Cutting a cheery, cherry detour

Walking on the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) through the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) is a wondrous experience. The ANF portion of the NCT is only a fraction of what is the longest of 11 National Scenic Trails. Three of those trails pass through Pennsylvania. There are more than 4,600 miles and more than 2,600 volunteer members supporting the trail systems. In the seven states through which the NCT wanders, there are several chapters that maintain and promote this northern trail. Along with routine maintenance and special projects, there are also highlighted events and increasing public awareness goals, all ongoing jobs.

When the sun shines, weeds grow. When the wind blows, trees and branches fall, so there is a need for constant maintenance of the trail throughout the year. Routine maintenance may be done on a weekly basis, especially in the spring, to ready the trail for hikers. Keeping the trail clear and safe is the responsibility of trail maintainers and trail coordinators. A common situation that occurs is trees falling down on the trail and blocking easy passage. Removal of those trees can be small and simple jobs, or large and hazardous jobs, or a combination of both. Each situation needs immediate attention, however, for safety reasons and to reduce the chance of a lost hiker.

One of these situations recently occurred near the Queen Creek Shelter, near Forest Service Road (FR) 116. The trail was completely blocked by three sections of trees-one, a large cherry 18 inches in diameter; another, a medium cherry 14 inches in diameter; and lastly, a small birch, six inches in diameter-in the root bundle. The root bundle was approximately12 feet across. Chainsaws were the best way to remove the trees.

The use of a chainsaw in the forest requires training and certification. Josh Schrader, expert sawyer and vice-president of the chapter, and Keith W. Klos, secondary sawyer and former chapter president of the ANF in the NCT, handled this hazardous situation on Sept. 8. They were assisted by chapter members Heather Emahizer, safety manager, and Karen Klos, photographer. Safety precautions were taken by the trail crew. All wore hard hats, and a safety emergency crew first aid kit, supplied by corporate trail supporter Shell Appalachia, was on hand. It took about 30 minutes to cut and clear the trail. Once cut free from the trees, the root bundle dropped back into its original position. In a moment of humor, Josh Schrader carved a chair high in the top stump, approximately 12 feet in the air, with his chainsaw. Not to be outdone, sidekick Keith Klos crafted a bench two feet in diameter from the toppled branch. Working together, the team of four not only cleared the trail of its “cherry detour” but also created a “cheery” spot for weary hikers to relax.

So when you are in the area, be sure to stop by and visit the whimsy in the woods. And go ahead reach down and pick up that scrap of trash or kick that little branch off the trail. Every little bit helps.

Better yet, join a trail maintenance crew and give something back to the woods that have given so much to us.