Legacy of Love and the Outdoors – Scott Crook

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Chally Sims, Scott, and Carolyn Crook, celebrating Pack Rat’s 40th year

“When I was 19 he gave me a chance to come and work for him. That changed my life and opened opportunities I would have most likely never have had. I’ll never forget his dry wit and work ethic. Farewell friend.” ~ Rick Spicer, Pack Rat Outdoor Center

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Rick Spicer, with Pack Rat Outdoor Center

Rick’s words of tribute were the kindest way I could have heard of Scott’s death. Rick is one of many excellent young people that Scott and Carolyn Crook employed over the years. Scott and Carolyn sold outdoor supplies from their garage in the early 70s and built it into a thriving business that has a positive impact on Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas. On my many visits to the store, I learned that employees view working for Pack Rat Out Door Center as much more than a job. There’s a team mentality and those who work there have a passion for the outdoors, the environment, and low impact business practices. 

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

I first met Scott in 2001 while in a photography workshop taught by Tim Ernst. The class portion was at the Pack Rat, the most amazing outdoor store I had ever visited.  After a day of photography in the Ozarks, the soft-spoken Scott showed up in a sports car to pick up our slide film and race it back to Fayetteville, so we would have photos for analysis during our evening session.

A few years later, I got to know Scott and Carolyn as the sweet couple who brought supplies and made coffee for Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) meetings. I also noticed that whenever funds were needed for a project, Scott or Carolyn would quietly make a donation. When the OHTA needed leadership, Scott stepped up to fill in as president of the organization.

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Stone memorial for Dawna Robinson, one small example of Scott’s donations

During one of our visits, Scott mentioned that he had fond memories of building the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) west of Dockery Gap. That was my adopted section to maintain, so I often think of him when walking or checking those four miles. I can imagine him doing some of the original side-hilling as I walk along.

Scott and I also visited about our mutual love of the Grand Canyon. Later, when they were moving their store, I got a call from Carolyn to see if I would like a large geological map they had of “The Canyon.” She sent the map to me, and I used it in presentations with students and other hikers.

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

Several years ago, awards were presented to volunteers who were instrumental in the development and maintenance of the Ozark Highlands Trail. Scott and Carolyn Crook received an award for their commitment and many years of service.

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Scott and Carolyn receiving the Eagle Service Award from Boy Scouts of America

Nothing brings out someone’s strength like adversity. When Scott became ill with Parkinson’s Disease, his tenacity and dedication became all the more evident. He continued to attend OHTA meetings and would still speak up when wanting to put funding behind a project. Carolyn demonstrated amazing commitment as she assisted in his care and remained active in work and as a volunteer.

Scott was a quiet person, but I noticed that heads turned and eyes fixed on him if he spoke. When his speech was unclear due to Parkinson’s Disease, no one minded if it took a few seconds to understand what he was trying to say. As his illness progressed, he would often communicate his thought to Carolyn, and she would relay it to the group. I only saw portions of their lives, but they were a lifelong team and their love for each other, and the outdoors, was evident in everything they did.

Farewell to our wonderful friend.

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

Scott Crook’s Obituary

We are very sad to inform you that our founder and owner Scott W. Crook, 72, departed this world for his next adventure June 10, 2019 surrounded by loved ones and family.

Scott was born February 6, 1947 in Atlanta, Georgia to James and Mary Crook, who raised him, his brother and two sisters in an Air Force family moving all over the country.

Scott earned a degree in Chemistry from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, he moved to Fayetteville to pursue a post graduate degree in Organic Chemistry at the University of Arkansas, where he met and married the love of his life, Carolyn while she was pursuing post-doctoral research. They were married on September 30th, 1971.

He loved the outdoors and animals. Scott’s father started him fishing from the time he could hold a pole, and he pursued becoming an Eagle Scout to be outdoors as much as he could. Growing up, Scott’s family always had small pets, including flying squirrels. Carolyn and Scott have kept up the Crook tradition of keeping flying squirrels as pets to this day. Barney and Simon are both about 10 years old.

