Clearing Paths

National Forest Service Pine Ridge Recreation Specialist Mike Watts chops up a fallen tree Saturday during The Big Event at Spotted Tail Loop Trail.—Photo by Justine Stone

National Forest Service Pine Ridge Recreation Specialist Mike Watts chops up a fallen tree Saturday during The Big Event at Spotted Tail Loop Trail.—Photo by Justine Stone

In association with the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association and the National Forest Service, volunteers from Chadron State’s fifth annual The Big Event began clearing hiking trails south of Chadron.
After a quick safety lesson from National Forest Service Pine Ridge Recreation Specialist Mike Watts, eight student volunteers, two jobsite leaders, and a couple of National Forest Service employees, cleared the hiking trail of fallen trees, stumps, debris, and built water bars along the trail. The fallen trees and debris were a result, in part, of the July 2006 fire in the Spotted Tail Loop Trail area.
The volunteers were split into two groups; one cleared the Spotted Tail Loop Trail and constructed water bars and the other built water bars along another trail in the area. In total, the groups covered about 5 miles of trails.
Watts demonstrated how to build the water bars then showed the volunteers where to build them along the trail. The water bars are essentially diagonal bars that guide the water off the trails to prevent erosion. In addition to the water bars constructed with dirt, there were water bars made of wood that were already in place on the trail that the volunteers cleaned up.
Watts also used a chainsaw to cut fallen trees into smaller pieces and cut branches off the trees so the volunteers could move them off the trail.
Volunteers used tools called McLeods, Pulaskis, and Crows Feet, to remove debris and build the water bars.
The McLeod is a heavy-duty rake with a blade on the other side that was used to clear debris and to build water bars.
The Pulaski is a tool that looks like an ax on one side and another sharp cutting tool on the other side. The Pulaski was used to chop trunks or other debris out of the ground to remove it from the trail.
The Crows Foot is a tool similar to the McLeod but it only has two prongs on one side with a flat bottom. The Crows Foot tool was also used to clear debris and build water bars.
The Northwest Nebraska Trails Association was founded in January. The Spotted Tail Loop Trail cleanup was one of the group’s first projects, but it did not include all of the association’s members, according to jobsite leader Brittany Helmbrecht, who is a member of the association. The association’s mission statement is: “The purpose of the NNTA is to develop, enhance, maintain and promote public non-motorized recreational trails in northwest Nebraska.”
“There was a need to get trails maintained and eventually created for recreational activities in the area,” Helmbrecht said. “One of the big goals is to get the Cowboy Trail from Sheridan County into Chadron and Dawes County.”
During The Big Event 2016, volunteers cleared old railroad ties and other debris from the Cowboy Trail east of Chadron to begin the rail-to-trail conversion project. Once finished, the Cowboy Trail, running 321 miles from Chadron to Norfolk, will be the longest rail-to-trail conversion in the United States.
If students are seeking more information about the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association or are interested in joining the association, they should contact Helmbrecht at bhelmbrecht@csc.edu or search “Northwest Nebraska Trails Association” on Facebook for information and meeting times and locations.

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