There’re two kinds of trail people . . .

. . .those who hike on trails and those who maintain trails.  Now, that’s not to say that the hikers do not occasionally do a little trail work or that the maintainers don’t enjoy a hike.  But what it comes down to is that people do tend to cotton to one side or the other.

I thought about that the other day as I joined a Georgia AT Club trail maintaining crew to work on a mile of the Len Foote Trail.  The five-mile trail begins at the top of Amicalola Falls in North Georgia and meanders five miles over oak and hickory ridges and down through rhododendron and laurel tunnels before arriving at the little backcountry paradise we call the Len Foote Hike Inn.  Three crews were formed, and the job was to clear roots, repair and build water bars, set in wooden steps and build benches.  I was assigned to the bench building group.

Among my crew were some chainsaw-certified experts whose job it was to select a suitable black locust to use for bench timber.  They quickly located one that was close enough to the trail to actually use and far enough away to not be noticeable by its absence.  Considerable brainpower goes into felling a hardwood in the spot where you want it.  I always watch in awe as a tree comes down — so much power, energy and danger is released as the sylvan leviathan crashes down in all its glory.  Any superfluous limbs and twigs in its path are violently smashed before the final explosive impact with the forest floor.  Quickly, the sawyers selected two bench-length sections and four stanchions to support the main benches.

Then, using straps and assigning eight individuals to tote, we hauled the two big logs to their final resting place, a spot on the trail where we were establishing seating for an outdoor classroom.  It was like being a pallbearer, except we were carrying our loads to a spot where they would receive new life.  Then, we began using hand axes, pulaski blades and drawknives to skin the bark off the logs. As we did that, the sawyers, notched the stanchions — sort of the way you do on a log cabin — and flattened the tops of the two bench logs.  Sawdust and wood chips flew in all directions as we worked in a fine drizzle.  At last, we were ready to heft the logs onto the support stanchions where they will probably sit for many years after most of us on the crew breathe our last.  Black locust is known to last a long dang time, and I hope these benches will stand the test of many years and the burden of many hikers’ butts.

I am more hiker than maintainer.  I love watching experts who delight in plying their skills as maintainers and still don’t mind having me around to supply a little assistance.  It was a good day that ended with aching backs, wet fleece jackets, muddy boots and renewed love for the trail.  As we hiked back to meet the other crews, we were impressed by the great work they did in repairing the trail and protecting it for the future.  The Hike Inn Trail is one of the most popular Forest Service trails in Georgia. If we want to avoid loving it to death, we need the expertise and dedication of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to keep it in shape.  If this recent work day was any indication, the trail is in good hands.  Go use it!

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One thought on “There’re two kinds of trail people . . .

  1. I would love to see a picture of you building a black locust bench!!! Thanks to all the trail maintainers out there. Hiking trails are those magical pathways bridging boring daily lives to history, ecology and natural adventure. Richard, your words brought back many memories!

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