Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jake Mountain

This past Saturday was National Trails Day. To celebrate, I hooked up with the CTHA at Jake Mountain for some finishing work on the new trails up there.


We had a pretty good turnout. I should have counted, but it looked like there were about 20 of us. I'd invited everybody I knew, but almost everybody was already working on a local trail. GATR had big work parties all over Gainesville, the USFS had a group up at Sumac Creek. Everybody had something going on. Plus, one of the biggest cross-country races of the season was going on in Birmingham. Still, Stephen Carhart and Dave Conway showed up. Thanks guys.

I was impressed with Stephen's pants. I know that sounds kind of weird, especially coming from another dude, but what I mean is that they appeared to be permanently dirty and that inspired confidence. If pants could speak, his would have said something like: "I am the pants that Stephen works in and I am always dirty. If you work hard enough, no amount of washing will get the dirt out. Believe me, I've been there." That's what I heard his pants say when we met.

After a quick meeting, we broke up into a couple of groups. One group went up to the FS83 Bypass to cut back brush. There's a section that burned up there last year and it grows brush like nobody's business. There was another group on the trail that leads from FS83 down to the Bull Mountain lot with a ditch-witch, creating turnouts.

Our group headed down Jake to deberm and nick the trail. On any new trail, the newly disturbed ground is soft and gets packed down by traffic. Bikes and horses tend to ride down the center of the corridor, while hikers tend to walk on the outside edge. As such, on new bike and horse trails you often get berming, especially where the backslope is shallow, and on hiking trails you often get creep.

We took this...


...did this to it...


...and turned it into this.


(cue angelic choir)

When water pours off of the backslope onto a bermed trail, the berm turns it down the trail. On a debermed trail, ideally, the water will cross the trail and flow off immediately.

Still, some amount of water will flow down the trail. If it picks up enough velocity, it will take some of the trail with it and deposit it at the next low spot. Over the years, a soft spot builds up that kills the flow of the trail and attracts tire tracks, foot prints and hoof prints. Those spots create bad PR too. When people go out and take photos to show how "destroyed" a trail is, virtually every photo is from one of these low spots and they look terrible. A solution is nicking. If the water can turn off of the trail, then deposition will not occur. Nicking is basically just aggressive deberming at a low spot. You knock off the outside edge and regrade the trail so that it's outsloped a bit more than the rest for a few feet.

Debbie Crowe, nicking the trail.


Debbie is the driving force behind the CTHA work parties, and by extension, the maintenance of the Bull/Jake trails. If you ride there, and you see her, thank her. Or better yet, come to one of the work parties. One per year would be great.

Earlier I mentioned that it can be bad for water to flow down the trail. The most effective structure for marginalizing water is a grade reversal. They are simple and uninvasive, though unintuitive, and only present, on purpose at least, on modern trails. This is a grade reversal.

 Grade Reversal

The trail goes downhill for a while, then reverses and goes uphill for a short distance before turning back downhill. Any water running down the trail will run off where the trail goes back uphill, even if it has to pool up and flow over a berm.

It's not impossible to add them to a trail that's already been built, but it's way easier to incorporate them when laying out a new trail.

It's also surprisingly difficult to get a photo of one, they just kind of blend in. Without somebody else standing on the trail to lend perspective, they are hard to see.

We worked for about 2 and a half hours. When I'd ridden a few weeks back, the soil was still soft and loose. Since then it's firmed up a bit and knocking it down was much harder labor than I've done, perhaps in my life. I've built fences and bridges, shoveled dirt and concrete all day, placed rip-rap, cleared downed trees from our yard and on top of our house back in Louisiana when Hurricane Andrew came through for 2 days straight, moved 7 times, cut trail, cut brush, cleared dips and water bars, and probably a million other things. If it's generally considered labor intensive, I've done it, but for whatever reason, deberming that trail seemed infinitely more difficult than any of those things. Infinitely. Maybe it's because I'm still recovering from illness. Maybe it's because it was 95 degrees outside. Maybe I've just gotten soft. Whatever it was, I was completely smoked. I had energy, but no muscles left to burn it. I can't even imagine breaking rocks all day on a chain gang. Me and Stephen were joking about what it would have been like working on a railroad in the 1800's. Funny thing though, neither he nor Dave, nor the guy in the Hall County Fire shirt seemed all that worn out. Tired perhaps, but not crushed like me. Lame. I can't hang.

Few things compare to walking off a trail, filthy, sweaty, starving and thirsty and seeing a lunch table set up in the shade across the parking lot. The lunch spread was glorious.


Especially the watermelon.


Seriously, nothing tastes better than watermelon when you're hot and tired, and I was both; hot, and tired.


Post lunch, Debbie and I hiked out back along the trail to see what we'd gotten done and measure the distance. A third lady joined us, but dangit, I can't remember her name now. The total tally: 6 tenths of a mile. It was disappointing, to say the least. I'd have guessed around a mile and a quarter, but it was scarcely half that. Humberto guessed the distance exactly though. I shouldn't say guessed, I think he just knew.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

Fortunately, the steeper the backslope, the less deberming there is to do and the easier it is. The first mile or so needs the most work. The rest should go more quickly, though probably not quickly in the absolute sense. It's going to take a while and it's going to be a lot of work. Once it's done though, it'll be years before it needs to be done again, if ever.

We could use some help. Here's the schedule for the rest of the work parties this year.

* July 9
* August 6
* September 11
* October 1
* November 5

I'm going to see what I can to do host additional work parties up there too. Join the facebook group Bull Mountain/Jake Mountain Trail Parties for more info.

The new trails are some of the best in the National Forest, give them a try. If you like what you see, give us a hand.

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