A blog about outdoor adventure and Vanlife

How I Became an Environmental Activist

I am not an activist in the protesting, letter writing sense.  Instead, I use a chainsaw to speak for me.  Let me explain:

H heaves her bike over a downed tree on General Creek trail

It was probably around the 20th time I’d heaved my bike over the large tree blocking the trail.  “When are they going to get out here and cut these %^&*ing trees?,” I muttered to myself.

After heaving my bike or backpack over and under the same trees year after year, I realized that there was no they, and there was no magical forest crew.  If I wanted to be able to ride my bike, run, or hike without navigating over fallen trees, I’d have to do something about it myself.

A chainsaw is not commonly associated with environmental activism.  I like chainsaws- not for their noisy, manly destructiveness, but for their speed in tackling tough jobs that would otherwise take hours.

Clearing a large tree off General Creek Trail

Each spring, when the snow melts in Tahoe, I head out on foot or on the mountain bike with chainsaw and pruners to clear all the fallen trees off the trails in my “neighborhood.”  I view this not as a chore, but an opportunity to get outside, do something good for the community, and keep the trails open for my own use.  Heavy snow and winter storms topple hundreds of trees across trails each year in the Tahoe Basin (and anywhere trails run through the forest).

Most trail users have an idea that trails are maintained by “Trail Crews.”  The reality is that, except in urban areas, most trail maintenance is done by volunteers.  I am just one of a small but dedicated group of people who keep the trails open and clear in the Tahoe Basin.  I’m a relative newcomer to keeping trails open.  There are people here in Tahoe who have maintained trails for decades.

There is a selfish aspect to my tree and brush clearing as well:  I hate having to stop for downed trees.  I also hate coming back from a bike ride or trail run all scratched up from overgrown brush.

I found a way to combine my love of hiking, nature, mountain biking, exercise, and commitment to volunteerism.  Packing a chainsaw into the mountains and moving logs is great exercise.  I help to keep 15-20+ miles of trails open and clear in my “neighborhood” on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore, as well as pruning brush and fixing drainage and erosion problems.

The sequence of photos below best demonstrates what I do.  This popular trail had almost a dozen trees down (all within 1/2 mile) for about two years.  Most hikers turn around after the first few trees, and mountain biking had become all but impossible.

Multiple large trees block the trail

Making the cut

Rolling it out

Much better!

All smiles as H really rolls it out

The section of trail in the sequence below was nearly impassable due to multiple trees that had fallen together.  Two 70’+ trees fell diagonally across the trail and were both suspended off the ground.  No easy way to get around this.

With multiple trees down, it’s difficult to tell where the trail is.

Cutting everything into manageable chunks

Look! The trail is back! (With log chairs for weary travelers, too)

Enjoying the fruits of my labor

I prefer to write about epic adventures and post pretty pictures.  Beautiful hiking, running, and biking trails don’t just happen though.  They were built with sweat equity by people who love the outdoors.  Without maintenance, Mother Nature slowly takes back her trails.

In re-reading this post, it runs a fine line of being an “ego post” (about me and my awesomeness with a chainsaw).  I’ve covered thousands of miles on incredible trails- and I’m grateful to the people who build and maintain them.  By maintaining the trails in my neighborhood, I do my part to support outdoor recreation.

Each of us can do simple things to help keep trails open and clear:

  • Don’t just step over small logs and branches, take a few seconds to move them off the trail
  • Hike or ride with a small set of pruners or folding saw occasionally.  A few minutes of pruning can last a couple of years, improve sightlines, and make trails more fun
  • Drain standing water off trails.  Walking or riding around puddles makes the problem worse.  A few seconds with a stick or rock to make a drainage channel can clear large sections of trail of water (and mud).
  • Volunteer your time!  There are thousands of organizations that need your help.

Before

After

This tree fell directly on 50 feet of trail

Open and clear!

Important disclaimer-  Although I talk lightly about hiking out into the backcountry with a chainsaw, chainsaw work is not for everyone.  Chainsaws are the most dangerous power tool (average chainsaw injury= 160 stitches!) and should only be used by qualified people- especially miles from emergency services.  I have an unusual skill set (experienced sawyer with a passion for outdoor endurance sports).  As part of my commitment to community service, I got certified by the US Forest Service for backcountry chainsaw use.  Yes, I do have a “license to chainsaw.”  Performing unpermitted chainsaw work can get you into lots of trouble.  Be Smart, Be Safe.

Everything I need to carry for a day clearing trails

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Categorised in: Adventures, Backcountry, Mountain bike, Tahoe Rim Trail, Trails

9 Responses »

  1. The information was great! And I love the fact that you illustrated the episode with lots of pictures. They say each ones worth a thousand words. It’s giving me ideas about including photos in my own blog. Thanks!

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    • Thanks you. Glad you liked it, and glad you got ideas for your own blog. I’ve certainly borrowed ideas from blog posts I’ve liked. I’m still learning to tell stories with words and pics together.

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  2. I really like the infomation. And using photos to illustrate the episode was brilliant! It gives me ideas for my own future posts. Thanks!

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  3. Very enlightening: thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. Thanks for keeping the trail clear and maintained – love that you did that! Have a Great Day!

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  5. You’re amazing! Thanks for all you do for trails. I really enjoyed this post.

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  6. Stumbled on your blog via van forums (building a Transit conversion ourselves). Glad to see the saw work. Personally I like to take before and after pics of the messier sections, and a day of sawing is great cross training for mtb.

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    • Thanks! I try to take before and after pics as well. Keeping trails open and clear (and mitigating drainage problems), is super rewarding. I get to combine several things I love- being outside, getting a great workout in, and making things better.

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  7. Thanks for your service! Love the tahoe trails!

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