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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Overview: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

I had been looking at possibilities for routing dangerous on-road sections of the Buckeye Trail in northern Pike County, OH, to safer ground and when I realized that there was an organization dedicated to reusing old railroad beds as hiking and biking trails, I was intrigued. I joined the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy earlier this year in with the hope that I would gain some knowledge on how to go about acquiring permission to use old railroads for new hiking trails. In 1982 the old Detroit-Toledo-Ironton (DT&I) Railroad abandoned the track between Washington CH, OH and Ironton, OH. Its path runs near a portion of the Buckeye Trail here in Pike County, OH. Unfortunately in the intervening 25 years much of the rail bed has been claimed, mostly by home owners whose dwellings were as close as 100 feet to the track. Yet, there are still some possibilities and I haven’t given up hope on this idea.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (R2T) publishes a small quarterly newsletter. It is mostly a PR vehicle with fantastic photos on nearly every single glossy page. It seems the conservancy is more focused on urban railroads than rural. At first this annoyed me, but I have come to realize that this is a very good thing. Not only does it give a trail for urbanites to exercise, but in many cases it solves logistical and safety problems. For example a past newsletter described how grade school students could now walk to the local library on the rail-trail that passes the school and the library. This eliminated the need for either a dangerous road walk or an expensive, yet short, school bus trip. The grade school now allows frequent trips to the library. In this quarter’s newsletter there is coverage of the rail-trail that connects North Little Rock with Little Rock, AR. Several years ago when I was on a business trip in North Little Rock I bemoaned the fact that there was no way for pedestrians to safely cross the Arkansas River into Little Rock. That is no longer the case. Two pedestrian crossings are now available and two more that use abandoned railroad bridges will soon join them.

To be fair there are rural rail-trails, they just don’t get the good PR. Here in Ohio the Tri-County Triangle Trail connects Greenfield, Frankfort, Washington CH, and Chillicothe. Based on where the trail runs between Washington CH, and Chillicothe, I would say that they are using the DT&I rail bed.

Overview: American Discovery Trail Society

Three major hiking trails cross southern Ohio using the same footpath. The only one of these that allows hikers to cross the entire United States from coast to coast is the American Discovery Trail. Between Point Reyes National Seashore, California and Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware the trail crosses fifteen states and covers a distance of over 6800 miles, which includes seperate northern and southern routes between western Ohio and central Colorado. The trail passes within three miles of my front door.

This trail describes itself as a Discovery trail, with the distinction being that it offers more than just hiking. Off road cycling and horseback riding are encouraged. The idea is to encourage a more diverse group of people to get out and discover America. However, this creates problems. Most of the trail consists of preexisting trail, much of it designated “hiking only”. This is especailly important here in southern Ohio where the trail shares the footpath of the Buckeye Trail and its partner the North Country Scenic Trail; both of which are hiking only trails. There are very valid reasons for both types of trails, but it is my opinion that until the American Discovery Trail Society steps up its involvement and really provides trail maintenance assistance that the trail should remain hiking only. My reasoning is simple. Horses and cycles do more damage to earthen trails and without constant and consistent maintenance those trails that they use soon become unusable to all three disciplines. I have hiked bridle trails and mountain bike trails and know the basic facts. Mother nature, in the form of hydrodynamics, will turn a down hill trail into a washed out rut and a flat trail into a muddy quagmire. Nature is persistent, but it is also a delicate thing. So if you are an off road cyclist or horseman, please only use those parts of the American Discovery Trail that are designated for your mode of transportation.

I maintain a section of this trail, and I can barely find enough time to keep it up to standards for hiking. If I had to battle fixing erosion or installing drainage I would not be able to keep up with the work. Volunteering is a great thing, unfortunately there just are not enough people who volunteer to maintain trails. And to give credit where it is due, I do know that a Horseman’s club has joined the Buckeye Trail Crew from time to time to build trail. I do not personally know of any horsemen that also provide maintenance hours. As for the cyclists, I have no doubt that there are volunteers. But I must say that those mountain bikers I have seen on hiking trails are normally in such a big hurry to keep their momentum up on the bike, that I doubt they even notice the damage they do. Some cyclists have the bad habit of leaving the trail to jump logs or climb rocks which inflicts damage on the scenery they are suppose to be discovering. I am all for outdoor activity and exercise, I just would like to see a little more courtesy. I am sure that cyclists and horsemen can understand my point of view if they ever encounter one of their trails that has been abused by motorcycles or ATVs.