After a backpacking trip with some friends in Wyoming, Scott and Carolyn realized the nearest outdoor outfitting store was over two hours away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wanting to bring outdoor supplies closer to home, they opened Pack Rat Outdoor Center in 1973. Pack Rat is a Fayetteville icon and has become one of the most influential and philanthropic local business in the Northwest Arkansas region.

Scott was one of the original members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association and with Carolyn, he remained committed to the outdoors with his involvement in the Southern Utah Wilderness Association, the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas, National Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, the Sierra Club and a life-long member of the Ozark Society.

Scott made Northwest Arkansas and the world a better place through his passion and devotions to the outdoors. His contributions will be remembered and missed.

We need our indies! bookish: An indie shop for folks who read

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photo from Bookish website

It’s hip! It’s fun! But, there’s depth, too! Bookish is Fort Smith’s independent bookstore, owned and operated by a group of delightful ladies who are themselves, bookish through and through. As a bonus, they were excellent teachers, known for their ability to build strong relationships through the written word. Regardless of your interests, Jennifer, Sara, and Linda will help you find the right book or order it if it’s not on the shelves.

IMG_4385rrThis store has a fresh, modern look, but it’s welcoming and warm with comfortable nooks for reading and conversation.

Bookish is also buzzing with literary activities. They’ve hosted a writing workshop with Tipsy Mockingbird (a local publisher) and one of their writers, Kevin Johnson, acting as facilitators.  They also host monthly book clubs. They’ll probably do another writing workshop in the near future, so follow their social media and watch for details of upcoming events.

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Kevin Johnson, author, visits with store owners and representatives from a local publisher.

IMG_3878rrFull disclosure: Both River Valley independent bookstores, bookish, and Chapters on Main, carry my trail guidebook, but I’d still love them if they didn’t! We need them both! They serve a combined population of about 190,000 people in Crawford and Sebastian Counties and act as hubs for the literary lives of many residents.

Authentic snippets of life occur in independent bookstores where the soil is rich, varied, and porous, unlike large stores built from standard designs with the primary goal of increased sales.

On a single Saturday morning at bookish, I met a young man planning future adventures in the Ozarks. His love of nature inspired me to want to continue my explorations and writing. I saw a young mother smiling at her daughter’s fascination with new books. Nearby, a father read to his child while his wife browsed the shelves. On the other side of the store, a young couple looked through guidebooks for their next adventures to share.

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IMG_4401rrScenes like these are much more likely to occur at bookish than the big box stores. I’m thankful for this special place filled with great words and people from all walks of life who have a love for learning.

Some might think it’s a stretch, but I believe an independent bookstore might be thought of as a sacred space. Forrest Church said, “you might also choose to see it as a cathedral of the human spirit – a storehouse consecrated to the full spectrum of human experience.” Bookish is such a place!

bookish: An indie shop for folks who read
115 N. 10th St., Suite H-119-C,
Fort Smith, AR 72901
Phone: (479) 434-2917

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We need our indies! Chapters on Main

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Happy Birthday to Chapters on Main

Here in the River Valley, sandwiched between the Ouachita Mountains to the south and Ozarks to the north, we have the luxury of two wonderful indie bookstores. They’re each unique! You won’t find another Bookish or Chapters on Main anywhere else on the planet.

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Looks like it’s time to reorder!

Full disclosure: Both of these bookstores carry my trail guidebook, but I’d still love them if they didn’t!

Chapters on Main celebrated their third birthday May 6-11, so I’ll share a short photo tour of their store in this post. They’re only 15 minutes from my home and a favorite destination.

Stop in for a cup of coffee and good conversation. Need a book you don’t find on the shelves? They’ll order it for you and call when it arrives. Want to share great books? Join one of their book clubs. Want to write or meet writers? Chapters has you covered.

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View from the front door.

The front entrance across the street from the train depot draws you in and presents you with lots of options. I usually start in the back at the coffee bar. Nothing goes with books like a good cup of coffee or hot tea.

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I like the Kids Loft upstairs from the coffee bar for its view back toward the entrance.

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View from the Kids Loft. Notice the Easter egg hunt leftover.

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Kim Tucker, a local author, picks up my guidebook.

Indie bookstores can become hubs for the community. The photo above shows a recent event that involved several book authors with local connections.  It was a great time of fellowship and sharing!

