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The new bench!

This weekend we have a special treat, the completion of a project that has been on my personal "wish list" for about five years. In the aftermath of the Curve Fire parts of Sunset Ridge Nature Trail were destroyed, and the trees that provided shade about half way through the trail were burned, leaving the old splintered rest bench there exposed to the Sun which helped speed up the further decay of the old bench.

The old bench needed to be swapped out with a new one, a solid, rugged, woody-like bench that could be used to sit down and gaze out generally South across the far canyons, across the San Gabriel Valley. Because of the fact that a new bench is infrastructure that will last for decades, installing a new bench like this usually qualifies as an Eagle Project for use by a Boy Scout to earn an Eagle Scout Award which is the highest award a Boy Scout may earn.

Eagle Candidate Dustin Smith looked at possibly doing this project, including working the entire length of the trail and planting pine saplings around the proposed new bench. Dustin came to the Crystal Lake recreation area and searched for the Deer Flats (VIDEO) Group Campgrounds where Sunset Ridge Nature Trail begins, however because the trail itself is not on any of the public maps, Dustin was unable to find it the first couple of searches.

Still, Dustin was able to get a good scope of the general environment that would be part of the Eagle Project. Eventually he got hooked up with a Trailbuilders volunteer and a visit up to the site was done, the condition of the nature trail evaluated, possible locations for new pine saplings discussed, all that happy stuff!

One of the issues was obtaining materials to build the new rest bench, and for that Dustin contacted Urban Logs to Lumber (also see Facebook Urban Logs to Lumber) which donated some truly awesome recycled wood which Urban Logs milled to perfection, then it was up to Dustin to ensure that the bench got assembled at the trail site without missing hardware or any other difficulties that often crop up in projects of this scope.

Pine saplings waying to go in

The project began like all of the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders projects, with everyone gathering at the U. S. Forest Service Gateway information center located at the top of Azusa, and from there we headed North on Highway 39 until we got to the Rincon Fire Station (PDF) located within the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains. Once there we acquired some of the tools and equipment that would be needed for the weekend's effort, and then we returned to Highway 39 and headed further North to Crystal Lake.

Every day begins by checking the Project Activity Level to ensure that the work we do in the forest is permitted given the level of activities we expect to perform, and the environmental conditions of the day. The PALs are very important stuff! to check before hand, because if we operate power tools, for example, and power tools are banned for use that day, the Forest Service has plenty of trees to hang up from, so we're always careful to check in the morning what the PALs are.

When all of the volunteers were assembled at Deer Flats, Dustin held the daily Job Hazard Analysis which covers the types of tasks that needed to be performed for the project, the tools and equipment that were to be used, and some of the flora and fauna. The area is well known for California Black Bear as well as for Deer (which are usually only a hazard during rutting season) and the various critters that unhing my knees such as the Brown Recluse and (my worse nightmare evah!) them Scorpions which makes me scream and run away. And of course the most worrisome critter to be on the watch for was the Southern Pacific Rattler which is usually polite and informs people in the area that she's around by shaking her tail.

The trail tread gets worked from end to end

The area where we would be working does not have any Poison Oak to worry about however that is changing. With a warming climate we are seeing plants and animals migrating to ever higher elevations, and poison oak has been no exception. Far more predictable is Poodle Dog Bush which likes to grow all over the area. So all of the flora and fauna expected to be encountered was discussed before work began.

The work began and the Trailbuilders split up in to three different groups to work on three different projects. Some of the Trailbuilders headed down Lost Ridge Trail (VIDEO) to evaluate a lengthy section which needs a series of wooden stair steps to alleviate a steep section of trail, another group of Trailbuilders split off to place trailhead signs along Windy Gap Trail, and the third part of the Trailbuilder contingent remained for the Sunset Ridge Nature Trail effort.

The Sunset Ridge effort split in to three groups, one of which worked on pulling out the old, splintered rest bench after which they would install the new bench and give it solid footings (which, incidentally, ended up being firmer than the original) a second group which worked on the trail tread itself, and a third that worked to establish hot meals and cold drinks for all of the volunteers.