Regardless of the policy for multi-use trails, I still support the American Discovery Trail Society. As a member I get the quarterly newsletter, Discover America. This quarter contains a picture of the Buckeye Trail Crew eating lunch after building trail in Pike County near Sinking Spring, Ohio. My father and I are in the picture, although we are tiny figures in the distance. Still, it is kind of cool to be in a national publication.

Probably the most important thing happening with the American Discovery Trail right now is the attempt to get it recognized by the US Congress as the first Discovery trail to be included as part of the National Trails System. Scenic Trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the North Country Trail are already part of this federally recognized and supported trail system. The National Discovery Trails Act is has been introduced to the US House of Representatives and hopefully will come to a vote before the current congress closes shop. I support this Act. There are other Discovery trails that also should have support, trails like the Olympic Discovery Trail in the pacific northwest. Having national recognition may also bring in more needed volunteers.

Overview: North Country Trail Association

I have mentioned here that I have been hiking and building hiking trails. Three major long distance trails cross southern Ohio. The most nationally visible of these is the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST). Just like its older sibling the Appalachian Trail, it is an official trail of the United States National Park Service.

As far as trails go, it is a relatively new one. It is ten years old. It was intelligently conceived and connects many major state and local trails as it travels between the New York-Vermont border and west central North Dakota. Here in southern Ohio the North Country National Scenic Trail utilizes the pre-existing Buckeye Trail. When you hike footpath of the Buckeye Trail in my area you are hiking three different trails at the same time. One of these trails is the NCNST.

Even though the trail is part of the National Park Service, a non-profit association has come into being to support the mission of the trail. The North Country Trail Association (NCTA) develops, maintains, preserves and promotes the NCNST through a trail-wide coalition of volunteers and partners. Because of the length of the trail there are 34 regional chapters of the NCTA. The Buckeye Trail Association is an affiliate partner here in Ohio. This means that all of my volunteer hours building and maintaining trail near my home counts twice. Once for the state of Ohio for funding of the Buckeye Trail, and again for the federal government for funding of the NCNST. I have joined both associations to show my support of both efforts.

The North Country Trail Association has a by-monthly magazine that it provides to its members. For a non-glossy magazine, I have to say that the North Star is of very high quality. It contains the normal overview of events and news that fill most publications of this sort. The North Star also seems to be able to carry at least one article per month that focuses in on an aspect of the trail, its volunteers or nearby communities.

Because of the federal rules for certification of National Park Service trails, parts of the Buckeye Trail can not be used as part of the official NCNST. The main sticking point are the parts of the Buckeye Trail that utilize roads open for vehicular traffic. While this may seem to be an unnecessary rule, there are good reasons for it. The main one is safety. When the Buckeye Trail first laid out its route, remote and lightly used roads were chosen to be part of the trail because they would not need to be maintained. As the decades have rolled by many of these sleepy back roads have become major thoroughfares. The Buckeye Trail Association (BTA) is looking to move much of its on road trail to off road foot paths. It is in the best interest of the BTA to cooperate with the NCTA, and as a major affiliate partner they are doing just that.

This partnership benefits both organizations. The NCTA gets the use of the BTA trail building crew, and its myriad of trail maintainers. The benefit to the BTA is a little more subtle. The BTA can use the national status of the NCNST to their benefit. The most visible example of this is the trail tunnel that runs underneath the new section of US35 east of Chillicothe, near Richmondale, OH. When this new highway was being constucted, the National Park Service was able to get the tunnel inserted as part of the planned construction. This is a huge benefit. Not only can hikers cross a major highway in safety, but it happened at zero cost to the BTA and the state of Ohio. There is no way the BTA could have had this tunnel built on their own. Similar nationally funded projects can also be leveraged to the benefit of the trails. It just so happens that the section of trail that I maintain starts at this tunnel and runs west to the eastern edge of Scioto Trail State Forest.

