Project Leader: Heidi Brill Project Dates: August through November 2010 Email: email@example.com Phone: 208.860.8728
8 November-14 November
The final hitch! Though it is difficult to believe that the season has come to a close, team MOTRAC made the best of this bittersweet hitch by completing the survey of the Big Piney loop trail (an additional 6.30 miles), its associated connector trail (1.99 miles), and the Deer Track trail of the Kaintuck series (2.00 miles). And then team MOTRAC ran into the issue of sharing the woods with (hundreds!) of comrades toting shotguns and seeking out the slightest movement in the brush. While it was nice to see our public lands become such a popular destination, the crew felt that the best and safest option was to retreat from our familiar and beloved stomping grounds and let the hunters take over for their opening deer-gun weekend.
Feeling a bit dejected, we joined the party by dressing in blaze orange, and acted as Wallflowers by keeping ourselves on the edge of the woods, but NOT amongst the real party within the woods. For the final two days of the hitch, team MOTRAC scoured the nearby campgrounds of Roby Lake, Paddy Creek, and Slabtown, as well as the Wilderness Boundary Forest Service road and Slabtown Road, and came up with over 300 pounds of trash! With each of us picking up our own weight in trash (that’s a literal and metaphorical statement) we felt content to call our time at the Roby bunkhouse, and here in the Missouri Ozarks, a complete success.
In total this season, the MOTRACS crew completed 141.67 miles of TRACS surveys.
That number reflects 27 different trail sections in two districts of the Mark Twain National Forest.
A huge thank you to Scotty, James, Nancy and Leon from USFS Region 9 for making this season a reality, and of course to our mentors in Boise with the SCA.
Jessica (aka Carbon Copy) and Lincoln (aka Bear Claw): It will be impossible to "replace you in kind". Thanks for all your dedicated service!
Inside TRACs (TRail Assessment And Conditions Surveys)
by Jessica Wyatt
For years the Forest Service has relied on firsthand knowledge of the trail to determine the work needing to be done on the trails. However, due to several factors, many of the people who had this firsthand knowledge either retired or are no longer in the field.
With this loss of people, knowledgeable trail workers were also lost. So around 1991 the Chief of the Forest Service requested that a program for keeping track of trail conditions be formed to better prioritize trail conditions and maintainenance. From this request came the precursor to the TRACs program: Infra Trails systems.
Approximately eight years after this system was developed, the Forest Service set standards for trail surveying. One of these standards required districts to complete surveys for a set percentage of their trail systems over a specific time period. This requirement helped make sure that districts did have some knowledge of the trails. However, the downside was that there was no uniform way this information was taken. From this dilemma, TRACs was developed.
The TRACs program allows users to efficiently record data. It is a combination of different assessment tools, including the Infra Trails system. The TRACs program has four components: Trail Management Objectives, TRACs surveys, trail logs, and trail work lists.
In 2009, the federal government enacted The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). This $787 billion dollar stimulus bill was created to help the United States economy recover by investing in environmental protection, community development projects and infrastructure that will have economic benefits for years to come. To receive this funding, agencies and other organizations had to apply for the money.
Region 9 of the Forest Service applied and received the ARRA grant for financial assistance with the TRACs program to complete needed survey work on trails. After receiving the grant, they partnered with the SCA to provide survey support for the TRACs program.
The TRACs survey is composed of several different elements that lead to a complete understanding of what condition that trail is in.
• Productivity factors
• Sign inventories
• Photo records
• Data dictionary
• Survey forms
• Tools involved
Productivity factors are the physical factors influencing the trails, such as the side slope, soil type, trail grade, brush and regeneration vegetation and the timber type. Knowing these factors help the department determine the cost to reconstruct or maintain the trail. Productivity factors are taken in locations that are determined by the trail class type. Trails are assigned classes, ranging from minimally developed (class 1) to highly developed (class 5). The detail with which we survey is directly related to each trail’s class.
Another element of the TRACs survey is the sign inventory, which helps the department develop an inventory of the signs along the trail by providing a visual image and detailed description of the condition of each sign. This information helps plan maintenance and possible replacement of signs.
Another component is photo records. These pictures help us better describe the situation, whether it be a snapped tree or a river crossing with no ford. For the photo records we use two forms: a log and photo record. The logs are used on the trail to summarize the photo and to keep account of the mileage or GPS readings of where the feature was located. The photo record is an electronic form in which the photo is inserted with its description and location.
The data dictionary is a comprehensive reference document that has the set trail features, tasks, units of measure, and severity factors. It both standardizes and organizes features and their associated tasks. The data dictionary includes the feature type, feature category, feature codes, task code, task description, task condition class, and task severity factor. The data dictionary is then used to help fill out the survey form. There is both a hardcopy data dictionary, to be used with the hardcopy survey forms, and one programmed into the GPS unit for electronic documentation.
