Have shovel, will ravel

After the fire they closed the trails.

JesusitaTrail3-23May09-1600“Why?”, I wondered. The trails couldn’t burn.

If you go out and look, the trails are still very clear — light colored paths meandering amid a dark wasteland dotted with burned tree trunks.

The trails used to be demarkated by vegetation, but no longer. Still the route of the trail is very clear.

So why were the trails closed?

Scofield Park, meeting area

Scofield Park, meeting area

Yesterday they had a trail cleanup day, and about 110 volunteers went out to join the forest service (and the county and the city and various other organizations) to help make the trails usable. And this meant learning why they were not currently usable.

One reason is simple: Just as the proper route of the trails is clearly visible against the soot-dark dirt, so too improper routes that used to be hidden behind brush and with signage now are revealed and stand out against the dark dirt. Over the years our trails have shifted, they can get washed out or land-slid, and then rerouted, so an improper trail can lead to an abrupt cliff.

Many of our trails go through a belt of shale. Shale absorbs water. When water is heated it tends to evaporate and expand. When a rock is full of expanding steam it tends to shatter leading to lots of little bitty stones (called ravel) which tumble down the mountain and catch on the trails. Some of our trails were covered in great drifts of ravel. People don’t like walking in ravel drifts and will walk on the trail’s edge where there is little ravel, but the edge of the trail is fragile, and if enough people walk on it then it wears down and the trail becomes narrower.

So we needed to

  • put up signs to redirect hikers onto the correct routes
  • remove the build-up of ravel and relevel the trails
  • Perform normal train maintenance
    • Trim away any vegetation which was encroaching on the trail (much had burnt up, but not everywhere, or not completely)
    • Open any drainage channels which had filled with silt after the winter’s rains

TopOfWestForkI and my friend Nichol ended up going to the West Fork of Cold Spring Trail. This trail burned from Gibraltar road down to the (dry) stream bed that is one branch of Cold Spring creek.

The top of the trail was in pretty good shape, the mountain doesn’t slope steeply so no ravel accumulated. There is the problem that a lot of trash has been tossed into (what used to be) bushes here, and all that trash is now plainly visible.

DrainageDitch2No ravel to move here, but there were drainage ditches to clear out. These ditches went across the trail at a slight diagonal and directed any run-off down the hillside. (Normally the hillside is covered with vegetation and can absorb runoff better than the trail. Now…) We didn’t have to make new ditches, just take the silt out of the old ones and pile it up on the downslope side of the ditch.

Nichol, stamping on the berm of a ditch

Nichol, stamping on the berm of a ditch

The silt tended to be loose after being moved, while the trail itself was hard packed. The two did not merge well. We needed to stamp hard to compact the silt. Even so we felt much of our work would vanish before it could be useful.

The landscape is quite barren. A week ago, I had been up to the top of this trail and saw YuccaBloomYucca blooming. In spite of having all their leaves burnt, and the main stem cooked, they were still able to produce a flower spike.

At the time, it was an encouraging sight.

Usually there is no rain in June (or July, August, September …), but this year we had a steady slow rain which lasted about 6 hours. That was a week ago. This week we noticed — leaves! RegrowthGreen leaves huddled around the base of the burned out manzaneta stems.

I guess that means the trunks are dead above the ground but the roots are still alive. I had hoped leaves would come out on the old trunks, but that doesn’t seem likely any more. Still, it’s a start.

As we went further down we saw other greenery coming out. The next new growth we noticed was Brackenbracken ferns. This surprised me. I think of ferns as fragile things which require lots of moisture to become established. They have a very complex system of reproduction which requires lots of water (I thought), yet here they were on this barren dry ground.

Further on we found new shoots of grass, and shiny new leaves of poison oak.

I know I should be grateful that there is anything, that the natural plants are reestablishing themselves… but did one of them have to be poison oak?

Now we came upon ravel. We had a switchback completely inundated in these small stones. We tried to clear off the top part of the switchback (by dumping the stones onto the lower part), but more little stones rolled off the mountain making this a Sisyphian task. Mixed in with the ravel was a good deal of soot and ash. We got dirty and stinky. After much labor the top part was relatively clear, and we moved larger rocks and put them under the top edge, to stabilize the bank.

Remember how I said the fire shattered rocks? Well not always. Sometimes it just weakened them. I was picking up a large rock, had it about at hip level, when suddenly it cracked down the middle. I needed two hands for each sub-rock; but I only had two total. Both rocks fell, and I fell around them and slid down the hillside.

Then we cleaned out the bottom part of the switchback.

DownTheTrailAnd moved down the trail to the next spot that needed work.

As we worked down the trail we could see the end of the burn area. We started to see more dead stalks, from small forbs as well as the larger manzanita trunks, and then there were scorched trunks still with cooked (dead) leaves attached, and then finally normal, unburnt plants. But there we stopped.

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2 Responses to “Have shovel, will ravel”

  1. Have feet will travel « George’s Meanderings Says:

    […] the west fork is all burnt up. I know. I did trail maintenance on it just two months […]

  2. Cruz Mckiney Says:

    Hi webmaster – This is by far the best looking site I’ve seen. It was completely easy to navigate and it was easy to look for the information I needed. Fantastic layout and great content! Every site should have that. Awesome job

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