In 2013 I started my first experience with the Mt. Adams Institute(MAI) clearing trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest through the Public Land Steward Program. 2014 was my first year as a VetsWork intern placed with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters doing community engagement and social media.
It’s now 2015 and I am in my second VetsWork internship, this time interning directly for MAIs Vetswork program.
Not only do I get to share current members blogs, doing social media, and photography, but I also get to work alongside some of the most kind and like-minded people I know, in one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever called home, right here at the Mt. Adams Ranger District.
Two days out of the week I also get to work with Forest Service Recreation doing work on campgrounds and trails.
The start of this year has been a glimpse of what year-round forest recreation looks like. Every year is different, but one can usually rely on a certain seasonal timeline; when the snow arrives, when it melts, when the roads are open, when things get green. Those usually keep the workflow somewhat predictable. But this winter has been unique. Places that are usually in several feet of snow have been totally open meaning early access by the public. No big deal right? Not exactly.
Trails have to be cleared of fallen trees like the one above blocking a huge length of trail. Water systems have to be turned on and fixed if damaged by the freeze. New hazard trees around campgrounds have to be felled. Damaged signs have to be remade and put up. A whole slew of tasks have to happen in order for people to arrive at a campground and for it to be safe and enjoyable for everyone.
Hazard trees are hard to see cut down, but when you see inside these trees you lean on the wisdom of those who have been working in the forest all their lives. In most you will see the inner core of these hazard trees rotting-out with what is called “cubicle-butt rot.” What sounds like an office job hazard is actually the result of Phaeolus schweinitzii or velvet-top fungus.
Infected trees will have “conks” of this fungi coming from the roots and sometimes from the trunk itself. The wood weakens, breaks down into brittle cube-like pieces and eventually into what looks and feels like dirt. At some point there just not enough cambrian (strong outer) layer to hold the big tree up.
Lots of trees have this, but some are in areas where people camp or hike. Depending on the location, the size, the lean, and amount of rot in a tree, it may be marked for cutting. The most important consideration is the potential for loss of life. Watching these huge oxygen-makers come down is pretty terrifying when you imagine being underneath one. As far as recreation goes, this is why they are cut, to save lives.
All in all the work with recreation is good. It is demanding work and you feel that when you get home, but the rewards are obvious. Fresh air, sun on your back, serving people, caring for and enjoying the land, learning the current realities of our relationship with the forest, sitting at a still alpine lake while enjoying your lunch, sharing the peace of this place with loved ones; For me this answers the “Why.”
As odd as this winter has been, one can only hope for an equally odd down-pour of rain in the fall. I have the option to go to guard school this summer, to fight fire. If I attend, this season could add new meaning to the phrase “trial by fire” as the land might be bone dry, just waiting for a spark.
We’ll see which way the wind blows. Till next time reader.