INFORMATION ABOUT PATC TRAIL CREWS
IN THE GEORGE WASHINGTON NATIONAL FOREST

NOTE: These instructions came from Wil Kohlbrenner, a former volunteer in the George Washington National Forest who is, sadly, no longer with us. We post them here for the benefit of those participating in the VHTRC trail work party. Thanks to Wil's memory and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club!

The Massanutten Crew works on trails on Massanutten Mountain.
The Stonewall Brigade works on trails on Great North Mountain.

These mountain areas are in the George Washington National Forest.

THE TRAILS

Massanutten Mountain is a 50-mile long range of mountains that runs roughly north-south, between the two major forks of the Shenandoah River. It lies west of the Blue Ridge and east of Great North Mountain. (PATC maps G and H)

Great North Mountain is a range of mountains along the VA-WV border west of Massanutten Mountain. (PATC map F)

Many of the trails on these mountains run along the ridges, where erosion is slight. The ridge trails are accessed by trails that climb the slopes, often on old wagon roads made by tanners, charcoal makers, and iron miners in previous centuries. These "trail-builders" seldom worried about erosion, so much of our work is focused on controlling erosion and building new trail tread.

The forest has been damaged by insects in recent years, so wind and ice storms are bringing down more trees than usual. We clear these downed trees, sometimes with a chainsaw. The loss to the forest canopy results in the need for extra "brushing" to keep the trails open. We also renew blazing, put up signs, pick up trash, etc.

We sometimes join forces with trail crews from mountain bike or equestrian clubs. Our work is coordinated with the Forest Service.

WHAT TO EXPECT ON A WORKTRIP

We usually gather at 9:00 AM at a pre-arranged parking lot. We review safety rules and tool use. We want each person to use each tool (excluding chainsaws, which require training and approval from the Forest Service). PATC provides all the tools, and we train newcomers in their use.

We gather up our tools, and hike to the worksite. We set a reasonable pace and stop occasionally to catch our breath. We work until noon, when we move to an enjoyable spot for lunch and conversation. After lunch, we work past 3 PM and then begin to hike out, aiming to reach our vehicles between 4 and 5 PM.

DANGERS

Ticks and other insects. Deep Woods OFF on bare skin areas keeps ticks from crawling under clothing. It also keeps most other insects from biting.

Poisonous snakes. Avoidance is the best policy, but we have a snake bite kit and are not far from local hospitals where anti-venom is available.

Hunters. Hunting is prohibited on Sundays, so we work on Sundays in November and December (when deer and bear are hunted with powerful, autoloading rifles). During the other months of hunting season we work Saturdays, but wear blaze orange and make lots of noise.

Bears. We have never even seen a bear while working, because the sound (and scent) of us coming along the trail sends them packing.

WHAT TO WEAR (Fashion is out, utility is in.)

Work gloves with leather fingers and palms are needed, so that you can grasp a thorny stalk and pull it out of the ground. In winter, once your hands warm up from working, you do not need heavier gloves. We have a few pairs of extra gloves if you forget yours, or if you want to sample ours before buying yours.

Hiking boots are best, work boots are good. Ankle high sneakers are okay for the first time out. Sandals, loafers, low sneakers are not good.

Long pants (jeans or "army" pants) are good year round. Shorts are good in warm weather, but expect to get sunburned and scratched. We supply everyone with handclippers in a holster on an adjustable belt.

A T-shirt is good in hot weather, but a light-weight, long sleeve shirt or jersey may be better, to avoid bites, stings, and sunburn. In colder weather, three or four layers of non-cotton clothing are better than a heavy parka.

In mist or light rain, some kind of rain covering for your upper body may be useful. Coated rain gear is not good - you get wetter from your own perspiration than from the rain. Gore-Tex-type clothing works for some people. Many find that wool or synthetic fleece keeps them dry while actively working or hiking because body heat drives off light moisture.

A baseball cap or wide brimmed hat is advisable. We supply laundered headnets to wear when gnats are troublesome. In winter, something to cover your ears is useful, and a stocking cap or other warm hat may be needed to prevent heat loss through your head. Anyone swinging a sledge or using a brushcutter wears our protective gear. (Hard hat with face screen, shin guards.)

A sweatband may be useful to keep sweat out of your eyes.

A "croakie" may be useful to keep eyeglasses from slipping.

Sunglasses are useful, especially with snow on the ground.

WHAT TO CARRY

You need to keep both hands free to carry tools to and from the work site, so you need to have a small backpack. It should have extra room in it for clothing that you remove - or a way to tie the clothing on the outside of the pack.

Carry a minimum of 2 quarts of water per person, 3 or 4 quarts is better. Gatorade is fine, but quarts of it may make you sick. Avoid caffeine (colas) and any form of alcohol. Most of us bring plain water in plastic bottles.

Lunch and snack food (sandwich, granola bars, fresh or dried fruit, hard cheese, carrots, peanuts, etc). Mayonnaise in a sandwich is not a good idea on a hot day. The old standby is peanut butter and jelly.

Enough toilet paper to handle a couple of trips into the bushes. Keep it in a sealable plastic bag to keep it dry.

Sunblock lotion for exposed skin and a sunblock lipstick are useful.

A personal first aid kit is always a good idea.

Camera and binoculars are optional.

DO NOT BRING

DOGS. Radios. Walkmans. Cell phones. Rock climbing gear. Want to bring your children? Pre-teen children seldom sustain an interest beyond the first hour, but enthusiastic teenagers can be a real asset. So talk to us about your children…

HEALTH CONSIDERATION

Every aspect of trail work involves bending over. If you have back problems, or problems in leg joints that are aggravated by bending over, trail work may not be for you. You do not have to be especially strong, just reasonably limber.

WEATHER

We cancel the trip if there is steady precipitation predicted for our area, or if there is any threat of thunderstorms early in the day. If the day is going to be sunny with the possibility of late afternoon thunderstorms (common in summer), we won't cancel the trip, but we'll keep an eye on the sky and stop work and head for our vehicles if and when we see clouds building. We may go out on snow covered trails, but not on icy trails.

CAMPING

Some folks camp nearby, either on the evening before the workday, or the evening after. There are Forest Service campgrounds, no reservations. Call or Email us for more information about campgrounds or back-country camping.

LATE ARRIVAL

We usually meet at 9:00, at a parking area near the trail that we will work on. Plan to arrive earlier, put your boots on and get your gear ready to go by 9:00. If being ready to work at 9:00 is likely to be a problem for you, you need to look for a trail crew closer to home.

Starting with everyone else is important, especially for newcomers to trail work. A newcomer who arrives late forces a repeat of the safety talk and instruction in tool use - often at a time when the crew leader is busy getting the work underway.

Also, we often use Wil's Forest Service key to unlock a gate, and then drive along a forest road to the point that is nearest the worksite. We lock the gate behind us, so your late arrival means that you may have to walk a few miles on the forest road to catch up with us.

Updated 11/25/99