Damage to the Trail

Monday afternoon I took a three mile hike to work out some work stress. I have found that sometimes my clearest thinking comes when my heart rate falls after a hike up a steep hill. Ohio State Parks have a lot of these steep hills. For some reason the trails in the State Parks, and the bridle trails in the State Forests are not built to the normal trail standards. There are many places where the trail runs directly up a steep grade instead of following a reasonable grade. Many of these trails were built during the depression by the CCC, and it is possible that they didn’t have enough expert trail builders to go around. Monday I picked what I knew was one of the steepest trails at Scioto Trail State Forest. The hill that leads from Stewart Lake to join the trail leading between the Fire Tower and Caldwell Lake is one of the steepest in the area. I think that the trail at Great Seal State Park that leads to the top of the hill named Sugerloaf Mountain is the only local trail that is steeper and longer.

I was able to put my work issues in perspective by the time I’d finished resting at the top of the hill. At this point I decided to finish the hike by following the trail to Caldwell Lake, then following the creek that leads out to Stoney Creek Road where I could pick up a short section of the Buckeye Trail that would take me back to Stewart Lake and my car.

This part of the Buckeye Trail shares its footpath with bridle trails within the Scioto Trail State Forest. The Ohio Forestry service had been on the trail recently to “maintain” it. Unfortunately the method they used was to take a small bulldozer along the trail and scrape logs and saplings aside. In places they had scraped clear down to the clay and shale and in others they had dumped the leaf litter in holes and ruts. This last bit is bad because it makes the ground look level but when you step on it, it gives away. It is a good way to cause twisted ankles on both humans and horses. I stumbled several times. It made for miserable hiking, and I could see where a horse’s hooves had slid about 18 inches in the bare clay at one spot.

News travels fast in hiking circles. I got a call last night from the regional Buckeye Trail coordinator. He already knew about the damage, and wanted to give me a heads up that the Buckeye Trail Crew was going to shift focus from building new trail to doing a thorough maintaining of existing trail. This is a good switch. I am going to go back over to Scioto Trail and check on some particularly steep sections where the Buckeye Trail shares its footpath with the state bridle trails. That bulldozer could have made those hills impassible.

This is the risk the Buckeye Trail Association takes with most of the trail. There are only a few miles that are owned by the association. The rest is on State or local government lands, lands owned by major corporations, and private property.

I have to wonder if lack of funding is what has led to the State Forestry Service to resort to using a bulldozer to maintain the trail. I can understand the use of a tractor with a brush mower being used to keep the trail wide enough for horses, but a bulldozer? It seems like overkill to me. It is a shame that the days of the Forestry Service hiring a gang of teenagers each summer to clear the trail by hand are long gone.

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