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Where Hiking Trails Come From, Part Two. The Ozark Trail Association 2015 Spring Mega Event

April 26, 2015

(Continued from Part One)

Mega Event 051So we arrived at Bass River Resort on Friday evening, checked in with the Ozark Trail Association and the campground, and then made our way to the section of campsites along Courtois Creek (pronounced code-away, as far as I have learned in my travels) that had been reserved specifically for this event. We set up our tent and spent the evening by a campfire, appreciating the cool air in anticipation of what adventure the next morning would hold.

Mega Event 016And the sun rose on Saturday and the sky was clear as tents opened and the impressive group of volunteers all made breakfast, tied their boot laces, and prepared for the day’s events. We gathered by the flagpole adjacent to the main building at the campground around 9 am and found our assigned groups. After a welcome announcement and explanation of what our goal was for the day by Roger Allison, Matt Atnip, and Kathie Brennan (members of the OTA Board of Directors), we scattered to our vehicles and drove down Route 8 to Berryman Rd. After a left turn on Berryman Rd and a climb up the hill into the woods, we parked off to the side just north of the Berryman Recreation Area.

Mega Event 019As we gathered just off the forest road in our work groups, we found the tools that had been staged for us to take down to the trail and use on our designated sections. I was in Group 2, which was led by Jen Reynolds and Kai Walker, and our unofficial mascot, their big furry dog, Fawkes. We each picked up a pair of tools, waited for the other groups ahead of us to get a move on, and started down an old jeep path to a wildlife watering hole. We then made a left and headed down the hill to our section of the trail.

Mega Event 021Once there, Jen and Kai discussed the method to what we were to be doing. Months before, the trail had been cut along the hillsides with a mini skid-steer. We were here today to fine-tune the surface and define the edges, grading it where necessary as it wound its way along the slope and down into a hollow. So after some demonstration, we spread out and each started to work on our chosen section of the path. I went toward the northern bit of our section, surveying my options and realizing how little I truly knew about trail building. This was my first time, and for the most part ruggedly challenging trails and irritatingly muddy paths have just been an accepted reality of hiking for me. To think that any sort of strategy to water management and surface structure was the focus had never really occurred to me. I figured it was just a process of clearing the leaves off of where you wanted it to go, and then cutting down the little trees that may be growing within its boundaries. There was quite a bit more too it than I had known.

Mega Event 031So I cut into the upper edge along the trail, easing the slope to shed water across and not down onto the walking surface. Then it was the task of scraping off the soil layer above the harder clay across the path, pulling it downhill to the lower edge of the trail, and making sure to not leave any rise that might act as a levy and cause the trail to maintain puddles. It really was a matter of looking down the trail and thinking about where the water would go, hand grading it to the harder surface under the leaf litter, and then making sure that it was sloped enough to send the rain downhill into the leaves and fertile earth. We also cleared the brush along the sides of the trail, attempting to create an open corridor, 8 feet wide with as little overhead obstruction as possible.

Mega Event 037On our section as well, we had a switchback that was being replaced with a more organic curve. The path had been marked out with fallen branches, and the hard working veterans on our team went to town on it, clearing the path where the skid steer hadn’t, creating a defined trail off of and around the one that had previously existed. A good amount of effort on this now warm Saturday morning, including relocating a few logs and sending a good amount of leaves and soil down the incline below us to expose the better walking surface. With the path cleared off, it was up to those who have an eye for it to look down the trail and see the bumps and dips that needed to be leveled out in order to manage the rain fall that would eventually visit these woods. I did my best to see what they saw, and to view it at the angles they did in order to visualize what needed to be tweaked in order to build this correctly. With some scraping and tamping, the curve that had been a switchback was accomplished, and we continued working on some of the sections that needed a little more help.

Mega Event 055In the early afternoon, most of us headed back to the campground to get cleaned up. Melissa and I took the dogs down to the creek to play in the water for a bit. With the nights still cooling off pretty significantly, the temperature of the Courtois Creek was almost unbearable to wade in, and I quickly took a few pictures and then retreated to the dry gravel of the beach. We watched Max submerge himself, looking for rocks to claim from the creek as he likes to do, shivering and grinning with every one that he removed.

Mega Event 071In the late afternoon everyone had gathered in the open field next to the camping area for a BBQ dinner, sitting in a casually spread out semi-circle, waiting for the raffle drawing that was one of the evening’s events. As dinner was coming to an end, Matt Atnip stood up and shared some information with all of us about the Ozark Trail Association, the weekend’s event and sponsors, and handed out some recognition awards for members of multiple events. Then we were all included in a huge raffle, which was diligently carried out by the energetic and inspiring Kathie Brennan. After it was over (I won a compression bag and some backpacking coffee!) they lit the huge pile of logs for the bonfire, and a bluegrass trio played nearby on a picnic bench as the sun dropped below the hills to the west. It had been a full day and the energy of the fire and the people was a positive one, carrying on into the evening as we all eventually made our way to our tents, fatigued by the work of the day and the cooling of the open starry sky above us.

Mega Event 074I was very glad to be a part of this Ozark Trail Mega Event, and I look forward to future opportunities to do it again. For a person that spends a lot of time on trails, it was an enriching feeling to be part of cutting one into a hillside. The more experienced people in the group were very helpful and so welcoming, as though I already knew them, and there was a sense in the air that it didn’t matter that you were working hard, but that you contributed as best you could and everyone was just glad to be there working together. It was a herculean undertaking, with 175 volunteers completing almost a mile of trail in just a few hours, but the enthusiasm and dedication of the people involved was unstoppable. Everyone I met that weekend struck me as salt of the earth, glad to be outside, and appreciative that you are there too, inspiring thoughts that someday when they finally reach the end of the Ozark Trail, their positive energy will carry them on and they will just keep working toward the horizon.

11159999_10153188482388058_9084395169148763184_nThank you to everyone that is and has been and will be a part of the Ozark Trail, and trails everywhere. Check out what events are coming up, get involved, and go out and write YOUR name in the path too!

And a special thank you to the guy driving the Ford Ranger who had some jumper cables when I needed them Sunday morning! You saved the day, man!

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