Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Week 5: June 7-11, 2017

Crew 1: Jerry Cabin to Big Butt Rehab

working with Carolina Mountain Club

click here for the full photo album

Konnarock Week 5 has come and gone, and another round of intensive rehab work at Big Butt Mountain on the Tennessee/North Carolina border has been executed. For the second week at Big Butt, Crew 1 enlisted a new group of volunteers to continue working on the deeply damaged section of the A.T. that was initiated during Week 4.

This week’s volunteers came from varied locations including Florida, Tennessee and Georgia - generally hot and flat locales that were miles apart in climate (and almost literally a mile apart in elevation) from the camp site at the Ballground. At over 5000 feet of elevation, the campsite temperatures dipped into the 40s at night, providing for some chilly sleeping experiences. Apart from the cooler evening temperatures, however, the weather turned out beautiful for most of the week - a factor that worked wonders for both morale and trail-building progress.

The project work built directly upon the stone staircase and stone crib wall that were previously
started by Week 4’s crew. With many of the heaviest rocks already in place, perhaps the most important task of the week was crush production. A vast amount of this hand-made gravel was necessary to fill the crib wall and raise the tread surface to a level where it would be safe from standing water and the accumulation of organic muck.

Volunteers rose to the task with enthusiasm! A small team worked on quarrying and carrying crushable rocks to the work site, while another small contingent wielded sledgehammers to smash big rocks into tiny rocks. Different volunteers came to specialize in the creation of different gravel sizes - with some making fist-sized chunks while others pounded stone into fine pebbles. This crush-medley was strategically layered along with some mineral soil to create a fabulously flat and supremely solid tread locked in by the crib wall.

Meanwhile, other volunteers worked on digging a series of grade dips for drainage. Much of the
problem in this work area stemmed from a lack of drainage and a subsequent accumulation of decomposing organic materials, ultimately resulting in the quagmire that faced Crew 1 from the beginning. By raising the tread with steps and cribbing in addition to creating drainage channels, this trail section will be able to manage water much more effectively in the future.

Yet another task to build upon this project was the use of Konnarock’s brand-new Milwaukee rock drill to pin a few of the stone steps in place. Since Crew 1 had no choice but to build directly on bedrock, rebar pins will ensure that the annual freeze-thaw cycle does not dislodge the steps that were so painstakingly placed for this staircase. The new drill worked like a charm, punching through bedrock with ease thanks to the energy from a wonderfully quiet portable Honda generator.

On the other side of the hill, volunteers installed a series of log check steps to slow the flow of water on the trail and reduce erosion. To build these steps, Crew 1 repurposed rot-resistant black locust logs from the ineffective log ladder that preceded the new stone staircase. These steps likewise required plenty of crush to backfill. A couple of stone steps at the base of this hill solidified the steep trail section, although a couple more log steps will be needed to finish this section for good.

Perhaps the biggest design challenge for the week came at the area directly above the stone staircase, where lack of drainage had created a thick mess of organic mud. The challenge came from the fact that this area sat partly on top of bedrock and partly on top of a heavy gray clay composed of disintegrating rock. Crew members had to dig out the muck and do some exploratory excavation to even determine viable options for the spot.

Ultimately, the crew settled on a unique structure that resembled a cross between a staircase and a turnpike - three stone steps set into the clay, with stone-framed crush landings filling the space in between. This structure involved quarrying many rocks of all sizes, and the creation of yet more crush. Junk cribbing made up of chunky, unappealing rocks lined the side of this structure in order to guide hikers on to the trail. Ultimately, this structure bridged the gap and now provides a dry, stable, and durable tread surface for hikers to walk on.

Besides transporting, crushing, and setting many tons worth of rock for this project (and having a good time while doing so), Crew 1 enjoyed stellar dinners back at the campsite, a crackling campfire, and some breathtaking sunsets from Gravel Knob. Crew Leader Jerry Kyle knocked breakfast out of the park twice this week with a pancake breakfast on Friday followed by his famous spread of eggs, Spam, and creamy grits the following morning.

One thing is always certain on Konnarock trail projects, and that is that nobody ever goes hungry! The food fest continued on the way home on Sunday when Carolina Mountain Club member Skip took Crew 1 out to Pizza Hut in Erwin, TN. To extend the adventure just a little bit further, Crew 1 then made one more stop at Clarence’s Drive-In in Erwin for milkshakes.

Special thanks to Tim, Jesse, and Gary from Rocky Fork State Park for providing ATV support, without which it would have been unimaginably challenging to establish a livable campsite at the remote location of the Ballground. Thanks also to ATC’s new Trail Facility Manager, Benjamin Barry, for hiking out to the work site to see the work and introduce himself to the crew. Finally thank you to the Carolina Mountain Club’s Skip and his wife for taking the crew out to lunch at the end of the week. And of course thank you to the volunteers who gave their time and energy to improve the Appalachian Trail for all to enjoy.

This was a very successful crew week with some transformational volunteer experiences. One of the more rewarding elements of the Konnarock experience is taking people who are unfamiliar and even apprehensive about trail work and rustic camping and seeing the confidence and enthusiasm that emerges by the end of the week. Week 5 was no exception and hopefully Crew 1 will continue to work with such excellent groups of volunteers in the coming weeks. One week remains for Big Butt Mountain. Until next time… stay tuned.

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader 

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