I have not participated in any NCTA activities other than those co-sponsored by the BTA. The nearest NCTA chapter to me is the Adams County Chapter. I plan on attending one of their meetings in the near future. I hope to be able to hike part of the NCNST in the upper peninsula of Michigan in the near future. My parents will be vacationing up there later this summer and Doris and I have been invited to join them for a few days to hike and explore a series of waterfalls that dominate one area. I am fairly sure that the NCNST uses the same trail. I need to do some investigating to be sure.

While I have not participated with the NCTA much, I am still proud to be part of it. Any organization that has the vision to attempt such a long hiking trail, and has the intelligence to understand that this federal trail needs the help of state and local governments and organizations, deserves my support.

Barn Razing

We called it the garage, but it really was more of a prototype for the modern machine building. You know the place on today’s farms where all the tractors and equipment are stored. This building was about 50 years old, and instead of being made out of steel, it was constructed out of red oak. But neglect of the roof over the last 15 years caused structural damage, and the building was starting to sag. It needed to come down.

Thursday, my brother-in-law Ernie drove up from Tennessee and he, my father and I spent the afternoon emptying the building of its 30+ years accumulation of stuff. The man who is buying the property has also been helping. At one point when Dad and Ernie when to eat lunch, (I’d already eaten) the soon to be land owner, his friend, a young relative of his and I were loading a heavy half built farm wagon onto the scrap trailer. These men are all bigger than me and I was the old man; fifteen years older than the oldest of them. At one point two of them were trying to lift up the wagon in order for a portion of it would clear the floor of the trailer. They didn’t have much success. I was leaning on a long steel bar, panting. When they gave up, I took the bar wedged it into place and popped the wagon up to where it needed to be. The two big guys looked at me as if they had never seen a lever in action before. “Give me a lever and a place to stand.” We finished up the afternoon totally exhausted.

Friday we finished emptying the building, wrapped a cable around the upper joists on one side and pulled the building over with a minimal tug from Dad’s tractor. Ernie and I scrambled up on the now much lower roof peak and began stripping off the rusted tin roof. I took a hunk of skin out of one finger on a piece of tin that broke free unexpectedly, and I also fell three feet to the ground when a rotted roofing slat gave away. I fully expected to get a few more nicks, cuts and bruises than I did. We ended the day with all of the roofing material removed and carted away. We were again exhausted.

On Saturday we started taking down the roofing joists. Ernie and I worked on getting key structure points loose, and before long the entire roofing structure was lying flat on the ground. We spent the rest of the day dismantling the rest of the joists, and one side wall. Ernie and I worked very well together, anticipating eachothers working style and actions. We pounded loose the last part of that side wall in one last burst of energy. I had not been that exhausted in a very, very long time. It was just what my arthritis doctor ordered. My back muscles are tired, but I have no joint pain in my spine.

Ernie is heading back to Tennessee, and Dad and I will finish up what is left on the ground in the days to come.

The best part of this entire thing is that I got to spend time with family, working outside and drinking lemonade. So what if it was hard work.

I asked for the rain…

I asked for the rain but I didn’t expect this. I think mother nature is trying to make up for the lack of rain this spring. It seems that nearly every day now we are getting gully washer strength afternoon thunderstorms that are typical here in Ohio. Typical in their sudden appearance and departure, in the volume of water, in the power of the tree bending wind. Not typical in the number of afternoons in a row that they have been happening.

The garden is doing well now, aside from the wind damage. Yet, even with all of these afternoon storms the ground is still soaking up most of the rain. So, I guess “gully washer” was an overstatement. The storms would be gully washers if we’d had a normal spring and if these storms were resulting in a nearly 100% run off instead of a nearly 100% absorption.

The bad side effect of these storms is the pain they cause migraine sufferers. So for the sake of those dear to me, whatever power I invoked to get the rain to finally show up, please, oh please, turn down the volume and give us a few calm showers or light drizzles. Knock it off with the theatrics. You got my attention. Thanks for the rain, but ease up, will ya?

Compact Utility Tractor

I have said here before that I actually like working outdoors. I don’t mind mowing the grass, or working in the garden. I like to think that I work intelligently, and never push myself to hard. A few years ago we had a riding lawn mower and a borrowed rototiller. Both of them worked the heck out of me. It would take three days to mow our entire yard. I did push myself and the lawn tractor one Saturday just to prove to myself that the entire lawn could be mowed in one day. Our garden was small and that was mainly because I tilled until I was exhausted, then stopped. What I had been able to do ended up being the size of our garden.

