintenance and protection, but also to maintaining the unique hiking experience that can only be found on the AT.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Snow Day

March 9, 2013--First Tracks

Don and Cosmo headed in to check on the overnight sites at Glen Brook and Hemlocks shelters.  The Glen Brook campsites had suffered some damage from "Superstorm" Sandy, and we have a project day scheduled in June to fix things up.

Yesterday we got about a foot of snow.  With highs expected in the 40's today, we thought we'd get a snowshoe in up from the bottom of the access road to the shelters for a last fling at winter. 

Under sparkling blue skies and a light wind, we arrived at the entry road to Mt Everett before it had been plowed, but shortly the DCR truck came by and plowed out the parking area in front of the gate and we were able to go right in.

With our snowshoes on, we made steady progress up the road.  The only other tracks were from a skier, who stopped about a 1/4 mile in.  After that we took turns breaking fresh trail through the powder.

We passed a completely frozen over Guilder Pond, but in the quiet, sunny morning, we could hear water trickling out somewhere.

At the parking area we turned left and headed north on the AT--again making fresh tracks.  After bypassing a couple of blowdowns, we came to the junction of the Hemlocks and Glen Brook access trails where we found boot tracks coming in from the north.   We continued on to Glen Brook Shelter, where we found all in order.

Next stop, the tent platform area. Here a number of large trees blew down during Sandy--one landing right on the platform.  Fortunately, no one was camped there at the time.  Don is standing on the edge of the tent platform in the photo.  We have a work project scheduled for June 1st (National Trails Day) to clean up this campsite.

How deep was the snow?  Here's the bear box at the entry to the campsite:

On to the Hemlocks Shelter, where we met three men out for a couple of nights.  They had hiked up in the snow yesterday.  Originally intending to come up from Jug End, they chose to use the shorter Elbow Trail instead, since they did not have snowshoes.  While we stopped for lunch, they headed up for a day hike to Mt Everett.

After lunch, Don and I headed back to the car.  On the way, we met a hiker coming north from Salisbury CT.  He reported waist-deep drifts on the south side of Race, as well as multiple downed trees.

As we headed down the access road, the snow began to change consistency.  In areas in the sun, it became wet and slippery; in the shade, still light and fluffy.   While Winter still retains his grip on the mountains, it is starting to loosen.  Maples are making sap on these warm afternoons, soon we'll be able to walk on dirt again.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

We're At It Again--2013 Season

The 2013 Season is Ready to Go.  

We have about 60 projects slated for this season, beginning in mid-March and running through early November.  You can check out the schedule here: to see all that we have to offer.

Remember, no experience is necessary to join any of our projects.  Even if you've never hiked before, most of our worksites are less than a mile from the trailhead--and we'd love the opportunity to help you get your hands dirty.  Our work ranges from "yard work" (clipping and cutting overgrowth) to light carpentry, to digging in the dirt and moving heavy rocks.  We even paint stuff from time to time.

If plants are your thing, we have several opportunities for you to learn to monitor the rare species that are hidden (and some not so hidden) throughout the trail corridor lands.

What is required is that you dress appropriately for the weather (given the span of our season, you could find yourself in snow, rain or something in between) and wear sturdy footwear.  Most days are pretty nice however, and it's always a pleasure to be outdoors.  We also ask that you bring plenty of water to drink, as well as a snack and/or lunch if you plan on staying on the project for the whole day. 

If you have any questions about a project--either what is involved, where we are meeting or how long it will take--please don't hesitate to contact the listed leader, or the AT Committee in general at <>

I hope we will have the pleasure of working with you this season--the real danger is that you may like it so much you'll want to come back for more.

Cosmo Catalano
Volunteer Coordinator
Mass AT Committee