Backpacking Preparation 2: Trails Renewed

Chris enjoying the view along White Rock Mountain Loop

Trail maintenance in the Ozarks is difficult, especially after a wet summer. In September, volunteers begin clearing trails for hiking and backpacking season. The work is hard and often done in the heat. This post sings the praises of volunteers with the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. They view trail maintenance as part of backpacking preparation, and love of the Ozarks!

Small pool on White Rock Creek

Some maintainers carry water filters since, even when conditions are dry, pockets of water might be found in reliable creeks. White Rock Creek pictured above flows most of the year, but on this trip, water trickled between pools.

Lunch break

Here’s a video clip showing the work done with hedge trimmers and weed eaters.

Clearing vegetation with a hedge trimmer head on a weedeater.

Trail work is slow but satisfying.

Volunteers enjoy walking back to vehicles on newly opened trail.

The Shores Lake/White Rock Loop is one of the nation’s great backpacking loop trails and is open, so get out and enjoy fresh trail maintenance! While you’re out there, give the trail some love by leaving no trace of your passing. If you come across someone working on a trail, give them a word of thanks and consider joining them in the future. It will increase your appreciation for all the trails you walk.

White Rock Mountain

Never the Same Trail Twice


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Frog Bayou

Hiking buddy, Nick, said he needed some time on the trail and wondered what section we might try. Hiker-dog had never done the few miles from Dockery Gap to White Rock Mountain, so we decided to do Lake Fort Smith State Park to Fane Creek, just over 30 miles.

This route included new miles for Nick and Hiker-dog but repeats for me. As we walked this familiar path, I remembered once again that we never walk the same trail twice.


Nick checking out the fire bricks inside the remnants of one homesite along the trail.

IMG_6532rr Water was plentiful. This was my first filterless backpacking trip using only water treatment drops, so I enjoyed “selecting” my water from any number of small streams we passed.


Little Hurricane Creek

IMG_6569rrWe met a family camped at mile 10. While visiting with the father, Luke, I was impressed with his two young daughters’ ability to run without pain barefoot through the woods.

The next day we met two backpackers, Nick and Foster, from Kansas who’d camped in the area and were continuing on the OHT the next day. As we approached White Rock Mountain, a young man with a group called out, “Is that Hiker-dog?” She’s such a celebrity. Turns out, Chris had picked up a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and met Hiker-dog at the Hare Mountain Hike-In. We expected a social hike due to the time of year and enjoyed meeting good folks on the trail.


For the first evening meal I boiled red potato slices a few minutes then added a Knorr side dish that cooked quickly. Good stuff!

On the second night at Salt Fork Creek, I used instant potatoes combined with a slice of Spam. Quick, easy, and light.


Hiker-dog enjoyed a nap early in our second evening as a soft rain began to fall. Stronger storms and a beautiful lightning show followed later during the night, although not enough to raise the level of Salt Fork or Spirits Creek by more than an inch. 


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Spirits Creek

As Nick crossed Spirits Creek, I thought back to my thru-hike with Bob a few years ago. A heavy rain raised the creek level enough to cause us to pay careful attention while crossing. Never the same trail twice…

Below is another example of how different the same trail can be depending on conditions. Early in our hike, the Shepherd Springs Waterfall was a trickle in bright sunshine. On a previous visit during a wet springtime day, I got one of my favorite photos of this same waterfall. Part of the pleasure of the OHT is repeated visits during varied conditions and seasons. In the Ozarks, just when you think you know a trail, you realize it has something new to reveal.

Word of thanks to Ozark Highlands Trail Association volunteers: The photo below right shows the obvious work of trail maintenance volunteers who hike in with chainsaws and cut out obstacles. The photo on the left shows a full day’s work by several volunteers although it would be easy to walk by without notice. At one time, water flowed across the trail continually washing it out and making this a difficult spot. Volunteers trenched an alternative route for the water, directing it away from the trail and toward a culvert that channels water under the adjacent road. They’d be proud of how well this erosion fix is working.

In Praise of Trail Maintainers/Volunteers!

On a recent hike of the first 125 miles of the Ozark Highland Trail I was reminded of the importance of trail maintainers/volunteers.  We saw evidence of some great work that has been done over recent months and years.

Then I returned to my “home trail” and what I saw really amazed me.  Volunteers had obviously descended on the Lake Alma Trail and done their magic.  Following recent ice it was difficult to make it around the four-mile loop but today I enjoyed a relaxing hike, noticing evidence of trail work at every turn.

Volunteers are the reason we’re able to hike the beautiful trails of Arkansas!  As a novice hiker I assumed that trails rarely needed attention.  A few years ago I tried to hike a small neglected trail and realized the impact of volunteer trail maintainers.  Now, as an experienced hiker and occasional trail volunteer myself, I know the value of the work done and the satisfaction derived by doing trail maintenance or trail building.

If you’ve never participated in a trail workday, I would encourage you to try it.  You’ll enjoy a good workout and end the day with a deep sense of satisfaction and service to the wilderness and your fellow hikers.  Thank you volunteers!


Chopping trail out of the hillside.


Lunch break under a beautiful bluff overlooking Indian Creek.


Duane, engineer and volunteer, looking at trail grade.

Building the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail.

Building the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail.


Dale building a trail he would then adopt to maintain, the Dawna Robinson Indian Creek Spur Trail.



Keeping trail volunteers fed is a big job!


OHTA Crew on Hare Mountain


Lunch break


Enjoying fellowship and the satisfaction of a good day’s work in the Hare Mountain area. Left to Right: Mike Lemaster, President of the OHTA, Bob Robinson, Chris Adams, and Roy Senyard, Trail Maintenance Coordinator for the OHTA.


Volunteers picking up trash on the Lake Alma Trail


Harry McWater, the driving force behind building the Lake Alma Trail, visiting with volunteers.


Cleaning up the Lake Alma Trail.


Arkansas Master Naturalists helping with trail building.


Volunteers in the Marinoni Scenic Area of the Ozark Highlands Trail


Roy Senyard, Trail Maintenance Coordinator for the Ozark Highlands Trail.


Joe, clearing the Lake Alma Trail.


Cliff, building some new trail at Lake Alma.


Volunteers having breakfast before working in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness of the Ozark Highlands Trail.


Mary is one hard worker when it comes to trail maintenance! She is shown here on the back porch of Mirkwood Cabin during a work trip on the OHT.


Using crosscut saws in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness


Using crosscut saws in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness


Bob Robinson, a “heavy lifter” when it comes to trail maintenance.


New tread being tested after recent side-hilling work.


Steven Parker, right, became Trail Maintenance Coordinator for the OHTA in 2015.

IMG_0841rr IMG_0882rr IMG_2036