This post was written by Bill Caulway, GMC Worcester Section member.
In late October 2017, a storm rumbled through Vermont with strong winds and rain, causing power outages, erosion damage, and downed trees. The trail needed to be assessed for damage in addition to its general end-of-season maintenance. My GMC Section asked for a volunteer so I offered my help. Because I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and completed the Long Trail end-to-end this year, I know the section well.
Leaving my house on a frosty morning at 5:30 AM, my daypack was ready with 4 PB&J sandwiches, 2 liters of water, multiple layers of clothing, and emergency gear. As I left in the dark, I knew the timing would be close: 12+ miles of trail maintenance with roughly 8 hours of sunlight. I noticed snow on the rooftops in Barre as I wound my way through Massachusetts. It was only 28 degrees but I figured, “That’s great! The trail will freeze and the ticks will be slow.”
As I pulled into the East Branch Deerfield River parking area on Stratton-Arlington Road, the sun had just cleared the trees. Perfect timing! With my pack on, bow saw in one hand and loppers in the other, I hit the trail. I could hear the crunching of ice crystals in the duff under my boots and thought, “Perfect. No mud.” Within half a mile I spotted a downed tree and two deadfalls from the storm and got to work.
When I reached the peak of Stratton Mountain, it was so cold that the trees and the fire tower were covered with rime ice. An Appalachian Trail southbound hiker came along. He was cold and stayed for a while, shivering the entire time. He and his hiker buddy were hiking until Thanksgiving, with a plan to pick the trail back up again next spring. I was happy with my layers of clothes and warm enough, but I needed to keep going as I was only halfway done. I met another AT hiker as I descended the mountain. Then, at the intersection before the Stratton Shelter, two more AT hikers were making lunch in the leaves. I said “Howdy” and we talked. The AT hikers thought it was great that I was giving back to the trail. I do hope that they will follow my lead and give back to the trail and community that pours so much effort into making it all possible.
Next, I went to the shelter, checking on the privy along the way. About 25 high school kids and teachers from an outing club were at the shelter. They were eating and having a grand time. I introduced myself as one of the trail maintainers and told them about the shelter and stone steps that we installed in November 2016. They asked questions and also appreciated our efforts.
After a quick sandwich and some frozen water, I left for the Stratton Pond Trail. This was about 4 miles, then another mile road walk to my car. Because it was a blue-blazed trail, I suspected it would need some extra care, and it did – half of my work was on that trail. As the day waned and the sun dipped below the tree line, I knew I would make it. “Just another mile,” I thought. Then another downed tree. Then another mile. Finally, I popped out of the woods and hit the gravel road at 3:30 PM. Perfect timing again! I was glad to be trekking toward my car; it was getting cold.
By the end of the day, I had used the bow saw on 10 downed trees, including one very large one. I hand-removed 25 additional downed trees and large branches and pruned 30 trees. It was a fun and productive day.