The survey forms are hard copy documentation of the information taken by the GPS unit. These forms allow for a feature to be recorded using a code from the data dictionary, condition of the feature, a task code and a position in either feet or GPS-recorded location (depending on the trail type). The form also allows for measurements of the feature and severity levels to be recorded.
Other tools we use to conduct the TRACs survey are GPS, cyclometer, tape measure, clinometer, and camera. The GPS is an electronic device that records features based on the triangulation of satellites. The cyclometer (a wheel with a counter) keeps precise linear measurement of the trail and its features, and therefore helps to determine where productivity factors need to be measured. The tape measure is used to measure signs, diameter of trees, radii of switchbacks and climbing turns, and other trail features as needed. The clinometer is used to measure the trail grade and side slope. The camera is used to capture photos of features.
Our crew has come up with an efficient system of dividing these tasks and tools to allow for maximum mileage covered in a day. On a typical day the SCA crew averages 4 miles, however, the mileage we are able to complete correlates directly to the condition of the trail, and the class of the trail. For example, a trail that is in poorer condition will take longer to survey, because of the excessive features needing documentation. Also, trails with a higher class designation require more precise measurements and therefore increase the time needed to survey it.
After we delegate jobs and discuss the plan and trail management objective for the trail, we head off to survey. During our TRACs surveys, we document the existing conditions of the trail by inventorying current features. For example if we encounter a log waterbar, we note that it exists, what condition it is in (needs maintenance, repair, replacement, etc), measure its dimensions, and take a photo. Or we may encounter a hazardous tree. Again, we note that it exists, measure its diameter, determine the severity and whether or not it is a critical task, take a photo, and mark its location.
In addition to surveying existing features, we are using the TRACs survey to make suggestions for improvement to the agency. For example, if we run into an area with severely gullied trail, depending on several factors, we may suggest a reroute if the drainage is poor or a series of check dams or to bring in fill material.
Once the information is collected, trail survey data is give to the District for analysis. These surveys will help to determine the costs of future trail projects, identify the urgency of trail maintenance, and will influence the allocation of project funding for years to come.
Resulting from the excellent work and progress of our crew, the SCA is looking to partner with agencies nationwide, and has developed an entirely new division within the SCA dedicated to assist with the TRACs program. Region 9 and other agencies have decided to partner with the SCA in the future to help with their survey work.
Our crew has been proud to have served as the very first TRACs crew for both the SCA and Forest Service Region 9.
27 October-4 November 2010
Hitch number six brought some of our coldest weather yet, but that didn’t slow our survey speed down even one wheelie turn. We began by finishing our survey of The Devil’s Backbone Wilderness and made it across the narrow and evil backbone both alive and safe! Then we moved on to survey The Noblett Loop Trail and the Noblett Dam trail. After this we returned to the twister damaged and seemingly war torn Raccoon Hallow Trail and finished surveying down to North Fork River. This concluded our work in the Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs district!
In celebration of our accomplishments, and Halloween, we each carved our own pumpkin and watched them flicker while drinking hot cider, under the starlit sky of the North Fork Recreation area. When our party was over we moved out of our beloved Mallard trailer, where wild armadillos and college kids who do not respect camp’s quiet hours, will be sorely missed.
We traveled North to our new bunk house in the Houston/Rolla/Cedar Creek district where we live next to a giant fire tower and a cemetery. Here we enjoy indoor plumbing, a full kitchen and dining room, and even our own rooms!
In our new district we began surveying the Paddy Creek Wilderness on the Big Piney Loop trail. Sometimes, our wilderness experience is interrupted by the low rumble of tanks or rapid fire of machine guns. Don’t be alarmed: a war has NOT broken out. Rather, the Wilderness is only six miles from the military base called Fort Leonard Wood. On the second to last hitch, the crew surveyed 22.66 miles in total.
Peace and love,
19 October-24 October
To celebrate the total immersion in Autumn, the crew has adjusted their schedule to accommodate the diminishing presence of the sun—shorter workdays, shorter hitches, shorter weekends. And they still managed to cover an impressive 20.02 miles of trail!
Through this hitch the crew was able to complete their survey of the RidgeRunner trail (an additional 10.28 miles), complete the survey of the North Fork Loop trail (1.83 miles), begin the survey of the Noblett Loop trail (4.45 miles), complete the Raccoon Hollow trail (2.70 miles), and complete the North Fork River Trail (0.76 miles).
After a dry first two months of service, this hitch they found themselves carefully balanced atop fallen logs, and sometimes hip-deep in water to ford the area’s rivers and creeks… though there still hasn't been any rain.