Part of the tread effort was the need to utilize a chainsaw to buck up dead branches and to remove brush in front of the new bench which worked to block the view from the bench. That effort required Fall Arresting Gear (not an endorsement LOL) to ensure that if the sawyer some how lost secure footing and had to throw the saw away, the sawyer could be pulled up short by the arresting rope and avoid rolling down the hillside.

The sawyer needed two Swampers for this task, and it's the swampers which often have one of the more difficult jobs out in the real world where fire fighters, loggers, and other forest workers must work right up against the sawyer and remain highly conscious about the various safety hazards that plague such work (such as a Widow maker and hanging snags. But for this project the swampers ensured that the sawyer's footing was not crowded by extracting the cut branches and brush as it was released, hauling the debris out of the area.

The completed bench

That first day of the project went well, about one forth of the trail tread was worked with the heavy Yerba Santa getting uprooted and plucked from the trail, and the first of the rather annoying Ceanothus getting clipped back. Also seen on this trail to some degree is Manzanita which likes to reach out and grab people, and while lots of people find the plant decorative, it can quickly grow to block hiking trails so that was cut back and eliminated where it was found.

Without noticing it, we were suddenly faced with the coming of the end of the day, and suddenly it was time for most of the volunteers to return home, leaving just 5 of us to remain at Deer Flats for the night.

For dinner I was treated to one huge steaming pile of Spaghetti with tomato sauce which was awesome enough a pile for Dustin to wonder if any was left in the pot.

I set my sleeping back out on the paved road and set my MP3 player ear buds in to place, turned up The Dead Milkmen (VIDEO) punk rock song amusingly about vomiting (and of course If You Love Somebody, Set Them on Fire (VIDEO), followed by Marcy Playground to ensure that when any bear came to sniff at my feet during the night, I would not hear the silly critter. (Also you really should check out the Amazing Grace Heavy Metal (VIDEO) guitar work here if you're looking at videos. I've got this on my MP3 Sansa Fuze as well.) :)

Morning saw another batch of volunteers come up the mountain to join the effort and the second day saw the completion of the rest bench and the full length of the trail worked from end to end to the point where the trail literally has never looked better. All of the dead trees were removed from the trail the week previously so that the trail tread could be opened up and repaired fully, and all of that got completed by the second day.

The new bench looks great. It is long enough to lay a sleeping bag on to and spend the night. In fact on Saturday night before turning in and sleeping, some of us walked up to the bench to see what the video is like at night. At night you can see lights from the whole of the San Gabriel valley, from San Dimas out to Irwindale, from Azusa out to Diamond Bar.

In all, it was an excellent project done very well, all of the tasks were accomplished, nobody was injured, and I like to hope that every volunteer had as much fun on this project as I did. The completion of this Eagle Project means one long-standing item on my personal wish list of things needed to be done gets crossed off, and the new rest bench should provide hikers with cool shade as the newly-planted pine saplings take root and grow to cover the area.

* Sunset Ridge Nature trail the trailhead sign
* Chainsaw with fall arrestor
* Swamper working with the chainsaw crew
* Chainsaw with arrestor again
* Sawyer working with the chainsaw crew again
* The old bench is getting extracted while the grounds get worked
* Pine saplings awaiting their new home
* Other swamper working down-slope of the sawyer
* The view from where the new bench is being installed
* The view from where the new bench is being installed
* Having lunch for the first day's efforts
* Seems like Traiulbuilder Fred is always taking a nap somewhere during the day
* Some of the completed trail tread
* The bench is getting assembled now that the new holes are dug out
* The first mature pine sapling gets planted in its new home!
* The far distant video from the new rest
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Trail worker volunteers in the distance
* An old rock circle or two created decades ago
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* A first look at the new bench!
* Here is what the bench looks like from the back looking out across the valley
* Some of the completed trail tread
* Some of the completed trail tread
* A final look at the completed rest bench
* At the end of the day the trailhead once again
* All of the day's volunteers meeting at the trailhead for the re-opening
* All of the day's volunteers meeting at the trailhead for the re-opening
* The ribbon cutting for the re-opening of the newly reconditioned trail
* The ribbon cutting for the re-opening of the newly reconditioned trail
* The ribbon cutting for the re-opening of the newly reconditioned trail

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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