I was pleased to share Five Star Trails: The Ozarks with hiking enthusiasts and some of the excellent writers I met in Marla Cantrell’s Short Story Writing Workshop.

If you want to get lost in the books, head downstairs. I’ve found a few jewels hiding among the collections there!

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A new back entrance provides a relaxing place to read and sip coffee. Plans are to open a room next door for public events and presentations.

IMG_3905rrIt looks like there will be more wonderful chapters to come for this indie bookstore! To learn more about Chapters on Main, check out “Best Chapter Yet” by Marla Cantrell from Do South Magazine.

Walking Memory Lane

Paths sometimes act as anchors for memories. As a child, I spent many hours walking trails and roads in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while visiting my grandmother who lived on Highway 7 north of downtown.

I thought nothing of hiking through the woods to Gulpha Gorge where water cooled my bare feet. I can still feel the ever-present pea-sized snails that covered submerged rocks polished smooth from years of tumbling. 

Kodak cameraI sometimes carried a small plastic Instamatic Kodak camera, enchanted by rock formations and towering trees. I felt no fear, only freedom; freedom to go wherever my feet would take me.


As I drove into town early Saturday morning I felt jealous of my wife’s scheduled time for reading and reflection on the front porch of Mountain Thyme B&B. But, I also felt the excitement of knowing I would experience a day of learning while with Arkansas Master Naturalists.

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I stopped to view my grandmother’s old house and marveled at how small her front yard was where we played sandlot football and Frisbee. The uphill side had a definite advantage.

The chain link fence was a more recent addition. I remember near panic when momentum would take me close to that downhill edge as a child. I have a small scar on the inside of my lip from one of those games. I’d forgotten there were so many steps next to the driveway. My grandmother used those steps to pose us for dreaded family pictures.

On the other side of Hwy 7 stood an old hotel and long-retired swimming pool next to the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. As a child, I remember seeing the pool in use as my grandfather visited with the hotel owner.

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President Bill Clinton’s childhood home in the background

Continuing south on Hwy 7, I came to The Vapors, an old nightclub now way past its prime. While in college, I played percussion in pit bands at The Vapors. It was quite elegant back then but playing there influenced me to continue my education and finish college. After being offered an extended gig playing drums for a chain-smoking, hard-drinking musician, I realized that this wasn’t the direction I wanted to follow.

For several years, The Vapors was used for conference meetings, then as a church. Now it is only a dilapidated old shell of a place with ghosts and stories inside its silent walls. I was surprised that the marquee still stands in good condition.

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My favorite part of the Master Naturalists training involved walking through familiar areas while seeing through new lenses of learning.

A group walked north of the Arlington Hotel with geologist Doug Hanson as he shared from his knowledge using road cuts next to parking lots. He had extensive information about novaculite and its many applications as an abrasive. I knew the rock as a wetstone I’ve used to sharpen knives.

Shane Scott, a member of the Diamond Lakes Master Naturalists, led a group on the Hot Springs National Park Greenway. We began by walking alongside the springs above historic bathhouse row. I remembered walking this path many times as a child and marveled at how the springs and brick paths have remained so unchanged over the years.

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Lids secure and name the springs above Bathhouse Row

I was pleased to walk next to Hot Springs Creek where it emerged from its manmade covering that extends along Central Avenue.

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Before the first section of arched covering was built in 1884, rickety wooden bridges allowed early patrons to get to the bathhouses. The photo below shows the creek tunnel under construction.

Hot Springs Creek tunnel

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Hot Springs Creek flowing through a park

A highlight of our walk was seeing the butterfly garden maintained by the Diamond River Master Naturalists. I also enjoyed visiting briefly with a local who appeared to have all his possessions on a small dolly. He sat beside a section of railroad that ran through a small cutaway behind the butterfly garden.

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I broke away from the group for a few minutes and visited with the man, offering him some of the snacks from my pack. He was gracious and appreciative. I would like to have heard his story but decided to rejoin the group on the Greenway.

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Track where I met the hobo

After backtracking to the hot spring display pool where we began, I dipped my fingers into the water. This heat that traveled from volcanic depths before racing up to the surrounding hillside made me feel a sudden rush of childlike amazement.