The borrowed rototiller had fuel and exhaust problems. I even tore it down and replaced all the gaskets once. The tractor became so worn out that if the grass was damp, it would refuse to cut. I replaced the bearings in its engine in an attempt to reclaim some lost power. No amount of tightening the belts or sharpening the blades helped.

It was time to get replacements. I decided to go out and get one of those mini-tractors. The industry calls them Compact Utility Tractors. Mine has a three point hitch, rear and belly power takeoff (PTO), and a PTO driven 64inch mower deck. I also bought a PTO driven rototiller attachment that fits perfectly on the three point hitch.

It only took me a half an hour to till our large garden this year. Ten minutes of that was attaching and detaching the tiller.

I can mow all 3.3 acres of my lawn in about three hours, and use less than five gallons of diesel fuel. I have used the tractor to pulled out small tree stumps; which reminds me that I need to pull out a dead bush near our driveway.

The bottom line is that I really like this little tractor. I have gotten it stuck in the mud five or six times, but I was really into wet areas I had no business being in. The main reason it got stuck (besides my bad judgment) is because I have turf tires on it instead of the standard ribbed tractor tires. Our property is so wet that I thought it was better to try and float above the ground instead of digging in and tearing up the lawn by leaving tire tracks. The farmer who use to own this land use to called it swamp acres. I made the right decision. The turf tires have really helped with the mowing when the ground is wet.

I like to spend time outdoors, but when I am as busy as I have been these last few weeks it is nice to be able to get the lawn mowed quickly. If you have more than a acre or two of land and you find yourself needing more than an afternoon to comfortably mow your lawn, I suggest you look into getting a mini-tractor. And don’t let them put anything smaller than a 60 inch mowing deck on it.

Green Apples

I love green apples. I am specifically talking about unripe apples, not apples that remain green after they are ripe. Don’t get me wrong, as far as eating apples are concerned I think Granny Smiths are the best. But there is something about those sour unripe apples that appeal to me.

When I was a small kid we lived in a Columbus neighborhood near Ohio State University, on the west side of the Olentangy River. The back yards in this neighborhood seemed to me to alternate the kind of trees that had been planted. One next door neighbor had cottonwood trees, we had maple trees, the other neighbor had apple trees, then cottonwoods again. I am not sure if there was a pattern. I don’t remember if any other back yards had apple trees or not. What did I care? The yard next to ours had apples, why go looking any further?

My big brother Lloyd was crazier about green apples than I was. I could blame him for the neighbor yelling at me for being in his yard, but the truth is that I would have climbed the fence to get those apples even without Lloyd’s encouragement. I would only grab two apples, maybe three, anytime I climbed over the fence. It wasn’t a daily occurrence either. I don’t know why the neighbor yelled at me. It’s not like a six year old, especially one at tiny as I was, could pick very many apples. Well, there was that one time that we ate so many that we both had bad stomach aches.

There are I times I still can’t resist. Just a few minutes ago I was mowing the lawn, and one particular apple was just at the right spot when I was mowing around our apple tree. It almost picked itself. And since it was off the tree, I figured I’d polish it up and see how much red was starting to show. And since it was all shiny and clean, I figured I’d go ahead and eat it. Sure hope I don’t get a stomach ache.

It sure tasted good.

Walking Glasses

A lot of people my age have eyes that are getting tired. Recently a co-worker complained about needing reading glasses. Me? I’ve needed reading glasses for years now. I am sitting here wearing no-line trifocals. Distance on top, reading on the bottom and arm’s length for staring at a computer monitor all day in the middle. It is important for you to know that my middle prescription starts at about eighteen inches and is good up to about three feet away. If I need to clearly see anything farther than three feet away, I have to look out of the top part of my glasses.

