Saturday, November 26, 2011

FWT Leaf Blowing

Being the nice guy that I am, I volunteered to do some leaf blowing for the Friends of Webster Trails.  As far as I know the group hasn't been leaf blowing every year, but there was a desire this year.

Clearing the trails of leaves has a number of benefits.
- Trails covered in leaves don't get airflow or sun, so they stay wet.
- Leaves act like sponges, holding more moisture on the trail.
- Low spots with preexisting water/mud issues get worse when spongy organic material collects in them.
- Trail users are more likely to trip on roots, stumps, and rocks when they are hidden by leaves.
- Leaves can be slippery.
- Trail users can stray off the trail and get lost when leaves hide them.
- Trail maintenance can continue because we can see the trail surface.

The most important aspect to me is allowing the trails to dry out.  Last spring was very wet, and the trails took forever to become usable.
So I volunteered to clear the trails at the Whiting Road Nature Preserve, and the Midnight trail.  Frank, a friend, and friend of Webster trails, let me borrow his seriously powerful Stihl BR 600 backpack leaf blower.
It's the same on he uses for his rocket-man rig. I didn't use a bike, just hiked.  Frank met me at the trails this morning at 8:30 and set me up.  After a few minutes I was on my own.

I had planned and memorized my route yesterday evening to minimize backtracking, but in some cases it is unavoidable.  The leaf blower was a beast and in most cases I could walk quickly.  Some places were naturally clear, and others could be cleared just with the blower idling. In other places with big oaks or maples the leaves were seriously thick.  In these cases I had to slow down and found myself persuading bigger piles of leaves off to the side, especially at the bottom of hills.

In many areas, with the top leaves removed, it became obvious how much moisture was being trapped underneath.  The trail surface was sometimes slick if not muddy, and I tried to blow off any caked-on leaves when possible.  It felt a little wrong removing what seemed to be a more appealing layer of leaves and leaving a wetter trail.  But with the actual trail exposed, it should dry up quickly.

I was getting tired by about half-way through the Whiting trails.  I don't hike much and carrying about 25 lbs of equipment and fuel didn't help.  But I persisted.
After finishing Whiting, I stopped for a granola bar at my car and heading towards the Midnight Trail across the street through Webster Park.  The snack break didn't help my sore feet, legs, back, and shoulders, but I pressed on.

Technically the county owns Webster Park, but FWT maintains the trails connecting Whiting to the Midnight Trail.  The Midnight Trail had some long stretches with thick leaves.  Two years ago when I was experiencing my first fall muni riding, I cleared the Midnight Trail.  I was hoping not to have to deal with the angry leaf woman (aka stick woman), and thankfully I didn't.

On that matter, I do understand than some people actually prefer to walk on leaf covered trails.  But at some point, clearing the trail becomes more important.  Last spring was very wet and many trails got destroyed.  People show up and use trails even if they're still wet, and then they become mud pits.  Many volunteer hours went towards fixing these.  If we can avoid wet trails, we must.

After I finished with the Midnight Trail, I was done with my FWT duties.  I took my FWT hat off and put on my MuniOrBust hat, both figuratively of course.  Instead of heading out the way I came, I decided to head further into Webster Park on the route I typically take.  I was already tired and sore, but what the heck, it was now or never.  In Webster Park, there are a number of places that have so many leaves it's insane, and they take forever to dry out in the spring.  There are hills, one shaped like a water slide, that funnel leaves down in huge quantities.  Even the mighty BR 600 couldn't clear these in a single pass... more like 5.

During my work, it occurred to me that by clearing a select loop through Webster Park there would be a tendency for trail users to follow it, possibly changing the usual traffic flow.  Good or bad, I don't know... just an observation.  I'm also a bit worried someone associated with the park might take issue with my donation of free trail maintenance, but hopefully they'll understand the benefits.

I finished my Webster Park loop and headed back to the Whiting parking lot.

I saw a number of people throughout my hike.  Some smiled, some looked confused, and some looked like their anti-depressants were working well.  In other words, people looked at me like I was riding a unicycle through the woods... nothing new.  I didn't want to interact with people and explain and justify what I was doing.  I had to allow people to get past me, so I had to stop, leaf blower idling, and let them go. But thankful only one woman actually talked to me.  She asked me "Why are you doing this?", and I thought, "Oh great, here we go."  I told her, "We do this to help the trails dry out faster in the spring." To my surprise, she said, "And the leaves can be slippery too."  So I guess she approved!

I noticed about 4 or 5 runners out there.  Man, you've got to be crazy running through some of these trails with all those leaf-covered roots.  It's like running through a mine field but instead of dying you roll your ankle.  I have a feeling they were also appreciative of my work today.

Based on the previous GPS maps, I estimate I hiked about 8 miles, leaf blowing except where I had to back-track.  On the map below, I cleared all the trails in Whiting, and the purple and pink lines in Webster Park.
I got in my car just shy of 1:00pm, 4 1/2 hours of trail leaf blowing.  I think I may have broken a record.
Based on the length of this blog post, obviously I don't feel like moving from my chair. ;-)


  1. Buzz, thanks for your effort and leaf-blowing time.

  2. Buzz, As a trail runner, my toes thank you!