Bushwhacking with a purpose


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Super Moderator
Staff member
Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
I have been a volunteer Appalachian Trail Corridor Monitor for several years. The AT in Maine has a border with adjoining property owners longer than Yellowstone National Park, the majority are private landowners and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) is responsible to monitor those borders to ensure that they are clearly marked and that adjoining landowners and others are not encroaching on the AT corridor. Much of the corridor is adjacent to timberlands but some of it is adjacent to high value ponds, streams, and rivers. Without eyes on the ground, some people may take advantage of federal land either intentionally or unintentionally. Much of the corridor was surveyed and blazed in the 1980s.

The monitoring work have volunteered several years is to visit the boundaries of the corridor on a routine basis. The standard section commitment is a yearly visit but in difficult areas the monitor volunteer may visit it at longer intervals due to difficult access. The monitor normally only needs to “walk the line” but as the years go on the paint blazes fade and the lines get obscured by growth. The boundaries were never “trails” as such, they were cleared originally only enough to do the survey and the territory they go through are mostly “wild” Maine woods.In some areas the corridor has been cleared more aggressively but in general its at best just a opening enough to see from blaze to blaze.

ATC and MATC has run a small paid crew over the years to repaint the blazes, minimally clear the line and most importantly locate the permanent survey markers located at every change in direction and at intervals of 300 yards. These markers are the long-term physical proof of the boundary’s location, some have been not seen since the original surveyors set them. The “pro” crew takes up residence at different locations along the trail in Maine and acts as a “hit squad” to visit more difficult to access sections that have not been visited for a long time with priority to search for the missing survey markets. Depending on funding, the pro crew has volunteer sessions every summer where volunteers join the pros to cover more territory.

I learned about this year’s first volunteer opportunity at Rangeley State Park through some recent training where we were invited to sign up. It was simple, show up with car camping gear for four nights and day hiking gear suitable for bushwhacking fieldwork and occasional stints at painting. The pro crew handle the technical aspect of recording field data so its basically searching for old blazes, clipping brush, scraping old paint, and repainting blazes. The other skill is looking for round aluminum disks frequently buried under ground cover. We had a nice group campsite with individual tent sites along the lake and the campground has great showers.

The head of the crew and his companion are both outdoor pros and great folks, so logistics were well thought out. I brought a tarp which came in useful during the start of the event, Sunday afternoon until Tuesday morning. They have several big vehicles for the back road riding to access points so my car was parked for the duration of the event. We went out on Monday in the rain, we could have saved time and jumped in the lake before heading out, but quickly got soaked. About half the day was accessing and returning from the boundary sections of interest. We also ran into a MATC trail crew doing treadway improvements and the rain as not stopping them. What we did not see were thru hikers. Later in the week we ran into a couple of dedicated locals running trail magic spots at road crossings and they said they had seen a few clusters of south bounders but far fewer north bounders. One of the ladies in the trail magic crew was from Andover Me a day or two south of their trail magic spot and had a report that there was a group waiting out the rain so they expected business soon.

Despite some wet days it was “fun” but maybe too fun for all. One volunteer from the mid-Atlantic does this type of work in his area and was quite taken back by the terrain we were covering and the denseness of the growth. He ended up taking a day off and then came back the next day. No doubt he had new appreciation for the Maine section of the AT. It was good mix of locals and folks from outside the area. Days were about 8 hours long including drive time, actual field time was 4 to 6 hours. They have a campfire in the evening, but most turned in early after a day’s work. I had some leg cramp the first two days post hike worked them out for the last two days. I still am taking a day off tomorrow as I only had a day and half break from my backpack the prior week.

They may have a slot or two at the next volunteer opportunity in Monson coming up in a month, if anyone is interested, PM me and I can get them some contact info. It is a Sunday afternoon through Thursday commitment. Hopefully the weather pattern shift by then.
Interesting. We found one of those markers near the summit of South Crocker a little ways down the herd path towards Reddington. Was wondering the significance of it.