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Jeanette, Ben, and Tom

Today we resumed work on the Lower Bear Creek Trail and got a whole lot of work done from the start of the trail all the way to the first campground located in the Designated Wilderness.

The campgrounds themselves were in a horrible mess thanks to downed tree limbs, tree bark, and other problems caused by the high winds that came through the canyons recently however the large troop of Boy Scouts that passed us on the trail pitched in and got the campgrounds cleaned up very nicely!

Let's hear it for the Boy Scouts!

We started the morning much the same way we usually do, most of us meeting at the Gateway Information Center and then heading up to the Rincon Fire Station to collect our tools and head up to the Lower Bear Creek Trailhead located along West Fork Road. Ben, myself, and Mike had paperwork things to take care of in the morning but we managed to join up with the effort around 11:00 or so.

Jeanette, George, Wayne, Bron, Tom, Mike and myself worked on the trail mostly using loppers to cut back a lot of the encroaching trees and brush along the trail, working with bow saws to section up and remove larger tree limbs that were blocking the trail.

Because the canyon is literally clogged in places with poison oak, most of us had slathered ourselves with potions and ointments which claim to protect us from the hazard. Since Ben and I had broken out in poison oak three weeks ago, I covered my arms with three layers of the lotions, managing to dribble some on Mike's shoes while doing so.

The Trailbuilders strung themselves out along the first mile and a half of trail, cutting back growth, removing tree limbs, moving rocks, redefining the trail. I carried a lopper and a bow saw and since I used the loppers to chomp my way through piles of poison oak and other brush, in a couple of days I will get to see whether all that poison oak lotion stuff we had used actually works or not!

One of the things that some of us like to do while working is to cut back brush that isn't encroaching upon the trail just yet but which will start to encroach in a couple of years or so. All of the volunteers in the team think of the future, contemplate the flow of water along the trail in coming years, and think about what can be done now today to reduce the trail effort needed in months and years to come.

Trail work

I noticed that some of the other team members cut brush and then leave the remains on the trail so that a McLeod can come along later to rake the trail clean. It's quicker and more efficient to cut cut cut and have someone else come along to swamp out the remains rather than cut, swamp, cut, swamp. That works very well when there is someone coming along behind you to rake off the trail but doesn't work so well when nobody's behind you doing that.

Some team members cut brush just a foot or two off of the trail so that the shade and greenery up close to the trail remains though other volunteers like to cut brush back four or five feet -- and get tree limbs that are dropping above the trail -- to widen out and open up the trail enough that bicycle riders and horses can use the trail without having to duck or get smacked in the face.

We all seem to have a variety of different trail maintenance styles, I noticed, and while we worked along the trail I could see people's different styles at work after they had gone on down the trail. What fun!

There was one fairly large trail blockage just before the third creek crossing that Wayne and I took care of using loppers and the bow saw -- and a lot of hard sweaty effort. Someone had used green spray paint along the trail to mark arrows of where the trail should be (VERY annoyingly!) and the person incorrectly (and inappropriately) mismarked the trail in a number of places, including arrows going around the blockage.

The spraying of boulders to mark the trail is bad. Spraying trees with paint is twice bad. Using spray paint in a Designated Wilderness is triple bad and an offense that should require a beating, a beating preferably done with a chainsaw!

Thing is, the person who marked the trail without a doubt thought he or she was doing a Good Deed but the trail through the canyon follows the bottom of the canyon to the point where nobody could conceivably get lost and, in any event, the trail should be easily followed despite being unclear prior to today's maintenance.

Now the USFS and perhaps unpaid volunteers need to go out there along the trail and remove the spray paint, a task that is extremely difficult since power tools are not permitted within the Designated Wilderness. Removing the paint means chipping and scraping without solvents or other chemicals being allowed to be used. Then even if that job gets done, it's likely that someone -- perhaps the same person -- will later come along and spray paint things up again.

Boy Scouts go through

While working the trail it was nice to have so many hikers pass through, and it was nice having the Boy Scouts pass through us and then later join the campground cleaning effort which Bron and Tom were performing at the head of our team's effort today. Since the Scouts were spending the night, they needed the grounds cleaned up anyway so having Bron and Tom there to suggest where debris should be moved worked out well for everyone.

One of the hikers who passed through stopped to talk a while as the Trailbuilders had lunch, and he told us that he has photographs going back to the 1960's of Crystal Lake and the surrounding area. Those photographs have been emailed to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area web site where they will be added to the growing archives of old photographs that date back to the early 1900's all the way to the 1970's.

Joy! It's always wonderful getting people's family collections of old photographs and postcards and I like to think that my web site has the largest growing public collection anywhere. (In fact there is another family archive that I have located which I'm working on getting a copy of.)

