Pochuck AT Relocation Project
[ Appalachian Trail - Vernon, NJ ]

The Pochuck project entails relocating almost a mile of the AT through the Pochuck Swamp (near Vernon New Jersey), almost entirely on raised boardwalk.  

 

Here are some photos from the various crews working on the Pochuck project.  We have had fabulous crews of volunteer men & women working on this - even entire families.  Many of them had never done this kind of thing before - and most of them had a blast and kept coming back time and again.  

 

This project is finally finished, but the care and upkeep of the boardwalk and bridges will need to go on as long as the trail continues to exist.  If you are interested, contact the NY/NJ Trail Conference to see about becoming part of the maintenance team.

Last Updated: 07/09/2003

Summer 2001 Monica took most of these over a couple of our 4-day weekends on the site.  It took so long to bring in the machinery, that we scheduled Thursday through Sunday or Saturday through Tuesday 'weekends'.  Many folks showed up for multiple days at a time, camping overnight to avoid the 'commute'.  Those who could arrange for weekdays, did -- and we thank you.

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The centerpiece of this project is 'the bridge'.  This was built in 1996 to cross the river.  I call it a 'flying Adirondack bridge'.  It looks and is built very much like one of the classic bridges, except that it is 20' in the air on large steel cables and telephone poles.  There is a staircase up from the ground level at each end, which connect into the boardwalk and trail system. 

( Currently, the Trail Conference's website has some of the best pictures of the bridge, but I will try to get some more detailed ones, soon. )

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A view from the bridge.  Looking west along the river bed.  This looks all quite peaceful and innocent at this point in a very hot, dry, late summer.  But when the spring melt waters and the April showers get together (and the occasional hurricane) this quiet little stream becomes quite the roaring flood water.  I am told there is some pretty good fishing to be done here, as well.

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At each end of the bridge, a staircase drops down to the trail.  Here is the north end stair, which drops to a short gravel pathway which then ramps up to the boardwalk's design altitude.  Yes, altitude.  The engineer's drawings specify the boardwalk decking as being above the 'record flood' level of around 394' above sea level.  This level is followed throughout the project.  When the ground pops up onto an 'island', the boardwalk transitions into conventional trail.  Then, when the ground falls away again, the boardwalk re-starts.  All-in-all there is about 500' of conventional trail, and nearly 2/3 mile of boardwalk.[photo: Monica Resor]

Crew_Conventional_before_01(Wheelock).jpg (47632 bytes) Here the NY/NJ TC West Jersey crew is poised for action.  Our first trip's assignment was to do this section of conventional trail that has been marked out.  This will need to be cleared, leveled and reinforced for all of it's over 500' run.  There are many large outcrops of rock which will need to be negotiated on the way.  [photo: Larry Wheelock]
Conventional Trail 07 (Larry Wheelock).jpg (47101 bytes) Here is a typical view of the process.  The crew members will spread out along the flagged route, each staking out a section to work on.  This is much safer, since there is much less chance of anybody getting hit by accident.  Once each person's section is completed, they will leap-frog down the line to the next spot.  [photo: Larry Wheelock]
Conventional Trail 06 (Larry Wheelock).jpg (41242 bytes) Here is another view of the process a little further along.  The stake in the foreground marks the point where the end of the boardwalk will taper into the ground, transitioning the hiker onto our conventional trail.  [photo: Larry Wheelock]
Conventional Trail 03 (Larry Wheelock).jpg (29815 bytes) The crew at work.  As sometimes happens on any 'road crew', one person is digging while others are toting rocks and dirt either away from, or to, the digger.   [photo: Larry Wheelock]
Conventional Trail 02 (Larry Wheelock).jpg (35080 bytes) We are getting pretty close to done, here.  Monica is stopping for a breath and a drink, while the rest of the crew moves down to the far end to wrap up.  It was nearly 90 that day with humidity over 90%.  This crew is dedicated!  [photo: Larry Wheelock]
Conventional Trail 01 (Larry Wheelock).jpg (33251 bytes) And here is the finished 'conventional' trail section.  Next trip will be the boardwalk.  [photo: Larry Wheelock]
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At the start of the boardwalk work trips, all the equipment, tools and machinery were brought in from the north end of the project.  A steel highline was set up under the bridge, using the bridge structure as endpoints.  From that, we could suspend things like this 5000w generator, a hydraulic pump, the hydraulic auger driver, power tools, gas tanks, etc..  Then, they could just be 'floated' across the riverbed to the bank 50' away.  Take a look at the underside of the bridge!  What a beautiful piece of work this was.  Wes Powers (NJDEP Regional Maintenance Coordinator) is the project 'boss' and saw this through to completion (I think) as a personal 'mission'.  He had help from the utility company that supplied and installed the poles; but most all of the rest was done by old fashioned smart manpower!

