Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Springtime at Great Falls

Just as other species are rushing to keep pace with the changing climate, those of us who might have idled away another month in our burrows have been scrambling. (Pity the folks who organize the annual cherry blossom festival in D.C.) Our trail crew took on a full weekend of digging and dragging last weekend -- unheard of, the Cadillac Crew never works in January or February -- and turned out 25 volunteers.  (Okay, in January there's a ritual trek to Berkeley Springs to stump around in the snow a little and then go in and watch the Super Bowl. Not exactly focused on trail work.)

The Great Falls work was tough, though. C and O Canal National Park, the oft-ignored Maryland twin of Great Falls National Park on the Virginia side, has a trail system leading through and over a number of cliffs and boulders that get a lot of visitors during the summer.  Since trail work isn't practical when the crowds arrive, and since the Park Service hasn't been able to maintain much of a maintenance staff over the decades of budget cuts ... well, that's why about a quarter million volunteers keep the Nation's trails usable.

Potomac River inlet in the spring rain

The weekend weather has been perfect for June, though it has caused some worry about what summer will be like. We armed our three teams of dwarves with implements of construction and went to work.  Rolling gradients and ditches were dug, damaged steps were replaced by new 6x6 timbers, and exposed rebar trip hazards were pulled up to remove the evidence of improperly work doubtless done by other well meaning volunteers in decades past.

The coolest job, though -- and the hardest -- was trimming and dragging a red oak that had blown down into position as a bridge over a runoff stream. Ever wonder how a 14 foot long, 1500 pound log gets moved?  Hint: with steel cables, sledgehammers, and rockbars, very, very slowly.

Checking it twice
Herding logs with rock bars and a sledgehammer
 Reeling in a 1500 pound catch on her second 49th birthday  

The hard hats show a change in the crew's work style, encouraged by a general contractor who has rejoined us after a prolonged absence -- that's him in the photo above, double checking the rigging -- said change is very welcome to this former shipyard denizen, a little less so to crew members with a more casual attitude towards workplace safety.  

Since Eddie has a seven-year-old sized hard hat and proudly wears it all the time, the grumbling hasn't been too loud.

Eddie is our bridge inspector
Two of the Grip Hoist Grrls

The changing weather cycle may have extended our trail work window by a month, but it does not promise good news for summertime backpacking.  I will keep nibbling a couple of days' worth of white blaze bagging as often as weather allows -- next week, for example, I plan to be on the trail from Monday to Thursday, daring March to come in like a lion.

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