I didn’t need glasses until I hit college. I was originally diagnosed with a bad astigmatism, but that eye doctor was wrong. The correct diagnosis should have been that I am near sighted in one eye, and far sighted in the other. Well, except for the past six years or so. It seems my farsighted eye is losing focus at great distances, and it is now just a middle distance sighted eye. I can function well without my glasses. I can read close up, and I can see far away enough to read road signs before I pass them and to be safe driving on the freeways. Yet if I don’t wear my glasses, I get horrendous headaches. For everyday life, my trifocals are great! What they are not good for is hiking.

I like to look at the scenery around me when I hike. To me that is one of the best things about hiking. And I can see the scenery with my trifocals. What I can not see when I have my head held up are my feet; or the trail, or that rock on the trail. I stumbled a lot. I turned my ankle a few times. I’d even given myself a stiff neck because I was constantly bending it down at an unnatural angle in order for the distance part of the lens to bring the trail into focus. Walking with my head bent down meant I wasn’t able to enjoy the scenery. I hiked a few times without my glasses and got horrendous headaches. Arrrgh!

Then a simple solution occurred to me. Why not get a pair of Walking Glasses? People have reading glasses and driving glasses, right? I could get a pair that was only the distance prescription. If I need to read a map, I could pull the glasses off for the few minutes that I’d be reading with my near sighted eye. Perfect plan!

Except the eye doctor didn’t want to do it. You see, she wanted to give me a driving glasses prescription that would allow me to keep a dashboard in focus and still have enough distance to be safe on the road. I had to explain a few times that what I needed was not to be able to see from three feet to one hundred yards, but to be able to see from six feet to infinity, or as close to infinity as my tired eyes will allow. She finally agreed to write the prescription, but she was upset with me because I questioned her authority. She even used the eye doctor cliche that even though they were my eyes, they were her responsiblity. Sheesh.

The glasses work beautifully. And since the simple prescription lowered the cost I was able to take advantage of getting transition lenses without any additional expense to me. (They had a buy one get one free sale going on… like always.) Hiking has become even more fun now, imagine that!

Airplanes at 6:00am

I want to be clear that I am not complaining. I chose this house. The rest of the family is free to complain if they wish.

What am I talking about? We live next to a county airport. Most of the time it is dormant. There have been the odd disaster drills held on the tarmac and once they even brought in an airplane fuselage on a semi-truck trailer for area volunteer firefighters to practice with. Maybe three times a year the Ohio Air National Guard will hold helicopter touch and go landing practice here. Rarely a small jet will touch down bringing in VIP businessmen or politicians. Thankfully these folk drive straight past my house when they leave the airport.

Very rarely is our life really disturbed by the airport. However, once a year we can count on it. The squadron of planes that spray pesticide to keep down the mosquito population, and keep West Nile Virus at bay, arrived this week. At first I thought there was some kind of fly-in going on, but Doris correctly identified the planes as the ones we get each year. There are somewhere between five to ten of these lanky yellow planes. I haven’t gotten a clear look at them when they are all on the ground this year, but there were seven of them last year. What I do know is that they begin taking off around 6am and continue to land and take off throughout the day. Yesterday, a returning plane buzzed our house. I call it buzzing because I figure that if I can see the tread in his tires, he is to low. I looked for a “I (heart) DEET” bumper sticker on the plane, but didn’t see one.

I understand the strategy for preventing a West Nile Virus outbreak. Our house is on a swampy plateau and we battle mosquitoes during the immediate post rainy season. Which, if it were not for the messed up climate, would be now. We normally have mosquitoes with a leg spread the size of of a quarter dollar. I don’t like the idea of chemical pesticides, but I can not come up with a better solution, so I quietly support the spraying. I support it because normally I’d have to cover myself in DEET just to work in the yard, and even then I’d swat and kill a dozen or two mosquitoes every hour.

But not this year. This year as been too dry. I have not been bitten by a mosquito this year. Deer flies? Yes! But not mosquitoes. I can only assume bureaucracy is at work here. The contract to spray for mosquitoes was probably signed months and months ago. However, many Ohio taxpayer dollars could be saved if spraying was halted in this county. There are no mosquitoes to spray! I know first hand how hard it is to stop a bureaucracy from spending money in a wasteful way. The contract is god, and if in the contract there is no mention of there needing to be actual mosquitoes to spray, then the mosquito spraying will continue. My only hope is that the pesticide will kill those stinky yellow faux-ladybugs that show up… in the fall. Never mind.