This is not the first year that I have spent most of my time working in an office. However, it can get a bit stuffy in here. Times come when my legs want to move and I just need to get out! It wasn’t that many years ago that I was on a trail crew in the back-country of Baxter State Park. Luckily the MCC provides ample opportunities to get out and “Get Things Done!”
On July 26th of this year I drove myself into the back woods of Madrid, Maine. At the end of a long series of winding dirt roads and endless forest, I found the entrance to an abandoned ATV trail. I hiked the trail for about a half an hour and eventually found the camp of Leah Beck’s trail crew. The team consists of six members, including Leah: Nathan Dumas, Irene Syphers, Richard VanTwistern, Liz Thibault, and Anna Doyle.
I had planned on staying two nights and volunteering for a day. They were on their second nine day hitch with the Appalachian Trail project, and I was joining them as a volunteer near the end of their work week. Leah’s crew had made very efficient work of the project but they were far from finished. “Just pushing our way up the hill; we got a lot more to go,” Leah said on the night before my day as a volunteer.
The team’s project had been designed by Lester Kenway, their sponsor. Lester is the current president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and a former MCC staff member. Before Leah had come to the project site with her team she had walked the trail with Lester as he gave her instructions and descriptions of the projects he had in mind. The section of the Appalachian Trail near Poplar Ridge was in need of staircases, step stones, and drainage maintenance.
On my day with the crew we were placing step stones on a muddy section of the trail. Step stones are meant to elevate the walking surface out of the mud, saving hikers energy and making the walking surface safer. The process of moving and setting rocks is very labor intensive but it also involves Leah’s favorite activity, ‘Rock Shopping.’ Leah describes rock shopping as the process of “Finding the perfect rock. Digging the perfect hole, and putting the perfect rock in the perfect hole.” For me this meant walking into the woods with a tool and dropping it into the ground over and over until I heard a ‘clink.’ When we found a stone that was large and flat enough, we would dig it out and roll it to the trail to be placed.
For many hours I helped the crew push rocks through mud and brush and dug holes with mini-picks and shovels. Hikers would occasionally make their way through the work-site. The whole team would stand off to the side and receive thanks and courteous comments from the passing strangers. Leah attributes this to how important their work is to these hikers. Improvements to the trail help to prevent accidents, and hikers are very grateful for everything they do.
In total Leah’s team completed 140 step stones in a single nine day hitch. (I am happy to report that I contributed to this number.) Since their time on the Appalachian Trail started they have also completed a total of 33 stone steps. Leah is very proud of her team and wanted to express her feelings for the blog: “I wanted to say how extremely proud of the work that we have done, so far, and how far we’ve pushed. Our work ethic and fortitude has really made for an extremely successful summer. I’m really proud of my team.”