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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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!

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Chopping trail out of the hillside.

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Lunch break under a beautiful bluff overlooking Indian Creek.

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Duane, engineer and volunteer, looking at trail grade.

Building the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail.

Building the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail.

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

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Keeping trail volunteers fed is a big job!

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OHTA Crew on Hare Mountain

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Lunch break

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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.

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Volunteers picking up trash on the Lake Alma Trail

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

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Cleaning up the Lake Alma Trail.

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Arkansas Master Naturalists helping with trail building.

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Volunteers in the Marinoni Scenic Area of the Ozark Highlands Trail

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

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Joe, clearing the Lake Alma Trail.

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Cliff, building some new trail at Lake Alma.

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

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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.

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Using crosscut saws in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness

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Using crosscut saws in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness

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

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New tread being tested after recent side-hilling work.

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

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Yard Work in God’s Backyard

Lake Alma Trail mile marker 3.5

Lake Alma Trail mile marker 3.5

While working on a local trail this morning, Clifford, a fellow volunteer said, “When I tell people what I’m doing out here, they think I’m crazy!   But I love it.”  Exercise, fresh air, beautiful surroundings, and good fellowship, all for free.  We both agreed it was nice to do yard work in God’s back yard.

Clifford doing some side-hilling on the Lake Alma Trail.

Clifford doing some side-hilling on the Lake Alma Trail.

As we continued our work, Clifford stopped, looked at his watch, and commented that he had just met his Arkansas Master Naturalists certification requirement of 40 volunteer hours.  About 30-minutes later we reached our stopping point for the day.  We walked the short section several times commenting on the difference our work had made.

Little Frog Bayou

Little Frog Bayou

I continued around the trail with Pulaski in hand to chop out several little stubs I’d been noticing on my daily walks.  As I hiked along thinking of many workdays on this trail since March of 2012, I began to realize what a wonderful treasure we have here.

I experienced a sense of deep gratification and thought of the thousands of steps that have already been taken on this trail.  Some of our local hikers, especially children, got their start on this trail.  The Lake Alma Trail is having an impact on the health of our community.  I know it has benefited my own health and wellbeing.

I began to think of some of the trail volunteers I’ve worked with and how committed they are to making hiking trails available to others.  Working with them has given me a new appreciation for every step I take on a trail.

Here’s a short list of reasons to volunteer to do trail building and maintenance.

1. Trail work is good exercise – It is a full body workout for sure.  No gym charges and no gym smells.

2. Good fellowship – Great chance to work with good people.

3. Satisfaction – Tangible results from work is rewarding.  It is nice to hike a section of trail where you’ve done some work.

4.  Trail work blurs the lines between work and recreation.  Nice to have an activity that you can frame any way that suits you.   If you want others to think you have a strong work ethic, tell them you’re doing trail work.  They don’t have to know how much you enjoy it.

5. Building or maintaining trails is a way to express your gratitude for creation and share the beauty with others.   A well built trail allows many caring eyes to view an area and increase the likelihood that it will be protected.

If you want to be a trail volunteer, how do you get started?

1. Place a small trash bag in your pack and pick up any trash you see on the trails.

2. Occasionally hike with loppers and cut limbs back that brush against you as you hike.  Kick rocks off of the trail or drag small trees off the trail as you hike.

3. Be part of a volunteer work crew on a workday.  All you need is lunch, water, and work gloves.  You might want your own loppers but most tools are provided.

4. Join a hiking community.  If you’re in Arkansas, the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) or Friends of the Ouachita Trail (FoOT) are great places to make contact for volunteer opportunities.  Membership is inexpensive and your money goes to maintaining trails.  Go to the Lake Alma Trail Facebook page to volunteer on a local community trail here in western Arkansas.

Nice place for a break on the Lake Alma Trail.

Nice place for a break on the Lake Alma Trail.

Jack Creek Criminals on the Ozark Highlands Trail

As I hiked east from Dockery Gap to check my section of trail a dad and his four sons approached from the opposite direction.   They had a haggard and disheveled look as they lumbered up the trail loaded down with one-gallon plastic milk jugs filled with cloudy water and overloaded backpacks.  One of the sons carried a rifle presumably for protection from wild bears.

The gun made me nervous, but I relaxed when the dad spoke.  He explained that they had camped at Jack Creek with plans to hike to White Rock Mountain, but now they were wondering how to hike out and where they might get cell phone service to call mom to come get them.  I took my map out and showed them the road they were approaching and how to walk toward civilization.  They explained that their water filter wasn’t working correctly, hence the murky water jugs.  They’d not slept well, were overheated and exhausted.  As I continued down the trail, I thought they’d made the right decision in exiting the forest.

Approaching Jack Creek less than a mile later, I saw smoke and a burning campfire.  There was a hammock tied between two trees next to the creek and trash everywhere.  Thinking someone must still be occupying the site I called out, but there was no response.  It gradually dawned on me that this was the camp left by my exhausted friends who’d just asked for directions.  I extinguished the fire, kicking a large aerosol can of insect spray out of the coals and then collected the trash.

I continued down the trail picking up more trash at each creek crossing.  It appeared that these young men and their dad deposited trash at every rest stop.  After doing a little maintenance I returned to the trashy camp, scattered the now cooled fire ring, and bagged the trash I’d collected earlier.  Then I noticed scaring on a tree next to the creek where they had chopped it with an ax for no apparent reason.  This began to feel like a crime scene.

Some of the trash collected at the site.  Notice the burned aerosol can.

Some of the trash collected at the site. Notice the burned aerosol can.

I had visions of driving up on these fellows as they walked along the road and what I would like to say but then considered the rifle and thought a more diplomatic approach might be best.  As I hiked up the trail away from the scene of the crime, I rehearsed the discussion I would have about the beauty of the Ozark National Forest and how important it is that we care for it and pass it on to our children.  I wished for words to help these men discover a better way to treat the wilderness but, in reality, it seemed futile to try to convert remorseless criminals who enter the forest for recreation and harm it by their very presence.

As it turned out, by the time I arrived at the trailhead to throw my bag of trash in the Jeep, the father and his sons were nowhere to be seen.  I do wish I could have that conversation, but I take comfort in the knowledge that I probably witnessed the conclusion of their first and last backpacking trip on the Ozark Highlands Trail.  If I just had some assurance that they don’t have access to four-wheelers I’d feel a whole lot better.