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Finding Fitness and Peace of Mind in Trail Work

The Regicides Trail near Lake Dawson is a beautiful and peaceful place to do trail work. The mountain laurel is in full bloom in June 2016.

As an active hiker, I believe it is important for people to give back by helping out with trail maintenance, even if it is only once a year. Volunteers are almost always the ones who maintain hiking trails, as paid staff is non-existent for this in state parks and a rarity in town parks and land trusts.

For many years I had various excuses as to why I did not do trail work, even though I talked about needing to get involved. Mostly my excuses related to the fact that I viewed trail work as an activity that would interfere with my hiking and bicycling.

I finally got involved on a regular basis in 2007 when I got lost one day on the Red Trail at West Rock Ridge State Park where the trail blazes had faded to non-existent. I contacted the state park supervisor and asked if I could reblaze the Red Trail. She readily agreed and that gradually led to my agreeing to take care of all the trails at the state park. I jokingly say that next time I agree to help out a state park, I should pick a smaller one, as West Rock has 1,722 acres and is about 6 miles long and nearly half a mile wide.

When I try to get others involved, many sound like I did, thanking me for what I do, but responding, “That’s not my thing.”

My response is to say that there is little difference between a hike and trail maintenance. Instead of simply walking through the woods, as you would on a hike, when you are doing trail maintenance, you stop to improve the trail, which typically involves nipping off an overhanging branch, tossing a dead branch off the trail (which I have always done anyway), or painting a blaze.

Keeping physically fit is important for everyone at a time when people are suffering from obesity, diabetes and heart disease related to inactivity. Staying mentally calm is another important component of a healthy life.

I derive many benefits from doing trail work.

Trail work is a creative process as I determine the best way to keep a trail in good condition through blazing, pruning and erosion control. I have built wooden bridges and boardwalks, installed rock steps and waterbars, and rerouted eroded trails.

Trail maintenance is a full body workout as I am walking, cutting trees and shrubs, and pulling out vines and other invasive plants. A 30 to 60 minute workout at the gym is no match for three to four hours out on the trail. An hour is about all I can tolerate the gym, and I certainly could not work out there for three or more hours.

Trail maintenance is also deeply stress relieving because, as I am working, I am fully concentrated on what I am doing, which clears my mind of anything that might be distracting or distressing.

When I finish a bicycle ride or a hike, I look back at the day, enjoying the scenery and the companionship of those who joined me.

Trail maintenance is emotionally satisfying because when I am done, I can see the benefit of what I improved. As I head for home, I leave the woods knowing that over time all these conditions are true:

  • The trails are marked more clearly
  • People can walk without encountering trees blocking the trail
  • Footing is safer and more secure
  • Native plants can grow without competition from aggressive, invasive species
  • Trails are cleaner from trash

I also get many compliments from passing hikers who see me working.

As far as other concerns, I do feel sore at times after doing trailwork, but that feeling fades in a couple of days. I commonly get scratched by thorns and branches, but I bear responsibility for that as I dive under sharply-thorned multi-flora rose bushes to cut them at their base. If I wear long pants and use geranium essential oil as a repellent, ticks are not an issue. Poison ivy can usually be avoided, but again, I often encounter it when I am pulling out invasive plant species. If I feel the itch coming on, I use Hyland’s Poison Ivy/Oak Remedy and that usually does the trick.

Ticks can also be avoided by staying out of the brush and leaves, and working in colder weather. Mosquitoes can be a problem in the summer, particularly wet summers, but they can be handled by using a good natural repellent made from essential oils, avoiding working at dusk, and working in colder weather.

The danger of inactivity and the resulting health consequences are far greater than minor aches, scratches and the occasional mosquito bite.

Now it’s your turn to help out on the trails, even if it is only once a year for a couple of hours.

These photos are an example of a heavy duty day on the trail, which is thankfully not typically of the effort needed to maintain trails. These photos from August 2017 show the results of six hours of work to clear four downed hemlocks from the Regicides Trail, prune back branches growing onto the trail, reblaze a third of a mile long section of trail, and collect bottles that have been lying in the woods along Baldwin Drive for more than 40 years.

Hemlocks blocking easy passage along the Regicides Trail has been a problem in the past 10 or more years. The woolly adelgid, a tiny invasive insect, sucks the sap from the needles and kills the trees, and they eventually fall on the trail. This was one of four hemlocks on the trail in a quarter mile section of trail that needed to be cleared.
With the Silky Ibuki pruning saw shown in the photo, it took more than an hour to make two cuts and roll the tree off to the side. If I had assistance that day, the clearing would have been quicker because we could have taken turns using the saw. I do not own a chainsaw. Even if I did, chainsaws are dangerous to use, particularly because I often work alone (due to the challenge of getting others to help). The manual saw is a great workout. These were cleared in Aug. 2017.

These two hemlocks fell near each other on the Regicides Trail.

It took about a hour to clear these two trees, using the the Silky Ibuki saw. This photo is taken from a different perspective than the "before" photo. These were cleared from the Regicides Trail, a bit north of the Purple Trail. in Aug. 2017.
Baldwin Drive was a major party spot when the road was open to the public. These bottles were collected in the woods along the road in Aug. 2017.

1 comment:

  1. For the time being, I'm clearing multiflora rose, bittersweet vine, and Japanese barberry, right around me in Southern Columbia County. I hold a particular animus for multiflora rose!