Something else I notice about the trail today was how people walk around things and leave the trail which eventually becomes the "official" trail. In one of the photographs (lb3017.jpg listed below) there is a tree limb that crossed the trail.

From the point where I'm standing and taking the photograph to a point behind Wayne where he is working, that's the way the trail should have continued straight forward. Instead you see the trail curve around the downed tree limb to the left forming a half circle to go around the tree limb.

Why didn't one of the hikers who first came across that tree limb simply pick it up and move it off of the trail? In the next photograph (lb3018.jpg) you can see what the trail section looks like after I did just that. Now there is a half circle diversion in the trail that people will wonder about, maybe, in the coming years, a trail diversion that circles around nothing in particular any more now that the tree trunk has been removed.

It's a shame that my old digital camera is starting to fail. It's a first generation digital which is very low resolution and, since I have dropped it, stepped on it, sunk it in the San Gabriel River a couple of times, set it out in the Sunlight to dry off a couple of times, and generally not taken very good care of it, the camera claims to take photographs by beeping but when it's time to download those photographs, they don't exist any more.

Trail section completely cleared up

That's a shame because I like to show what the trail looks like before and after maintenance or repairs are done. Photograph lb3021.jpg shows a section of the trail that is fairly clogged with brush and under the tree shown in the upper left corner is a dense crop of poison oak. I got a photograph of the trail before it was worked on and after but almost all of the after photographs -- in fact many other photographs -- have been lost.

Photograph lb3028.jpg shows that trail section after maintenance was done however it doesn't given a very good view. You can see that the tree and poison oak have been almost completely removed and that the growth along the trail has been uprooted and removed. (That McLeod tool handle in the middle of the photograph was being used to block the Sun.)

Wayne took care of another problem in the trail where there were two different paths created, working on redefining the original path and blocking off the other path. Photograph lb3030.jpg shows how we volunteers often cut and drag brush, tree limbs, dead yucca plants and what not over to block trail entry points where trails split so that the wrong path is blocked and the correct, original path is used from then on.

Wayne cuts up tree branches and hauls them away

A whole lot of work got done and on the next volunteer cycle for this trail we will resume work starting past the third stream crossing, go through and finish cleaning up the first campgrounds, and then see how much further we can get. There are a number of campgrounds along the trail and hopefully we can get another two miles or so done the next time we come out.

Back at Rincon Fire Station after the day's work we washed ourselves down with the fire hose to see if we could start removing some of the poison oak right then and there, limiting the time of exposure. At the same time Mike, Bron, and Tom went through the tools and washed them down or used a cleaning solution and wipes to remove poison oak sap from the tool heads and handles.

Today was a whole lot of fun with a lot of exercise and a feeling of accomplishment since the trail is once again looking better defined and opened up again. The tree limbs that fell because of the high winds are getting removed from the trail and the brish is getting cut back so that when we're finished, the lower trail should be good for several years to come.

One of these days I want to bring my tent, stash my bicycle somewhere hidden along the way, and spend a couple of nights somewhere along the way. Those canyons get wonderfully cold at night and because the canyons can get fairly deep, the trail gets very dark at night.

* Jeanette, Ben, and Mike cutting back the brush
* Jeanette cutting back the brush
* A lot of the trail is in good shade which is very nice
* Boy Scouts go through the work area
* A lot of encroaching dead tree limbs were cut back from here using a lopper
* Another look at the trail section with Jeanette
* We pause to have lunch. I have a chunk of bread with soybean and tea
* A trail section that is almost lost under brush and leaves
* Horizontal tree on the left is where the trail is supposed to go
* Across the creek Mike works on blocking an incorrect trail path
* Wayne works on cutting up tree limbs along the creek
* Overhanging trees are cut back so that they don't block the trail
* A trail section after two volunteers went through and cut it back
* The same trail section after I cut the brush back even further
* A downed tree gets a new trail diversion around it which is amusing
* The downed tree limb has been removed but the trail diversion remains
* Tree roots form minor trippig hazards from time to time
* The official designated creen crossing has overhanging limbs cut back
* Very dense section of the trail with lots of poison oak before maintenance
* That same section of the trail after about an hour's worth of effort
* A look across the creek
* A look at a section of the trail after work has been done
* Another completed trail section -- out of focus since camera is dieing
* A better, in focus look at that section of the trail
* A lot of the trail looks like this -- wide open
* Brush, tree limbs, and yucca moved to block off a trail section
* Mike keeps working while the Trailbuilders gather to end the day
* Mike and Bron while some Boy Scouts come back through the work area
* Trailbuilder volunteer George and Boy Scout
* Back at Rincon we climb under the fire hose to wash up a bit

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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