Bushwhacking with a purpose - AT Corridor Boundary Monitoring


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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
The AT in Maine has a longer border than Yellowstone National Park and like the AT itself, the boundaries are monitored by volunteers. I have had a section north of Andover Maine that I have monitored for several years. Most of the AT in Maine is bordered by private lands and when the trail was substantially relocated up onto the ridgelines in the 1980s, the National Park Service paid to have the boundaries surveyed and painted. The volunteer monitors agree to monitor the boundaries on generally yearly basis (longer intervals for hard to get at areas). After a few years of Covid and a broken ankle, it was nice to head back out in the woods walking the line yesterday with a crew of potential monitors and the person who personally had the most responsibility for laying out the new corridor in Maine, Dave Field along with the new ATC manager for the area for the annual training session which is optional for existing monitors. Given that monitoring is usually a solitary sport, it is nice to get together with a group to do some wandering in the woods.

Despite the forecast and rain driving over to the Height of Land in Rangeley, as I went north of Rumford, the rain stopped and by the time I got to the meeting place it was dry but definitely damp and cool. The training starts with a one hour tailgate to go through the basics and then its off to the woods. The AT boundary to the north and south of the trail is marked with an ax and paint blazed line running between aluminum benchmarks set either in ledge (the preferred method) or on aluminum posts buried in the ground. Folks who have done the hike over to Redington from South Crocker have walked across the corridor and may have seen a benchmark. Every one of the benchmarks are numbered and tied to a fairly extensive database. The benchmarks mark either points on the line or at points of deflection where the boundary goes to a new bearing. The monitors primary job is to confirm that the benchmarks and their associated tie points still exist and more importantly be eyes in the field for any potential attempts of abutters or other parties from using the land in the corridor. Optionally we are allowed to repaint existing blazes, hang boundary signs at intervals and places where old roads or obvious access points enter the corridor and make the path clearer, it is not a requirement, but it serves two purposes, it makes the boundary more visible to the abutters, and makes it a lot easier to walk the line. Much of the AT corridor in Maine abuts managed forest land and keeping the border visible reduces the potential for inadvertent encroachment. If we see some activity that is encroaching on the corridor, we report it to MATC and then MATC reports it to ATC and ultimately the NPS for them to deal with. We visited the site of one such encroachment, where an ATV club had built a new trail crossing the AT corridor by reopening an old logging road. It had been picked up at some point by a monitor and it led to the ATV club having to close it down. The AT in Maine also goes by multiple sparsely or completely undeveloped lakes and ponds along its length and on occasion abutters try to expand onto NPS land. Probably the biggest issue is inadvertent tree harvesting with the State of Maine taking the prize for accidentally clearcutting entirely through the corridor all the way to the AT itself during a time when a former governor was pushing the forestry department to return more revenue to the state. We passed an adjacent patch cut on our way out and it was obvious by the stumps on the ground that the logger was quite aware of the boundary and cut right up to the boundary and on occasion may have strayed slightly over.

When I first started my section, I was given survey maps and reference documents but when my section and much of the trail was surveyed, GPS was new to the scene. It was used to establish reference points at road crossings but after that it was bearings and distances so initially finding the benchmarks was quite a challenge as the last time they may have been visited is when they were set in the late eighties or early nineties. Trees grow, paint fades and ax blazes grow in. measuring distances accurately while going over varying terrain is difficult. Monuments attached to ledge get buried and witness trees die. High accuracy GPS that will keep a signal under a closed canopy had become available by the time I got my section, so one of my and the clubs priorities was to get coordinates on all my monuments and take photos of them and the surrounding areas. In the last 5 years a new tool has been made available to monitors, an ARC GIS ap for a cellphone that contains the entire database of AT boundary monuments for the length of the AT. Sections can be preloaded into the phone's memory and run off the phone with no cell signal, so getting in the general location of the monuments is easier but actually finding a 2" aluminum disk weathered by the elements possibly buried by many years of forest debris can still take some time and digging.

The bonus to me is getting to see new territory that is rarely visited except by an occasional forester or logger. Given that the woods in the corridor have been there for a minimum of 40 years, the trees are starting to get bigger than those found on the adjacent managed forestlands. I run into a lot of large old trees on my travel and as the years go on this corridor is going to take on the characteristics of old growth.

For anyone interested in giving it a try, MATC does have another training session soon in central Maine coming up and ATC is having a four day boundary line maintenance "camp" based in Rangeley Maine in July.
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