Buckeye Trail Crew

If you had asked me five years ago if I would ever volunteer to grab a mattock, a pulaski, a mcleod or a fire rake–hike a mile or two with a heavy backpack containing lunch and nearly a gallon of water and spend the day carving a new hiking trail out of a woodland hillside, I would have asked if you had lost your mind. Don’t get me wrong. I have never been averse to hard work. I had a good work ethic ingrained in me by my parents–and the desire to stay warm in winter. After I moved out of my parents home I was confident that I would never spend another day working in the woods. Back then, we spent a lot of spare time harvesting fire wood for the hungry wood burning stove that served as our home’s central heating system.

Two years ago I was waking up each day to very bad back pain, and was soon diagnosed as having an arthritic spine. Genetics in action.

The arthritis specialist I saw said there was only one thing that would keep me from being debilitated by it in the very near future. Exercise. I had to get out an use my spine; flex it, twist it and build up the muscles all around it. I told him I hiked. He mentioned manual labor. I told him I had a small garden. He mentioned manual labor. I told him I’d considered joining the YMCA and swiming. He mentioned manual labor. I got the message. Well…I got the message eventually.

I let a half of a year go by, and while the medicine the doctor gave me helped, I was still in pain every morning, and I was still having a bad muscle spasm in my back about once a month. One muscle spasm episode was particularly bad, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to roll out of bed if the arthritis got any worse. A few days after that my newsletter from the Buckeye Trail Association (BTA) arrived in the mail. (For more info, click the BTA link in the sidebar.) I had always skipped the section where they discussed the future plans of the trail crew, but this time I looked. I just so happened that the trail crew was going to be building some trail near Scioto Trail State Park. I talked my Dad, who had been hiking with me, into checking out this trail building thing. That first day was astonishing. As a newbie, they stuck a mattock in my hand and sent me off to follow the guy using a fire rake to scrape away the forest floor debris. My job was to dig out all the little trees that were in the area where the foot path was going to be. I grubbed out trees for seven hours. I was thinking that I might not do this manual labor thing any more. And then I began the hike back out to where we parked our cars. All along where I had spent the day on a steep slope, slipping, sliding, tripping and falling while digging out trees, was a beautiful brand new hiking trail. I was astounded. I was proud. I showed up the next morning, and the next and the next. I learned how to use the mattock to bench the trail–digging into the upslope to create the tread. I learned how use the fire rake to clear out the debris. I even spent one afternoon helping decide where to lay out the rest of the trail. At the end of the week, Dad and I volunteered to adopt that brand new trail and keep it maintained in pristine condition.

Yesterday I spent the day in Vinton County grubbing out trees and pesky “greenbriar” roots. At the end of the day, the BTA trail crew coordinator presented me with a trail crew shirt. It has my name embroidered on it, along with the Buckeye Tail Crew logo. They have a silly little ceremony that they do when they present these rewards for reaching trail crew volunteer hour milestones. It seems that sometime late last fall I passed the 100 hour mark volunteering for the Buckeye Trail Crew.

My back? I am having fun doing manual labor. Of course it does help that most of the other trail crew members are in their 60’s and 7o’s and that some of them call me “the kid” when they can’t remember my name. Makes me feel young for some reason. I am in the better physical condition than I was in 1o years ago. Oh!! I haven’t needed my pain medicine since a bitter cold snap last November. I can’t remember the last muscle spasm that had me flat on my back. The next volunteer milestone is several hundred hours away, but that trail crew jacket really looks cool. I want one.

I spent today working on the trail and tomorrow I’ll be heading out the door to join up with the Buckeye Trail Crew for another day of manual labor with a fun bunch of people.


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