The crew would like to express many thanks and much appreciation to a stellar AmeriCorps crew who logged out an incredible amount of blowdown on the Raccoon Hollow trail following a major storm event earlier this year. The amount of crosscut work is quite impressive! As naturally beautiful as the trail is, hiking it just to check out their work is highly recommended.
In other news, one evening upon returning from the trails, the crew found two beautiful black lab pups laying in their parking space at the North Fork Campground. While it was a joy to have them around, the pups seemed to care more for vicious battles with armadillos during the night than comprehending the crew's need for rest. The crew was willing to work through this somewhat minor issue, but the duo's wandering spirits and friendly personalities have led them on to other great adventures. Additionally, the crew has seen several bald eagles right here in their front yard! And leaves are dropping like it’s the new fall fashion.
Sadly, the crew's trusty companion and fourth mate, Wheelbert (the cyclometer) cannot seem to hack it as a trails surveyor. Through numerous rounds of experimental surgery, he refuses to heal properly and his kickstand now hangs off of him like a broken wing. He’s going into major surgery this break—please wish him well!
9 October – 16 October
Hitch Four had the crew continuing to survey the Ozark Trail North Fork section, where they encountered the first trail users since August—a backpacking group from the St. Louis area and sponsored by the American Youth Hostel Association. The trail in this section is not officially mapped by the Forest Service, so the survey work here is serving dual purpose.
The crew set a new record of 5.48 miles of trail surveyed in one day. Nice work! In total, the crew finished surveying the North Fork section of the Ozark Trail, from the Pomona Trailhead through the Devil’s Backbone Wilderness, and began surveying the Ridge Runner Trail. That equates to a grand total of 25.9 miles of trail surveyed.
Within the week, leaves have colored out significantly, temperatures have dropped, and the leaf litter on the forest floor is beginning to build. The crew has been busy baking pumpkin pies and has their jack-o-lanterns waiting to go under the knife…
25 September-30 September
Lots of action here in Missouri during Hitch Three!
The crew started off by traveling northward to Steelville for the Ozark Trail Association’s MEGA Volunteer Event, in celebration of National Public Lands Day. This was a great opportunity to put in some “non-survey” time and pick up some tools. Joined by over 200 others for this fantastic occasion, the whole party worked to create 0.60 mile of newly crafted trail within the day. It was great to share the day with several SCA alumni from the area. After working on the trail, delving into some delicious barbeque, enjoying live music, and conversing around the bonfire, the crew picked up to head to the next assignment.
This next assignment had the crew deployed to the Doniphan Ranger District to survey the Victory Section of the Ozark Trail near Ellsinore, Missouri. The temperatures dropped a little as the autumn winds hovered on the horizon and the trail proved to be a bit more challenging than the past experiences. This particular area has undergone a rigorous series of prescribed burns, melting guide markers from trees and encouraging vigorous first-successional growth, combining to make an unclear route. The crew got more comfortable with the map & compass, developed a keen technique with the machete, and learned to use the glinting of a nail in a tree to guide their way. They were able to complete 16.21 miles of the Victory Trail before heading back to the bunkhouse and moving on to the next district.
Leaving Winona, the crew traveled an hour east to the Ava Ranger District where work began on the North Fork Section of the Ozark Trail. After getting settled in, the crew was able to knock out 5.31 miles of the new trail before beginning their weekend.
In total this hitch, the crew completed 21.52 miles of trail surveys, celebrated National Public Lands Days with the OTA and fellow trails enthusiasts, said goodbye to one District and their mentor Scotty, while moving to a new District under James’ kind eye.
13 September-20 September
After several weeks of living the luxurious bunkhouse lifestyle (complete with electricity), the crew ventured into the nether-lands of the Irish Wilderness for an 8 day hitch.
The Irish Wilderness is a 16,227 acre parcel of land within the Mark Twain National Forest. Originally set aside in the 1850’s as land for Irish immigrants, the Civil War invaded the area and the inhabitants “mysteriously vanished.” It is unclear what happened to the settlement after the battles subsided.
Due to the nature of the topography, the crew was offered a boat ride in to their first camp location, where they would work northeast and southeast from the camp. Their boat thankfully returned to pick them up after four days. Briefly stopping back at the bunkhouse to recharge equipment and off-load photos, the crew then headed to the opposite end of the Wilderness, to work from the base of Camp Five Pond and finish out the trail survey.
In total during this hitch, the crew surveyed the final 1.5 miles of the Ozark Trail’s Current River section, completed the 18.4 mile White’s Creek loop trail, and surveyed the entirety of Skyline Trail, a 1.4 mile walk through the sacred lands of Van Buren. That equates to a grand total of 21.3 miles!
