Public Lands Stewards: Not So CrossCut and Dry

by | Land Stewards

Hello! My name is Emma and I am one of the 2018 Mt. Adams Public Land Stewards. I am based out of the Entiat Ranger district, and my official title is wilderness backcountry ranger.

I am originally from North Carolina, and I drove out to the west coast the week before my program started. I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect, but after a month in my new position I feel very rooted in my new community and workplace.

All sorts of things have happened in my job so far, from getting chainsaw certified to riding the Forest Service boat on Lake Chelan to experiencing both snow and 90 degree weather. I want to blog more specifically about my favorite experience, though. Last week the Entiat (that’s me!) and Chelan (our neighbors!) ranger districts partnered up to get cross cut certified in a week-long backpacking/trail work trip on the Emerald Park trail. The Emerald Park trail is the only trail that connects the Entiat and Chelan districts, and that is where our hodgepodge crew set up camp. There were five members from Entiat and seven from Chelan. Some of us had years of cross cut experience, and some of us had never touched a cross cut until the trip started. I was firmly in the never-touched-a-cross-cut camp, but I can proudly say that is no longer the case.

The area we worked in was burned in a fire in 2015 and, as a result, had many downed trees in the trail corridor. Before this training I would have thought that cutting trees out of the trail was pretty straightforward and simple. I quickly learned this is not the case. Downed trees contain a lot of tension and compression from the positions they fall in. You have to think a lot about your cuts to make sure that you don’t get your saw pinched, or release the tension in a way that is dangerous to yourself or others. There were trees that we came across that we did not even try to cut due to the possible danger they posed. At the end of the night we would all gather in camp and talk about the way a certain tree cracked as we sawed through it, or the tree that looked very complicated but turned out to be the simplest cut we did all day.

There is a special bond that forms between people who work all day together, getting sweaty and dirty, and then camp together. No one can really go their separate way, because everyone has a tent set up less than 25 feet from yours. You gather together for dinner, for entertainment, for the simple pleasure of being with your crewmates. The evenings on a trail work hitch are some of my all-time favorite memories. The closeness that can develop in such a short time is wonderful. Everyone has a story and everyone is listening. Of course, I am romanticizing just a little bit. Don’t forget that everyone has been rolling in the dirt all day and touching their faces with sooty gloves to scratch an itch, that no one has used deodorant in days and it is more obvious depending on who you are standing next to. Your shirt had sweat stains on the first day, and by the fifth its crustiness is helping it retain the shape of your body after you take it off. Even with all the sweat and grime, though, everyone shines. One of best tools I think someone working in the backcountry can have is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Our Chelan-Entiat crew was comfortable, they were fun, they worked hard, and I have another week’s worth of good trail work memories.