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As I walked away from the springs, I felt thankful for the memories attached to these paths and the childlike fascination that we can feel at any age. These lines by Mary Oliver came to mind. 

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More about Arkansas Master Naturalists: A Pause for Learning

Friendship

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Early morning photo before beginning our hike in June of 2002.

Hiking trails are great places to build friendships. Seventeen years ago, an acquaintance learned that I liked backpacking and asked if I wanted to join a group on a trip to the Grand Canyon. I quickly said yes, and thus began several friendships that endure to this day.

Stories resulting from each of our trips become the screenplay of friendship that we enjoy retelling around campfires as if describing scenes from favorite movies. Those who were on the hikes might have heard the stories before but they still appreciate the retelling and remembering.

Below are just a few examples from previous trips with friends.

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Lonnie sleeping in the Grand Canyon’s cold Bright Angel Creek

1 A whole foil-wrapped fried chicken in the Ozarks
2 Fifteen-hours of hard rain at Fane Creek
3 Lightshow at Spirits Creek
4 Cold, wet night at the Rock House
5 The often-repeated freeze-dried meal review… “I’ve had worse sh*t.”
6 Rocky Mountain privy with a view
7 Bright Angel Creek napping

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Marinoni Scenic Area

Last weekend I had the opportunity to do a day hike with two friends from that first Grand Canyon trip. When I learned they hadn’t hiked into the Marinoni Scenic Area, I jumped at the chance to lead them in using the Dawna Robinson Indian Creek Spur Trail.

As we walked and talked, entertained by Hiker-dog’s prancing, I thought of the pure goodness of friendships. Even if we don’t see each other often, friendships are renewed as soon as our feet hit the trail!

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Some trail friends have four legs.

To see more of the Marinoni: Making Time for Marinoni, an article I wrote for Do South Magazine 

Exploring Arkansas special on the Marinoni Scenic Area

Just perfect!

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Hiker-dog and I needed a nice long dayhike. The expected rain began about one hour into our hike. The temperature hovered around 44-degrees. Just perfect!

Dogwoods provided accents across the forest understory. I paused to take a photo of a single bloom, causing Hiker-dog to return and do her head-cocking routine as if to say, “What are you doing and why aren’t you making a better pace?”

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Dogwood on a chilly cloudy morning

In spite of the thick foliage, I was able to see Spy Rock bluff on the next ridge and looked forward to being there soon.

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Spy Rock bluff in the distance

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The trail route is clearly marked and signs give good guidance in spite of the ax damage to the Spy Rock sign on top.

Rain increased a little and temperatures seemed to drop though it was probably the strong winds that made if feel colder. I stopped on the spur to Spy Rock to retrieve my windbreaker and a snack when a trail runner approached in the opposite direction. She seemed happy to see Hiker-dog and flew by. She would be the only person I saw on the trail on this day that many would call a bad weather day. For us, it was just perfect!

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View from Spy Rock

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Spy Rock didn’t disappoint even on this overcast and hazy day. Distant pine groves and new spring foliage provided colorful accents across the expansive forest. Hiker-dog found fresh water pockets on the flat rocks atop Spy Rock Bluff. She seems to always have proper respect for high bluffs, stepping with care when she’s close to the edge.

Speaking of pine groves. On this 8.3-mile loop hike, you’ll pass through several patches of pine, a treat for the feet because of their thickness and the soft pine needle forest floor. Smooth, easy walking!

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You’ll see several open fields above the trail providing food for deer and visual variety for us humans. I want to do this trail before dawn and sit quietly at the edge of one of these fields to see what wildlife comes around.

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Small streams contained water today, but waterfalls were mere trickles since new rains were just beginning. When I passed Redding Loop Falls, I thought of an earlier trip when we were writing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Taking photos of this little waterfall for the book was a special memory because Hiker-dog was totally puzzled by my decision to hang out in this hollow for 30 minutes. One of the resulting photos from that time made it into hike #5, Redding Loop Spy Rock Trail.

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Photo from page 44 of Five Star Trail: The Ozarks

I enjoyed every part of doing this book and was especially proud of the maps and accurate route descriptions.

