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.

Bridge at Upper Goose Pond Inlet--June 28, 2014

Apologies, readers.  There's been a bit of a gap in these posts--it's been a busy spring off-Trail, it's taken a while to catch up.

The bridge crossing the inlet stream to Upper Goose Pond is about a mile or so trail south of Upper Goose Pond Cabin, adding in the walk from the road to the Cabin, this is a pretty remote project for us--so our equipment options were limited to what could be carried in.

The original stringers on the bridge were hemlock logs taken from trees nearby the stream.  Pete reports that it took 5 people to carry them to the crossing site once they were felled, limbed and debarked.  These stringers had served well for around 20 years.  Over the past few seasons however, the nails holding the planks on top started working out of the logs--a good indication that things were getting a little soft in there.

Rather than cut new trees, we found some 3x8 timbers that were used in the construction of a house near the UGP Cabin.  The house was torn down a couple of years ago, and we salvaged the useful materials.  Over the winter, Jim and Pete were able to drag 3 timbers across the ice and land them near the work site.  This spring, with the Cabin opening crew, we carried them in the last 1/4 mile on the Trail.

This stringer was all used up
For our project, we stripped the deck planks off of the old stringers--the nails pulled easily from the rotting logs.  As we removed the last of the planks at the north end of the bridge, one of the stringers broke near the sill log.  We definitely got all of the use out of them.

The next challenge was to get the stringers out the stream bed.  With only three of us on the job, we were't about to lift them up and carry them off.
Pete winches the first stringer
onto the bank after Don freed it from the sill

We brought a small come-a-long (a hand powered winch) and by anchoring one end to a convenient tree, were able to drag these stringers up the bank to where we could roll them into the woods where Nature would continue to recycle them.

Stringers resting on rocks, ready for assembly

Our next challenge (after lunch) was to construct a suitable base for the new stringers.  The original sills were in worse shape than the stringers, having laid in the dirt for 20 years.  Fortunately, rocks of suitable shape and size were abundant on both sides of the stream and we were able to stack some up to support the stringers a suitable height above the stream.  The replacement stringers were carried down and landed on the rocks.

At that point, it was just a question of getting them mostly level and the ends even before re-installing the planks.

End planks temporarily attached
 to set stringers
Planking complete, Pete installs an
anchor to restrain the bridge in case
 of high water

As you can see in the photos, this stream was not a particularly challenging obstacle to hikers.  Relatively low banks, and flat bottom, it could be easily forded.  However, in the spring, and during extreme rain events, the brook does get more lively.  Many of our trail visitors in this section are not seasoned hikers, and there is the possibility that they would have trouble crossing this stream at certain times of the year.  Additionally, a bridge protects the banks and vegetation from hikers wandering up and down stream looking for a "better" crossing.  In a way, it concentrates impacts to the environment just like a designated campsite does--keeping more of the woods in a natural state un-trammeled by hikers.