May Newsletter

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Training for Trail Work - a Primer ~ Yohann Hanley

As we move into another season of trail maintenance in the White Mountains, many of you have approached us and/or our partner organizations about the opportunity to get out and do some hands-on trail maintenance, which is amazing! The WMTC will be offering several opportunities this year for you to join us as volunteers in the field for some Level 1 maintenance in different parts of the Forest. Other organizations will also be offering volunteer days and may provide opportunities to work on more advanced skills projects.
One of the most frequent questions we receive is in regard to what type of training is required and available for trail workers, at both the volunteer level and for professional crews. The information below is an idea of the types of training a person on one of the many crews in the WMNF might receive during their time on the trails.

Level 1 Maintenance:

This training is offered through several different organizations and is the basis for all trail work training going forward. It is a one-day training split with between “classroom” time and practical skills time on a trail. Focused on the annual maintenance that all trails require, this training covers the basic tools needed to clean drainages (typically some type of hoe), brush (loppers and small handsaws), and blowdowns across the trail (handsaws only in this training). The emphasis is on getting water off the treadway to prevent erosion and keeping the corridor clear to keep hikers on the trail safely. New volunteers will need to go through this training to be eligible to be “adopters” for the Forest Service, AMC, and other groups that run those programs, and they must repeat the training every three years to stay current.

Axe Day:

The WMNF has a long history and tradition of trail work being done with axes, one of the few National Forests where using axes is common practice. The Forest Service here has developed a one-day training for folks who want to be able to use an axe to work on the Forest. Once again, this training is split between some “classroom” time and some practical time and is heavily focused on axe use safety as well as maintenance of the tools. A sharp, well-hung axe is the safest axe and participants are taught how to rehang and safely sharpen their tools. There is also some practical time spent chopping and being observed by experienced folks who can give advice and make sure you are using the tools correctly. While the training is one day, axe use and maintenance are skills that take a long time to develop and demonstrate efficiency. Currently, this training is only offered by the Forest Service and AMC.

Chainsaws and Crosscut Saws:

Operating either chainsaws or crosscut saws on National Forest property requires a fairly serious investment of time and training. The training is two to four days in length, depending on if you are working on only limbing and bucking downed trees, or training to fell trees as well. A full day is spent as “classroom” time focused on safety and tool maintenance. This is not a pass/fail training – sawyers are certified at different levels based on the skills demonstrated in the training. These levels (A, B, C) allow sawyers to work at different capacities based on their experience, but all sawyers must have a partner with them to cut. The certification is valid for two years and requires refresher classes to remain certified. This training is offered through the Forest Service and some certified contractors.

Rock Work:

Of all the skills a trail worker in the White Mountains will need, rock work is the most varied in presentation and style. Every crew has a slightly different take on the size of rock to use, the type of fill to use, whether to use only naturally derived materials or to cut and shape every rock to fit the needs of the project. While you can be instructed in how to safely maneuver and ‘set’ a rock in a day or two, it is a skill set that takes months or years of constant execution to truly master. Well-built rock structures can last for decades in trails, and in some cases they are the only solution to erosion issues when a trail cannot be located or relocated at sustainable grades. Most organizations that do trail work in the WMNF can and will offer skills training for rock work, but there is no specific certification.

Rock Splitting and Shaping:

Some projects require the use of rock drills, wedges, and hammers to split large materials down to moveable sizes or to shape rock to fit specific needs in a project. This training is usually two to three days long, and covers skills from hand shaping with hammers-only to using powered drills to cut and shape. This is not a training that all trail workers need to have, but is typically driven by crew needs for specific projects. It is usually offered by a couple of different organizations every year.

Griphoists and Highline Rigging:

While a lot of rock moving can be done by hand, there are many cases where mechanical advantage makes the work easier, safer, and faster. Our trails tend to be steep and exposed, and often the best quarry sites are below the work that needs to be done. Additionally, in the alpine zone, navigating around sensitive soils and plants is vital to maintaining the fragile ecosystems. Many crews will train with using griphoists to move larger materials and to create highline systems to pick up materials entirely and move them without disturbing the ground between the quarry and the work site. This training can be two to four days in length, depending on if you only cover ground moving or go into highlines. It is usually offered in-house to the various crews and can be arranged with several excellent contractors. ReCon Trail Design, Off the Beaten Path, and Peter Jensen are all professionals with whom the WMTC has worked to deliver this kind of training.

