ISN’T IT WONDERFUL to be able to explore our Olympic National Park trails again?
As more trails open to the public, it’s good to remind ourselves that we need to do our part to maintain them, to practice the Leave No Trace techniques (bury your excrement and take your garbage home with you), and now we need to include the practice of physical distancing — yes, even in the great outdoors.
A special admonishment goes to horsemen to clean up manure at trailheads, and to dismount to kick it off to the side of the commonly used Larry Scott and Olympic Discovery trails.
It’s also good to applaud the many volunteers who work hard to keep those trails open and safe for passage.
Longtime readers have heard me sing the praises of Larry and Sherry Baysinger, founders of the Mt Olympus Chapter of Back Country Horsemen, for all the work they and group members do to maintain trails on the West End.
For instance, last June, the Baysingers and Rich James journeyed up the Bogachiel River Trail to clear part of the path and to remove a failed bridge in preparation for packing supplies in for an eight-day trail work party by a group of volunteers from Washington Trails Association.
Group leader Rebecca Wanagel said she’s extremely appreciative for their help with packing in chain saws, brusher (with attachments) and other equipment, along with gas, oil and food supplies.
Last week, the Baysingers, along with Boone Jones, took their string of pack mules filled with supplies for the WTA up the river trail again — a 16-mile ride round trip! My backside aches just thinking about being in the saddle that long.
Many locals will be happy to know that last August, the BCH Peninsula Chapter, led by Del Sage and Tom Mix, along with other BCH volunteers, completed the rebuild of a 35-foot stock bridge (wide enough for horses and other livestock) along the Slab Camp Trail (#838) in the east side of the Olympic National Forest.
This project was the culmination of about two years of planning and work.
There is no recorded history of the bridge that was replaced. Most of the trails and roads in that area existed in the 1930s.
Those who dismantled it reported it was of very old construction. The cedar decking was held down with square nails and spikes, and the stringers were attached to their sills with round rods.
The bridge was identified as failing two years ago as part of a two-year RAC grant proposal assembled by Rod Farlee.
The planks for the bridge decking were cut from Douglas fir trees that fell at Dungeness Forks Campground in a windstorm in 2018.
The contractor bucked them to the length needed and hauled them to the Quilcene Forest Service Yard. There, the Gray Wolves trail maintenance crew used the chapter’s Alaskan mill over during summer 2018 to saw the planks.
Sage, the Peninsula Chapter vice president, hauled them to his place for storage and then to the trailhead as needed. Multiple trips with horses and mules to pack the planks to the job site were made by chapter members, starting in November 2018 and continuing through spring and summer 2019.
Each mule or horse could pack two planks along the 2.5-mile switchback trail down to the job site, an elevation loss of about 1,000 feet.
Two trips were needed to fell the huge cedars that became the stringers for the bridge. A total of 35 planks were hauled. Some members rode in while others led their pack animals on foot.
The final construction of the bridge took place Aug. 16-20, 2019.
A crew of about 25 adults and 15 Boy Scouts rode or hiked to the job site, and they packed all of the tools needed to do the job with the help of mules and horses.
Two trips, using four pack mules each, were needed to get all the equipment in place. They carried in (and out) 1,000 pounds of rigging gear.
Most workers and stock camped at the trailhead during the four days of construction, and they traveled to and from the site each morning and evening. Some camped near the bridge site.
The old bridge was removed, and they saved the side rails, which were still good.
Sage and Mix designed and oversaw the use of an elaborate rigging system and a chainsaw winch to move the three huge cedars (35 feet by 23 inches, mid-span) into place on the existing bridge sills.
Once those were in place and leveled, the planks were drilled and nailed down, and the side rails were re-mounted.
The Olympia Mountaineers, who learned chainsaw techniques from BCH trainers, sent a crew of about 10 to assist and learn how rigging is used to move things when building trails.
A Boy Scout earned his Eagle rank by doing his project notebook on the bridge, and he secured donations of decking spikes and food for the crews. He was joined by nine Scouts and two leaders who helped on the project.
Rebecca Wanagel led a WTA crew that helped with the building, too.
This new stock bridge should last for many years.
Thank you to Peninsula Chapter member Donna Hollatz for such insightful news about rebuilding the Slab Camp Bridge.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.