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This is a view from the south end of the suspension bridge which crosses the Pochuck River about a third of the way from the north end of the wetlands area.  From this point, there is probably about 3/5 of a mile to go, until the trail gets out to the road crossing.  To the right of the boardwalk is the area where much of this year's materials were air-lifted in by the Forestry Service.

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From the bridge, looking south.  This was our (West Jersey crew) first part to work on.  This last 100' or so had to be completed and brought up to, and connected with, the bridge's south end staircase.  Here we are beginning to lay out the positions for the pilings.  We also had to carry the materials from out in the field (to the right) where they had been air-lifted and dropped off.  'The Ants Go Marching Two by Two'......

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The pilings (one is laying down across the bottom of the frame) are large augers on a 6' steel bar.  The bar is 1.5" square and weighs about 60 pounds.  The hydraulic driver is actually a slow, immensely powerful drill.  It sits on the top of a piling shaft with a socket, and drives the auger into the ground.  5' extensions are bolted on as needed to drive the auger down until the design-specified conditions are met.

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With foot-operated hydraulic valves, the drill is run forward and back.  One or more persons steady the drill head in place.  The head takes about 3 strong, tall persons to place it -- it is very heavy!  It has a 'tail', which you can see, which is chained to a prior piling to prevent the drill head from turning, rather than the auger.  The design target criteria is for 800 foot-pounds of rotational torque; there is no way that people could hold it.  At that point, the engineers have determined that the piling is into a firm, secure strata below the level of the swamp.  Some of them were driven as deeply as 24 feet.

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As the pilings are driven in, the rest of the team begins staging more of the materials from the fly-in zone.  Wes Powers (that's him in the green DEP shirt) is also using his infra-red surveying system to determine the level to cut off the excess piling at.

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Here is a close-up of the job of wrestling with the drill head.  We worked in rotating teams of 3-4 people to try to keep the drill going as close to full time as possible.  As the pilings were screwed into the ground, they would hit the odd stone (or mountain top) and the whole thing would go off of vertical.  Not that any person could stop it, all you could do would be to try to lean it back up as close to vertical as it would go.     Not only was this drill head heavy, it got quite hot after awhile; so it was quite the tough competitor.  Mary-Nell, here, was absolutely up to the task.

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Once a piling was driven to the desired torque point, you were done.  If you fell below the correct altitude, though, you would have to add an extension and drive it in until the joint was below the ground.  This one will need another length.

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After the piling is set and the desired height marked, a portable band saw is used to cut off the extra piling bar stock.  Oh, what a difference having the right tools makes!

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After the piling is cut to height, a saddle piece attached to a sleeve is dropped over the top of the exposed end.  This saddle will hold a doubled up pair of 2x10's as a beam.  The beams are bolted to and through the U-shaped saddles in preparation for the joists.

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Here you see a number of finished beams ready for the joists.  Most of the beams are 4' long, but the ones closest to you in this picture are 8' long.  They are for one of the periodic turnouts, or passing areas, along the course of the boardwalk.

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At the end of the day, the pilings are all in place for this section, and the beams are ready for the joists.  The beams are 10' apart.

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Conventional joist hangers are used to place the joists on the beams.  Each joist has to be custom cut because (let's face it) the dimensions between the beams are 'variable'.  Also, the boardwalk curves and bends as it goes, so the framework has to be cut to make that happen in the structure, also.

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Here you can see the framework taking shape.  This is from the south end of the bridge, and the wide, passing area is just before the connection to the bridge's staircase (not yet in place).

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Once the framework is completed, the decking can be put down.  The deck boards are placed 1/2" apart, then minimally nailed down.  Where the deck has to bend, the boards are cut long-ways into a series of wedges which form a kind of 'fan' pattern, which follows the curve of the pathway.  Once all the decking has been placed and tacked in place, each deck board is then drilled and screwed twice into each beam crossing.  After driving the pilings, the drilling and screw driving were the most grueling tasks.  Not that they were so difficult, but they required you to work either on your knees or bent from the waist to work the drill and screw-gun.

