By Caitlyn Ball, AmeriCorps member of the Bear Mountain Crew
October 11th was the last day of the AmeriCorps members’ 2014 season with the Bear Mountain Trail Crew. We laughed, we cried, we danced, we cried, we hugged, we cried, and then we left the rainy mountain and attended/threw a Volunteer Appreciation cookout (…cook-in?…duh, it was raining). In actuality, no one cried, but we did hug goodbye, and some of us danced like Muppets.
I think my crew mates and I would all agree that the work we did over the course of the past six months involved a healthy dose of determination and grit (and by grit I mean both mental toughness and small bits of stone that we caught in our mouths while chiseling away).
The work was very challenging. Each of us had our own strengths that we brought to the team and we supported one another in our weaknesses. As far as trail building goes, the work on Bear Mountain was quite technical and cerebral. For instance, we learned the important form of communication known as “grunting”. Grunting is employed while moving hernia-sized rocks with rock bars; these metal bars weigh 18 pounds and are used to, well, move rocks.
We learned to split rocks using large drills with carbide-tipped bits, feathers, and wedges. Angle grinders were used to shape the stone with diamond blades and cut stone pinning to help stabilize those stones set on top of bedrock.
The crew learned how to identify good anchor and spar trees to attach a highline to. Highline is a cable suspended in trees (used when the terrain renders the bars impractical) to move aforementioned ridiculously heavy rocks closer to where they will be used. We also learned to put the highline up; this involved the use of tree ladders and monkeys.
We learned how to measure for the appropriate grade of the trail and how to maintain the grade via the construction of stairs and DUN…DUN…DUUUNN…CRIBWALL (think retaining wall which holds the trail’s tread in place). Both these features minimize tread erosion by allowing water to drain in a gentle non-erosive manner called sheet flow. Bear (no pun intended) in mind, that with the term “crib” in said wall, one might think that a baby or Snoopdog could build one of these walls, but it requires the mouth of a sailor and the fortitude of a super hero to build one…and remain sane.
All jokes aside, a big thanks is in order to: all the volunteers who came out to help this season; our supervisor, Ama Koenigshof; field manager, Kevin Simpson; and to all the supporters of the Trail Conference’s AmeriCorps program. Under the supervision of Koenigshof and Simpson we were able to struggle and laugh our way through the creation of a stunningly beautiful new section of the Appalachian Trail in Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park. It is something that will be enjoyed by many for years to come and definitely something to be proud of.