A Very Rewarding Day with the PATC


Photo: by Paul Dickens
David Forrer, Cohort VI, learning how to use a cross-cut saw.

I don’t think of myself as a whiner…but then, what whiner does? Patsy (my wife and favorite hiking buddy) and I hiked Ramsey’s Draft, Jerry’s Run, and Road Hollow loop back in October. Navigating the first two of those trails involved scooting over and under lots of fallen hemlocks…those magnificent trees that once formed Ramsey’s Draft “Cathedral.” While Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness is still magical, walking through some of it was like walking through the collapsed roof of Notre Dame. So, the day after our hike, I whined about the trees across the trails to Lynn Cameron, PATC member and Wilderness advocate. (In my defense, I did offer to help if Lynn and Malcolm decided to do some trail clearing.)

Lynn confirmed the condition of the trails and decided to call in the big guns. SAWS (Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards) is a group of professional sawyers that focuses on Wilderness stewardship and teaches groups like PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club) how to use traditional tools (because no chainsaws are allowed in Wilderness areas). On Dec. 4, four SAWS sawyers, 14 other PATC members, and 3 non-PATC members (including me) hiked into the Wilderness area carrying a crazy amount of equipment including 7-foot cross-cut saws, numerous smaller saws, come-alongs, cables, wedges, axes, loppers, and pruners.

After crossing the stream about 6 times, I was glad to finally arrive at the first fallen tree so I could begin learning the art of using a cross-cut saw. Each of the four SAWS sawyers had their own group of eager beavers. All of the sawyers were extremely knowledgeable, experienced, safety-oriented, and excellent teachers.

What did I learn? Certainly, the primary lesson was how to SAFELY cut large tree trunks off of trails…lessons that can be applied to chainsawing as well as handsawing. I was surprised to learn just how efficient those long, manual, cross-cut saws are. Sure, a chainsaw cuts a little faster, but the handsaws are much easier and faster than I would’ve guessed. Plus, they’re lighter than chainsaws, safer than chainsaws, and quieter and less smelly than chainsaws because they use no gasoline. I learned the various types of obstructions and hazards that the PATC looks for and removes. And I certainly gained even more appreciation for the dedication of the PATC and SAWS members.



Photo: by David Forrer
SAWS and PATC members working hard to clear trails.

It was a long but great day, ending with a huge pot of chili, cornbread, hot cider, and dessert. While delicious food might not always be part of the deal, I encourage everyone to help them out whenever the PATC asks for assistance. (It’s a very rewarding way to get some volunteer hours. One of the PATC members, Tom Engle, is an HMN Cohort VII candidate. He’s already gaining some great knowledge and new friends.)

We figured we cleared about 27 trees off of the trails (and most of these were exceptionally large trees), but the trails are in good shape now. I can still mourn the loss of so many magnificent trees…but no more whining.

by David Forrer, Cohort VI