Trail Maintenance – A High Paying Job

We take a break and refill our water at the Jack Creek west camp site.

We took a break and refilled our water at the Jack Creek west camp site.

This Stihl hedge trimmer pictured above works well with small woody growth encroaching on the trail. I checked it out from the Ozark Highlands Trail Association to use on my adopted four-mile section. The Stihl website shows this being used to trim hedges, hence the name.  I wonder if Stihl realizes this is a favorite tool for trail work in Arkansas.

Hiker wasn’t impressed with the tool. After about five hours, she began to pause and bark as if to say, “Why don’t you quit playing with that and pick up your pace.” We covered four miles out-and-back for a total of eight. That would typically be a four-hour walk. We got started at 8:00 a.m. and finished at 4:20 p.m.

Practice "Leave no Trace" so I don't have to pack out your trash.

Practice “Leave no Trace” so I don’t have to pack out your trash.

Hiker carries some food in her pack. She packs out any trash we find. She ended the day with an empty plastic bottle, a tin can, and a few candy wrappers. I wonder how litterbugs would feel, knowing that a sweet dog like Hiker is cleaning up after them.

I feel a sense of pride when “my section” of the Ozark Highlands Trail is in good shape. I would recommend trail adoption to all hikers.  It’s satisfying work and a way to ensure that trails will be available for future hikers.  It’s also a good workout.  I always end a maintenance day feeling like I’ve been highly paid for my work.  To see some of those who make the OHT possible, read In Praise of Trail Maintainers/Volunteers.

Bear Creek at the trail crossing.

Bear Creek at the trail crossing.

Just being here is a cause for thanksgiving. Another cause for thanksgiving is the meal my creative wife prepares. Good food and company after trail maintenance is the best!

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Hiker’s Guide to Leave No Trace – By guest blogger, Hiker

Hiker, promoter of "leave no trace" travel.

Hiker, promoter of “leave no trace” travel.

As a regular hiker I’ve noticed my human friends’ nasty habit of leaving their trash on the trail, along waterways, and generally making a mess of the woods.  I really don’t understand this since I’m a “leave no trace” hiker myself.  I always take care of my personal business off the trail in a discrete location. I never carry my chew toys into the woods because it would be easy to leave them there by accident.  I always finish every last bit of my food.  “Leave nothing but footprints,” that’s my motto!

Trash picked up on the OHT.

Trash picked up on the OHT.

The motto for human folks seems to be, “Prove you were here by leaving lots of trash or building structures for no reason!”  They carry plastic bottles or aluminum cans filled with water, soda pops, beer, and all sorts of concoctions.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a nice cold beverage, but some humans leave their empties right where they had their last sip.  They don’t mind carrying a full bottle into the woods but an empty bottle is too heavy for their pitiful, exhausted human selves to carry out.  They deserve an ankle bit for that!

Useless structure built along the OHT.

Useless structure built along the OHT. Photo was distributed to others by the builder of this structure.

Sometimes they build huge fire rings when a small one would work much better.  They stack rocks behind waterfalls as if they’re going to make a shelter there.  They cut trees and stack limbs, living out some type of pioneer fantasy.  They carve their initials in trees or bridges as if others are going to want to see this.   Humans have developed better ways to share information than carving on trees and rock, yet some persist in doing this.

Trash in this fire ring was irritated me.  My master packed it out since we were close to the end of our over-nighter.

Trash in this fire ring irritated me. My master packed it out. This fire ring is way too tall for this dog to warm up beside. Sometimes smaller is better.

Sometimes they leave half-eaten food and trash in their half-burnt fire rings.  Oh, that’s a beautiful sight for the next campers who come along.  Just the other day I was walking along a trail and found sliced potatoes buried right beside a fire ring.  My master was none-too-happy with me and it took a lot of encouragement on his part to get me moving down the trail again.  Those potatoes smelled really good, especially cooked in all that butter.

Some humans want to put up big ugly signs saying, “Don’t bury food…Don’t throw trash on the trail…Don’t chop on healthy trees….Don’t build a house here….Don’t take a crap on the trail or by the water…don’t, don’t, don’t.”  Only problem is that many humans who can read don’t and, those most likely to leave a mess think signs don’t apply to them.

One pack of humans got together and called themselves, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.  They have some tips for leaving the woods in good shape.  Of course, I can’t resist a few clarifying barks, too.

1. Plan ahead and prepare.  “This is my weak area.  I’m mostly thinking about my next meal but humans should plan so they don’t damage things.” – Hiker

2. Travel and camp on safe, durable surfaces.

3. Dispose of waste properly.  “Please!” – Hiker

4. Leave what you find.  “My master likes to look at old stuff in the woods so if it’s rusty, leave it.  He’s wondering about the history behind the artifact.  I don’t concern myself with such things.  I just want to know when we eat.” – Hiker

5. Minimize campfire impact.

6. Respect wildlife.  “Especially dogs.”  – Hiker

8. Be considerate of other visitors.  “This includes controlling pets which applies to me.  Master tries to keep me on a leash when others are on the trail but if I get away from him and come running up, my only goal is to lick you all over and find a new friend.  I mean no harm but do apologize for wetting you down.” – Hiker

Hiker looking for someone to lick.

Hiker looking for someone to lick.

Trash along the trail.

Trash along the trail.

Trash on the Trail

Recently I encountered a dad, mom, and their three children, younger than 7 years old, hiking the Lake Alma Trail.  It was a warm afternoon and we were close to mile 2 on the 3.6-mile trail.   The dad asked how much farther it was around the loop.  Seeing no evidence that they were carrying water I offered an extra bottle I carry just for such occasions along with a banana I had in my pack.

I later saw them wearily crossing the dam and was relieved that they would make it back to their car.  As we passed I thought it strange that I didn’t see the water bottle but figured it was in the dad’s pocket. After they passed I wished I’d asked for it so I could use it again.

Most of my walks around the lake are early mornings with a flashlight but later during that same week I was hiking during the daylight hours while picking up trash.  Most of the trash had obviously been there for years.  No “new” trash was to be found along the trail, showing that our hikers are being considerate of this area.

Then I saw it.  The same water bottle I’d given that dad earlier in the week.  I was sure it was the same bottle because of the unusual shape and the location being just a little farther down the trail from where I’d met them the week before.  I wondered what my reaction might have been if I’d asked for the bottle and he’d told me he dropped it on the trail.  As it was I had the luxury of making a few comments to myself as I picked up the bottle.

This experience reminded me of “Leave No Trace” principles, one of which is that preparation is an essential part of protecting nature.  Hikers who are unprepared end up in bad situations (like having a thirsty family).  They make mistakes and demonstrate poor judgment.  Still, I wonder what the thought process is when a person takes a bottle of water given by a fellow hiker and then tosses it on the trail after using the much-needed water.