This post written by Jordan Rowell, Volunteer Long Trail Patrol Crew Coordinator.
Last week, a group of eleven Green Mountain Club field staff entered the forest on the north side of Smugglers’ Notch for a three-day technical skills training. Among our ranks were the three members of this year’s Long Trail Patrol, along with Crew Leader, Sean Pease; four interns; Volunteer Long Trail Patrol Crew Leader, Mary Beth Herbert; Field Staff Supervisor, Ilana Copel; and me.
After lugging all of our gear to our spike site, which was luckily not too far of a hike and served as our home base, we stepped foot onto what will soon become the Long Trail heading north up and out of Smugglers’ Notch towards Sterling Pond. After walking a short distance on the new trail, we eventually came to our first white blaze. We explained to the new trail crew members and our interns, all of whom had some trail work experience, though not very much and never on the Long Trail, that the section of trail we would be working on was a recent relocation, or “re-lo”, of the Long Trail that needed a bit more work before it was to be commissioned.
The day before we had taken a hike to Taft Lodge on the other side of the Notch to talk about trail structures. We pointed out that day how badly eroded the trail was in places, and how many stone structures had been built over the years to combat water damage and high hiker volume. This new trail, however, was built in a much more modern style. We looked at how the first few hundred feet followed the contours of the slope east before switchbacking west, a technique you don’t often see on traditional eastern trails. The trail continued west, following the contours, dipping in and out of natural drainage, allowing for the water to sheet off the trail. We pointed out to our crew the sustainability of this new trail – how the shape and grade managed water and hiker traffic on its own, and hopefully would not require too many extensive construction projects.
We continued on our hike until we came to a spot in the trail that a few of us had identified as a good place for training the week before. We set down our tools, took inventory, had a sip of water, and broke into two groups. Each group was assigned a small section of trail that, even though it was planned well, required some type of structure. Whether it’s getting water off the trail, or the trail off of the water, trail crews build structures to combat these issues. Both crews assessed the problems they encountered, planned a solution (in both cases, a series of stepping stones) and began execution.
We spent the rest of that first day “rock shopping,” crushing, moving rocks, digging, teaching, and sharing ideas. At the end of the afternoon both teams had a rock in the ground that didn’t so much as wiggle when someone jumped on it. Success! We counted and cached our tools, hiked back to spike camp, and started dinner.
Over the course of the next two days we taught a grip-hoist training, finished our stepping stone projects, built an armored water bar, and cleared a few drainage areas. The weather was warm and dry until the last morning, when we all woke up to that familiar sound of rain drops on taunt nylon rainflies. I personally was happy for the rain. It wouldn’t be an appropriate orientation to working on a trail crew in Vermont without getting soaked while wrestling with a stone in a mud pit. Luckily everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, whether they were an experienced leader or a new face learning the basics of life on a trail crew. By the end of our stint in the woods, everyone was excited to start a new season of work maintaining Vermont’s Long Trail.