Realistically, I’ve offered just a sampling of the wide variety of training that exists for doing trail work. Depending on location and what type of trail you are maintaining, you might also need to look at training with machines (accessible trails), bike trail specific skills, carpentry, and a host of other things that go into the wide world of trail building.

Meet Olivia Carle, Level 1 Coordinator

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Location: just moved from Colorado to NH!

Start date with WMTC: April 15, 2021

Why I’m involved with the WMTC:
I am in love with the Whites, and being back in NH is a homecoming for me. I am very excited to work with people who have a shared commitment to excellent trail work and skilled trail workers. And I look forward to partaking in a cooperative and collaborative approach to trail work in the region.

Interests/activities: I’m an artist. I fill my life with making art, wearing it, and also fill my home with it. Trail-building is part of my artistic practice. I am also an unapologetic book collector.

Favorite muscle powered to partake in:
Probably skiing AND months-long hikes

Favorite trail in the Whites and why: If I have to choose, the Fishin’ Jimmy Trail. Hiking it for me is musical.

Favorite piece of outdoor gear: My -20° sleeping bag

Favorite color: All the shades of red!

Something most people don’t know about me: There was a time I was considering whether or not to pursue being a professional flutist.

Best meal I’ve ever had while camping or out on the trails: 
Brook trout a visitor at Speck! caught and cooked for me.

Three words that describe how I feel when I’m out on the trails:
Capable, embodied, and expansive

Life before the WMTC: I really got into trail work because I had hiked a big section of the Appalachian Trail and was told to apply to be a caretaker at the Appalachian Mountain Club. I became a backcountry caretaker the next summer and worked for three seasons at Kinsman, Speck!, and as a rotator. I then moved out to Utah and worked on the trail crew for the Salt Lake Ranger District (USFS), which gave me knowledge in completely different areas, like the crosscut and griphoist. And in Colorado I worked for a mountain bike trail-building company, where I continued to
hone my stone masonry skills.

I Came Back to Walk by Leon LaVigne

I Came Back To Walk…

I came back to walk along these trails, the adventures of my youth.

I came back to walk along these trails to find, my lost truth.

I came back to walk along these trails, a refuge from the cannon’s killing roar.

                          I came back to walk to walk along these trails to, my soul, heal from so long a war.

I came back to walk along these trails to find, again, my healing place.

I came back to walk along these trails to, again, join the human race.

I came back to walk along these trails to, from my heart, end this pain.

                          I came back to walk along these trails to calm my fears and ease my mind, again.

I came back to walk along these trails to find my healing place.

I came back to walk along these trails…to heal.

— Leon LaVigne


Leon Lavigne is the Recreation Program Manager for Region 9 of the United States Forest Service. He provides guidence and, technical expertise to the Forests and National Tallgrass Prairie for some of the Eastern Region's Recreation Programs. The Programs include Trails (Motorized and Non-Motorized, Snow, Water, and Terra Trails), National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM), Dispersed Recreation, and Fishing, Hunting, and Shooting Access.

Trail Maintenance 101: Splitting and Shaping

Rotary Hammer- a drill designed for use in masonry work, it has both spinning and hammering drives so the bit is turning while also moving up and down against the rock. The hammering motion allows the bit to pulverize small sections of the stone, while the spinning keeps it on fresh surface each time. Commonly referred to as “rock drills” by crews, they come in many sizes and can be run off a generator, batteries, or be gas-powered depending on the model.

Carbide- a mixture of one of several different metals and carbon, this material is much harder than steel and is used to create the cutting tips for masonry drill bits and blades. It is also used to create edge inserts for small hammers used to shape and clean rock surface. These small hammers are commonly known as “carbides.”

Feathers and Wedges- a three-piece tool set: two half-round feathers and a larger wedge, used to split stone. A line of holes is drilled where you want the stone to break, then feathers and wedges are driven steadily into the holes to create outward force along the line. Feathers and wedges represent some of the oldest technology that we work with in the woods. 

Rock Splitting