Trail Maintenance — One Waterbar At A Time

Yes, it was That Time again in the South District! Time, that is for our annual Trails Management Workshop.

Fifteen stalwarts, including 9 who were completely new to trail maintenace, two thoroughly experienced Appalachian Trail overseers, and one who maintains a trail in Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park, met at Loft Mountain Wayside to Begin The Adventure on Saturday, May 17th.

Led by Mark Gatewood, Steve Bair, and Diesel Bob McCullough (along with this author), the participants set out to learn first of tool maintenance and use before tackling (literally) a rough section of the Brown Mountain Trail.

Tool Time

First, we went to the PATC tools cache at Simmons Gap Ranger Station for Diesel Bob’s program. Bob McCullough is a very seasoned side-trail (Blue-Blaze) trail overseer who is exceptionally handy with power tools.

Diesel taught us all about the safe use of Stihl brushcutters and how to maintain them in the field. After everyone had their turn starting, operating, and shutting off a brushcutter, we moved on to the Brown Mountain Overlook and the Brown Mountain Trail. Where we found an immediate need for…

Waterbars & More Waterbars

Mark and Steve spent the next several hours moving up and down the trail, instructing and helping the participants as they learned the techniques required to develop this very necessary maintenance skill. Howard Davis and John Shannon were instrumental and essential to this effort as they worked alongside those who had never, ever seen a McLeod or a Pulaski before. (Howard maintains the section from High Top summit to High Top Parking Area with two co-overseers and John, of course, is the instigator of trail maintenance activities for the Charlottesville Chapter of PATC.)


Later, after finishing work on the Brown Mountain Trail, we hiked down to the J. Frank Schairer Trail Center on the PATC Firestone Tract below Eaton Hollow Overlook. There, we were treated to the feasts prepared by Mary Jorgensen and feted by her husband and partner, Thomas Jorgensen. (The Jorgensens maintain the Ivy Creek Maintenance Hut for South District trail overseers and crews and are leaders in the PATC cabins program.)

(Sorry; we have no pictures of this. All of us were too busy eating and swapping trail stories…)

There’s More

On Sunday morning, after breakfast (and what a breakfast that was!), Steve led the remaining group in the use of a cross-cut saw to remove downed trees across a trail.

Then, we moved out to the High Top Parking Area and rehabilitated a significant section of the Appalachian Trail where it passes north out of the parking area. This section of the A.T. lies on an old road bed leading into what used to be an orchard. As it climbs to a saddle below an unnamed hillock, the treadway had become rutted and cupped due to erosion. We corrected these issues down to the parking area and also weeded the section using two Stihl brushcutters.

Why We Do This

Well, why do we do this? None of us is paid to go out and train others or to maintain a public hiking trail. Each of us answers this question in our own way, to our own satisfaction. Still, while we may start out to “give back” to the trails that we have hiked (and continue to hike), that goes only so far. These maintenance jobs need to be done, certainly, and our government has not or cannot allocate enough funds to hire enough staff in our parks and forests to do all that needs to be done, continuously. If you saw the faces of those who came out and participated in this workshop, though, you’d have a clue by their looks of personal satisfaction and expressions of wonder at the skills they had learned. It’s all about doing something important, something that makes a difference.

The Reward

So, we acknowledged their participation and new-found commitment. How? By presenting each with a certificate based on an original watercolor of Calf Mountain painted by Betty Gatewood.