Bearing witness to a fantastic midnight thunderstorm, the crew got to enjoy the storm’s effects doubly when the forest then erupted into a magnificent bloom of mushrooms. Armadillos visited the float camp every evening, and a dog adopted the crew as companions for an hour before it darted back into the woods.
1 September-8 September 2010
The crew's first surveying priorities involved 2 longer trails within the Eleven Point Ranger District-the Blue Ridge Horse Trail, and the Current River section of the infamous Ozark Trail. Making steady progress at about 2 miles per day, the crew gathered extensive and accurate trails data for the District. The crew finished the entire Blue Ridge trail, totaling 7.39 miles, and along it was afforded the opportunity to witness voracious butterflies eating a tortoise and the stone wall remains of a time long past.
Add to that 8.43 miles of the Ozark Trail's Current River section (a mile short of completing it) and the crew was content with calling it a great hitch.
"Tick bomb free is the way to be" became the motto of the hitch, as we attempted to combat thousands of hungry larval ticks, clinging tightly to our clothes and fighting fiercely for a chance at survival.
Though the Mark Twain National Forest is Missouri's only National Forest, it spans 11 geographically distinct units and encompasses 1.5 million acres of central and southern Missouri, largely within the Ozark Highlands. Seven federally designated Wilderness areas lie within the Forest's boundaries.
Once nearly logged in entirety to provide railroad ties for an expanding nation, the area has rebounded under careful stewardship to a fully functioning and healthful ecosystem.
Through the SCA's partnership with the Forest, the crew will be utilizing advanced electronic programs in combination with conventional measurement methods, to provide detailed trail survey data to each District for analysis. These surveys will help to determine the costs of future trail projects, identify the urgency of trail maintenance, and will influence the allocation of project funding for years to come.
The crew will begin survey work in the Eleven Point Ranger District, and will travel to other Districts within southern Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest through November.
TRACS is an acronym for TRail Assessment And Conditions Surveys
24 August-29 August 2010
When dealing with new technology, it's always good to have a few days to experiment with your equipment while knowledgeable professionals are at your side. This is how we spent the first five days of service in the Mark Twain.
The crew learned the ins and outs of the TRACS program, how to properly use the Trimble GPS units and troubleshoot minor difficulties, we thoroughly went through all of the hardcopy forms, and got to see a few of the local trails.
After a certain degree of comfort was reached with the TRACS program, we bid our mentors farewell and dug a little deeper into the culture of the area, that which is Winona Missouri.
After visiting Big Springs, the nation's largest natural spring (outputting 288 million gallons of water a day--apparently enough to fill Busch Stadium within 30 hours!) the crew visited the Missouri Department of Conservation and marveled at old-timey logging equipment and armadillos.
Further adventures led to St. Louis, where we picked up our new and improved truck, and learned of the logging history here in Southern Missouri.
Heidi has chosen to utilize her degree in Landscape Architecture to construct and maintain foot trails in the great Pacific Northwest. Heidi believes that trails, as systems that connect people to their natural environments, are an integral part of human understanding and existence. She brings experience from landscape construction and design, ancient forest ecology, environmental restoration, trail construction and maintenance, field crew management, walking very long distances, and participating in historical reenactments on horseback.
After several years on the West Coast, Heidi looks forward to spending time amongst the abundant ticks, beautiful autumn colors, armadillos, and rolling hills of Southern Missouri, a bit closer to her Wisconsin roots.
My name is Jessica Wyatt and I am 22 years old. I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I spent most of my summers as a child outdoors which helped nurture my love for the outdoors. I attended college at Drury University where I received my B.A. in Biology and Environmental Science and a minor in Global Perspectives for the 21st Century. My future goal is to obtain a job with an Environmental Agency teaching outdoor education.
Hello, my name is Lincoln Frasca and I'm eighteen years old. I just graduated from High school in NY state and I've decided to take a gap year before starting college. I chose to work for the SCA because of my love of hiking and the outdoors. When I was eleven I started going to an outdoors summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains. This is where I started hiking and after five years of camp I had climbed all 46 high peaks in NY state and became an ADK 46'R. I am very excited to begin my first internship with the SCA in Mark Twain's National Forest in Missouri on a trail assessment team.
|An Essay on TRACS|
|Missouri TRACS, Mark Twain National Forest|
|Heidi Brill, Project Leader|
|Jessica Wyatt, Crew Member|
|Lincoln Frasca, Crew Member|
|Hitch Number Seven FINAL|
|Hitch Number Six|
|Hitch Number Five|
|Hitch Number Four|
|Hitch Number Three|
|Hitch Number Two|
|Hitch Number One|