On an overcast morning Andy Mytys pulled up and I hopped into his car for the drive to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to join dozens of others for the memorial service for Richard "Dick" Bolton. I was part of the small contingent of people who knew Dick through hiking activities focused on the North Country Trail and through the Great Lakes Hikes email group (hosted at Yahoo Groups as "greatlakeshikes").  We arrived not long before the service was meant to start and so were settled down in the basement (undercroft as the church pastor refers to it) amongst a couple dozen other people. The nave was full of everyone else. This modest sized, oldest continually used building, 1882 I believe was when it went up, was a fine place for the memorial service.


After the service people scattered to regroup at a nearby school for a nicely put together lunch. This was where people really had a chance I think to talk and perhaps share memories of Dick. I can't say if that really happened or not but I hope it did. For those of us from Great Lakes Hikes though the highlight of the day was after the lunch. We drove over to Deerfield Park (in Isabella County) to spend a few hours wandering through a perennial favorite place of Dick's throughout the years. This was the first time I had been to this 591 acre park and that added an extra special bit of pleasure for me. I can fully see why Dick enjoyed visiting the park and strolling the few miles of trails that wander through forests of beech, oak, and pine as well as along the banks of the Chippewa River. The afternoon weather had not cleared but when within the forest none of us really noticed the breeze. It was fun to talk through the woods and past things like Bailey's Rock which all have meaning for those of us who either talked with Dick about Deerfield Park or read his numerous missives about the park.

Direct download: Deerfield_Park_December_2010-720p.mp4
Category:Vidcast -- posted at: 6:21pm EDT

New post by Kenknight
Direct download: Recording.mp3
Category: -- posted at: 10:18pm EDT

Since 1999 the members of the GreatLakesHikes email group hosted over on Yahoo Groups has held a gathering in early November the weekend before modern gun (rifle) deer season starts. For a weekend we take over the Schoolhouse owned by the <a href="http://northcountrytrail.org/wmi/">Western Michigan Chapter</a> of the <a href="http://www.northcountrytrail.org/">North Country Trail Association.</a> The Schoolhouse is located near the town of White Cloud at the intersection of 5 Mile Road and Felch. The North Country Trail is less than a mile away and other trails like the Birch Grove Loop are even closer. It's a great place to get together for a base-camping weekend where you can enjoy the company of friends in an indoor or outdoor setting.


This year the Gathering was held the weekend of November 12-14. People started arriving in the early evening of the 12th and so the fun around the campfire was well under way by the time Andy, Elwira, John, and I pulled in just before 11:00PM on Friday. The evening was chilly but their was little wind and the fire was burning bright and hot. People were comfortable and having fun. We joined right in once we got our shelters pitched. Of course, some people were already asleep for the night but when you remember that some of those people are young, very young, kids that's quite alright. Even the diehards, including me, packed it in around 1:00AM, after all we all knew we had a long fun day ahead of us Saturday.


What really makes the Gathering shine are the people who attend. We had our usual mixed-bag breakfast before getting ourselves sorted out for the various hikes Saturday. The longest of these turned out to be about 11 miles starting at Echo Lake Road and returning to the Schoolhouse. SHorter hikes used that same basic route just starting closer to the Schoolhouse. The weather was overcast and crisp, threatening rain. A pretty typical autumn day in Michigan's woods. By the time we were closing in on the end of the hike that threatening rain began to drizzle down upon us. It wasn't a storm but it was steady. More than enough to cause us, once back inside, to stay pretty much inside. Durning the evening the on-and-off rain kept us from making a second campfire but we made up for it throughout the night with the usual good varied food, excellent conversation, and impromptu live music from Chuck and Charlotte on guitar and violin with Chuck providing gritty vocals.


Sunday dawned colder but dry. Weather that would turn out to be ideal for what we had planned to do. People helped clean up the Schoolhouse and then went their separate ways. Several others decided to join Andy, John, Elwira, and myself and hike our section of North Country Trail and help us do our fall maintenance work. That help was quite welcome as we had a dozen or so major blow down of primarily oak trees stretching across the trail. Over half of them were too big to merely drag off and required us to saw through them first. Many of those required a few hundred strokes with the bow saw to cut through: oak is tough. But with the help we got through the 7 miles of trail in about 5.5 hours of good solid work. Thanks everyone.


This was a very good Gathering and perhaps one of the best attended.

