May 19, 2013

Carey Kish: Before hikers love the trail, the trails will need some love

At long last the woods are leafing out, with the reddish tinges of the red maples and the lime greens of the birch, aspen, and beech trees adding some welcome color to the monotonous gray tones of early spring. It won't be very long at all before the entire forest will be cloaked in full, summer-dress green.

The new leaves are a sure sign that it's time to get out on the trail in earnest. We've already had a great stretch of near-perfect weather, with bluebird skies and delightfully cool temperatures, at least here along the coast. That's where I've been doing most of my early season hiking as part of compiling a guidebook to classic Maine coast hikes. But now the green leaves have got me thinking of heading up to the mountains and the Appalachian Trail.

Yes, it's trail maintenance time. That period each May after the snow melts but before the hikers start coming through. Time to clear away the blowdowns, clean out the water bars and clip some trailside brush. The other major work, like replacing several hundred feet of bog bridging, for example, can wait until later. The immediate goal is simply to open the trail.

This month marks my 10th year as a trail maintainer for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, tasked as a caretaker for a two-mile section east of the Bigelows, from Sandy Stream to the north end of East Carry Pond. It's a lovely walk that I never grow tired of, mostly through mossy green forests of spruce, fir, and cedar, and along the pond with its tiny sand beach. There's moose and loons and bald eagles. And a lot of deep woods peace and quiet. Far from any ambient light, the night skies are brilliant. It's a special place for sure, and I'm ever thankful to be trusted as one of its stewards.

Abutting my trail section to the south are three miles that cross Arnold Bog, wend up a hillside of hardwoods, then down and around West Carry Pond, the responsibility of my good friend Dana Thurston, aka "Dana the Maintainah." We try to coordinate these work trips, not only for the mutual assistance and sharing of equipment, but the campfire camaraderie as well. Sometimes we're able to attract additional helping hands for these weekends, other times not. The work must be done regardless, but more able bodies would indeed make a big difference.

I've often thought that perhaps we should consider redefining how trail maintenance is promoted. As it is, it sounds a little too much like work, and most people get quite enough of that between Monday and Friday. So, how about this: From now on this maintainer is going to refer to trail maintenance as "trail love." That sounds more appealing already, doesn't it? And who doesn't love the AT?

Along these lines, the MATC might therefore be considered the heartbeat of this trail love. The all-volunteer club, of which my friend and I are merely two, is responsible for maintaining 267 miles of the AT in Maine, 61 miles of side trails, 46 lean-tos and campsites, plus privies, signs, parking lots and related trail infrastructure. There's also 307 miles of corridor boundary that requires regular monitoring. That's a lot of work, err, I mean love, that needs doing.

Every year some 450 dedicated people devote an average of 25,000 hours to the MATC mission, but more volunteers are always welcome and appreciated. Please consider donating some of your time and energy this year to the cause of the MATC. For more information on how you can help, go to www.matc.org.

A NOTE OF THANKS: This month also marks my 10th year writing this hiking and camping column. What a great adventure it's been! My sincere thanks to you dear readers, and to my editors along the way -- Joe Grant and Tom Atwell. 

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and freelance writer. Comments are welcome at:

MaineOutdoors@aol.com

 

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