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Trail map from Five Star Trails: The Ozarks

Several times during today’s trek I heard the distinctive call of a pileated woodpecker. I never saw the bird but did see evidence of a variety of woodpeckers on several pine trees next to the trail.

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As we got closer to Redding Campground, I leashed Hiker-dog to be sure she didn’t greet any unsuspecting campers. In the photo below, we’re both appreciating the work of trail maintenance volunteers. This trail is always in excellent condition! Thank you, Chris, Steven, Mike, or one of several other sawyers in the Ozark Highlands Trail Association.

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Redding Campground was empty which led me to wonder if the gate was closed, but it was open as were the restrooms. I guess the cool temps and rain discouraged campers, but I thought it was pretty perfect! While walking the road back out to the truck, I noticed this broken boulder, reminding me of the work accomplished by time and weathering. The patient work of nature is just perfect!

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A stop at Turner Bend Store is always a highlight when I’m in this area. I was craving one of their filling fresh sandwiches and was pleased to see my book on the shelf along with many other great titles. Good food and good books? Just perfect!

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If you can’t make it to Turner Bend Store for a sandwich and a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, check any of these locations or your own area bookstores or order online.

Cummins Falls State Park, Tennessee

IMG_3127rrWhile visiting family in Cookeville, Tennessee, my son-in-law, Taylor, offered to lead me on a hike to Cummins Falls. It was early and cold, so we had this popular trail to ourselves. IMG_3126rrDescending to the creek bed led us past beautiful bluffs followed by two wet creek crossings. IMG_3151rrWe passed massive boulders while approaching the roar of the falls. Notice the water level marked on Taylor’s pants. IMG_3166rr

IMG_3180rrI didn’t bring a tripod, but placing the camera on rocks along the creek provided stability for longer exposures. IMG_3196rrAfter enjoying Cummins Falls, we began the trek back downstream.

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Two hikers having fun with a wet crossing.

Most photos of Cummins Falls show swarms of people on the watery stair steps at the base. We saw only two hikers moving toward the falls as we were leaving. The parking lot was filling fast, so we were pleased we’d done this as an early morning hike.

The best benefit from hiking early was having more family time with this beautiful little fella after our hike. It won’t be long before Taylor and Anna have our first grandson on the trails!

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Walking My Adopted Trail: OHT from Dockery Gap to Lake Fort Smith SP

I’ve wanted to check my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail for several months but life wouldn’t cooperate, so we were thankful for this time. I love this section and Hike-dog does, too. It was a crisp, clear day and water was running perfectly.

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Immediately, I noticed the excellent work done by volunteers with the OHTA recently. Several downed trees on the upper ridge were cut out and made for easy walking.

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The first Jack Creek crossing was almost a wet crossing but it was fairly easy to step across rocks. A favorite feature of this 4-mile section is that you cross a series of small streams that flow down into Jack Creek. Each of these streams is a visual highlight and different in every season.

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Hiker-dog seemed to enjoy having this rock in the middle of one of the small drainages we crossed.

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The water in Jack Creek was flowing clear. We met about seven young backpackers having lunch at the nearby campsite. We’d passed a solo teenage backpacker and a father and 9-year old son duo for a total of 10 hiker sightings on my small section. It was good to see so many young people on the trail.

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Seeing Trout lilies means springtime is near. These little splashes of color dotted the forest floor.

 

 

Hiker-dog at creek

The photo above shows one of the small streams we crossed and a huge boulder that always impresses me. To get an idea about its size, I placed an arrow pointing at Hiker-dog next to a tree for a sense of scale.

IMG_2950rrI filled my water bottle twice, the first time simply dipping into one of the side streams that flow into Jack Creek. The second refill came from this favorite spot where water usually flows across moss-covered rocks before crossing the trail.

I used a small handsaw to cut a few smaller trees off of the trail and used my GPS to record waypoints for future trips out with OHTA chainsaw pros for larger trees, none of which were major obstacles.

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Hiker-dog enjoyed several cooling bathes over the course of the day and she definitely exceeded my 8-miles out-and-back distance with her dashes out through the woods. She and I were both thrilled to do this section of the OHT again!

Consider volunteering! Go to the OHTA website and check under maintenance. Use the maintenance coordinator email to see if there is a section you might want to adopt.