My apologies for the problems in the audio. For those of a technical bent wondering what is going on it is a side-effect of using an external microphone with an iPhone left in regular mode. The iPhone must be in Airplane mode when doing such recording to prevent any chance of interference from the radios in the phone. This is annoying, but to be fair a smartphone isn't a dedicated recording device.


Direct download: GLH_Gathering_November_2010_-_720p_6mbps.mp4
Category:Vidcast -- posted at: 8:45pm EDT

Generally the first weekend of every October you can expect a nip in the air and the leaves of trees to be turning. Autumn is just getting started and the burst of colors before the quiet stark beauty of winter is just beginning to appear in the lower peninsula of Michigan. It is a fine time to be outdoors and a great reason to spend time with friends. With that in mind the Western Michigan chapter of the  North Country Trail Association holds an annual event they call Fall Fun Day. A day is spent doing some gentle hikes in the area of White Cloud, Michigan based out of the Birch Grove Schoolhouse. After the hiking is done those that are up for it spend a few more happy hours enjoying fantastic food that has been prepared by diligent volunteers of the chapter. 

Direct download: Fall_Fun_Day_2010_-_540p.m4v
Category:Vidcast -- posted at: 12:00am EDT

#18: Spring Cleaning, Trail Maintenance on the North Country Trail

Hiking trails require attention. If they do not receive attention they become overgrown, hard to follow, perhaps even dangerous. With attention a hiking trail, even one that does not see much foot traffic, can remain a high quality pathway ffor years.Three times a year I join friends and we go to a stretch of the North COuntry Trail to give it some special attention. We are just a few of the hundreds of volunteers who help maintain the NCT. The NCT, like the vast majority of long-distance trails, is maintained by dedicated volunteers. Some take care of just a mile or so and others take care of considerably longer stretches. Some trail segment could be in remote locations. Our section though is not among these as it is bounded by two minor roads in Newago County. We just have to drive across the stae to reach the trail. Our section rolls through modestly hilly forest passing by several lakes as it worms its way between 16 and 13 Mile Roads. We also maintain, and helped build, the spur trail that leads to Highbanks Lake campground. All in all we are responsible for about 6.5 miles of trail. 


As a trail maintainer your job is to make sure the trail is in good shape. You want to keep the tread way clean, remove blown down trees, remove dead overhanging limbs that could fall on a passing hiker, remove dead trees that are next to the trail and are showing imminent signs that they will fall, and do any blaze work that needs doing. You do all of this with hand tools. If a tree comes down that is too big to handle with a bow saw you have to leave it for the certified sawyers to deal with. We hate doing that and have spent considerable time and energy (1,000 stroke logs) to avoid having to call for the chain saw gang. You walk along your trail enjoying the pleasures of being outside but you keep an eye out for all the things I just mentioned. If you are fortunate you won't have much work to do. If you stay on top of sections that become quickly overgrown then you will not have to spend countless hours whipping them into shape. We used to have a stretch of trail that was incredibly overgrown with thorn bushes and the like. After hours of work on several different visits we have tamed the section and now it only requires a few minutes of pruning. But there will probably be another such section growing up someplace and unless we nip it in the bud we'll have our hands full once again. 


We take a weekend to tackle our section. After all,, you have to hike in and back out with your tools. While many sections are short enough that this can likely be easily done in a day we like to take our time and do two-thirds (about 9 miles) one day and the remain third (4 miles) the following day. You might think that you could hike the trail in just one direction and catch everything you need to catch but this is not always true. You do see the trail differently as you travel in different directions. Besides who wants to deal with setting up car shuttles? 


You come to know your section of trail pretty well as you take care of it but that does not mean it becomes dull. Grand events, like a modest-sized forest brush fire liven things up but smaller scale events happen too and there is always something new to see. Last summer we came across some wonderful snakes, this spring the remains of a just-happened fire.


You also do trail work because you are becoming part of something greater than yourself. You are helping take care of something that should last generations and be enjoying by hundreds and hundreds of people. That is a good feel. ANd it is a feeling you can share with your fellow trail maintainers. You might even get lucky and encounters people using your trail segment while you are working on it and be thanked by them. For these reasons and more I think it is a very worthwhile volunteer activity. Especially if , like me, you enjoy hiking the trails anyway. Why not give something back?


Direct download: 18_spring_cleaning.mp4
Category:Vidcast -- posted at: 4:59pm EDT



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