Jul 28 2008

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Phantom Trail Work

Posted at 8:04 am under Blog Post

I have a confession to make: I do phantom trail work. Only once, a dozen years ago, did I join other people from the local chapter of the Green Mountain Club and clear a five-mile section of Vermont’s Long Trail of brush, downed trees and other forest debris. Since then I’ve been soloing it. It’s a habit developed more out of compulsion than a sense of duty. I don’t premeditate it, I just do it on occasion as I’m hiking.

I’ve opened up water bars plugged with leaf litter. I’ve kicked fallen limbs off the trail and man-hauled more than one dropped tree out of the way – small ones, of course. Every once in a while, usually while hiking in the rain, I dig a new water bar, thus diverting water that’s eroding the trail. I’ve cleaned up more fire pits and broken down more abandoned campfire circles than I care to recall. I’ve picked up and hauled away my own weight in trash over the years. Why? I dunno. Because someone has to do it. Because I’m an old Boy Scout. Because I know that no hiking club has enough manpower to do everything that needs to be done when it comes to trail maintenance.

Certainly the thing to do, if you’re the least bit interested in helping out, is to contact your local hiking club and get on an organized trail maintenance outing. That way your efforts will go where they are needed the most. Besides, you’ll meet some nice people in the process – others like you who care about the woods. But if you’re a loner like me, why not kick a stick aside every once in a while?

Last May, I hiked a section of the Long Trail shortly after the snow melted. I was out there just a tad earlier than I should have been and left a few deep, long-lasting bootprints where the trail was still very soft and muddy. Partly out of penance for my thoughtlessness, I cleared that section of debris.

I don’t feel comfortable bragging about the good deeds I’ve done on the trail then advising others to follow suit. Personally, I find that kind of self-righteousness nauseating. And it’s usually disingenuous. But I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place if more people would just help out on the sly, in the woods or elsewhere, when no one’s looking.

I don’t believe in an otherworldly heaven where we are rewarded for our good works after we die. But I do believe that we can experience something like heaven right here and now, especially in the wild. Often when I pick up a piece of trash along the trail, I daydream about some young pilgrim wandering through the woods, right behind me perhaps, experiencing a sense of deep-forest heaven for the very first time. I like to think the absence of obstacles or trailside trash will help that pilgrim stay in the mode just a little bit longer.

Humankind has enormous problems to contend with. Mass extinction, global warming, overpopulation, genocide, gross resource mismanagement – the list of serious concerns is long. I’m not so foolish as to think that a little trail maintenance will make any difference in the greater scheme of things. But it can’t hurt. And you never know who will be on the trail behind you. Maybe it’ll be a five-year-old who deserves to see the wild in a pristine state or as close to that as possible. Maybe the next Gandhi. You never know.

One response so far

One Response to “Phantom Trail Work”

  1. Lynne Velazquezon 12 Nov 2008 at 6:28 pm 1