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And here it is!  The connector to the bridge staircase is in place and all the decking is down.  All that remains in this section is the 2x3 'curbing' which will be placed at the edge and screwed down.[photo: Monica Resor]

Autumn 2001 The Appalachian Trail Conference's Mid-Atlantic was working on the site for several weeks in September and early October.  There have also been visits from the regular volunteers, and a field trip by the professional carpenters union local.  
Airlift_08 (Wheelock).jpg (15614 bytes) Before the work could begin, materials had to be brought in.  Once again, the Fire Service provided the air-power to bring in the tons and tons of material.  In prior seasons, the materials were trucked to the end of the boardwalk and hand carried the half mile or so to the work area.  This was a vast improvement over that use of person power!  We still had to carry the materials around, but nowhere nearly as far.  A great improvement in productivity!  Thanks again guys!!!  [photo: Larry Wheelock]
Builders_Assn_Crew_North_End_of_Cattails_1.jpg (44239 bytes) Throughout the Fall work season, the majority of the balance of pilings were screwed into the ground and the framing and decking placed.  Here, some of the Builder's Association crew is putting in more of the joists and stringers.
Detail_Joist_Hangers_1.jpg (21255 bytes) Here is a close-up look at what is going on underneath the decking.  You can see the metal joist hangers - just like the ones used in your modern-day house construction.  All this is covered over with 2x6 deck boards, which form the actual boardwalk surface.
ATC_Crew_Decking_1.jpg (27277 bytes) These fellows are a couple of the ATC crew working on placing the decking once the under structure had been completed.  Each deck board was tacked into place with a couple of nails.  Half inch spaces between the boards will permit water to flow through, preventing puddles and slowing down the rotting of the deck.
NormSettingScrews.jpg (51004 bytes) The final step to securing the decking was to screw it down to the beams underneath.  The screws were 4inch galvanized construction screws, 2 per deck board on all 4 beams.  Pilot holes had to be drilled, then the screws tapped into the holes to start them.
DrivingScrews01.jpg (49091 bytes) Here you can see the 4 rows of screws.  Monica (red shirt) and others are leading the parade, drilling the pilot holes.  Norm (grey shirt) and a member of the ATC crew are setting the screws.
DrivingScrews02.jpg (43926 bytes) And here is the final step.  Jack (left) and a member of the NY/NJ TC North Jersey Crew are driving the screws using power screwdrivers.  At a typical rate of 16 screws per foot of decking, multiplied by the roughly 3000 feet of boardwalk, that's 48,000 pilot holes and screws!
Boardwalk_Turnout_Near_Farmer_Bridge_1.jpg (24840 bytes) Once the decking is secured, 2x3 'curbing' is screwed down to finish the job.  The curbing defines the edge, helping to prevent folks from wandering off the edge.  The turnouts, like this one, provide a wonderful place to sit and watch the many birds and other wildlife.
Cattails_2.jpg (29662 bytes) The entire southern end of the boardwalk passes through an amazing forest of cattails.  These are about to release their 'puffs', carrying their seeds far and wide.

Spring & Summer 2002 Once again, into the fray.  This time, there's a deadline... the opening ceremony is scheduled!!!

This season is about finishing up the final deck sections, creating ramps to transition from the boardwalk down to the conventional treadway.  Once completed, the "farmer's bridge" will also require a full railing, since it is quite high above the ground and water where it crosses the channel.  

The NY/NJ Trail Conference's West Jersey and North Jersey crews, along with folks from the ATC and The NJ Builder's Association worked many, many weekends throughout the year.  Everybody was pushing for the conclusion of nearly 20 year's planning and work.

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Once again, the first step is always getting the materials and tools to the site.  Here, Monica poses with one of the roughly 1600 joists.  Everybody who worked on this project -- top to bottom -- did 'tote duty' at one time or another.  At times, the strains of "the ants go marching two by two..." could be heard drifting across the bog.

Transporting_Decking_1.jpg (28158 bytes) Truth be told, we didn't hand carry all the lumber and materials, or we'd still be on the first sections.  Wherever the materials were dropped (air lift or dump truck), they were hand carried to however much of the boardwalk was passable, and then loaded onto hand trucks and dollies.  These were then wheeled as close as possible to where the load could be used.  Here, a load of lumber is headed into the woods, having been brought about 1/3 mile from the southern end.
Boardwalk_South_End_1.jpg (20931 bytes) This is where we left off at the southern end of the boardwalk last fall.  This will need to be extended another 400-500 feet to meet the road-side trail access.  This photo was taken before the wildfire that ravaged the dried cattails and swamp grasses in the early spring (which delayed our getting started by a week or so).
Pilings_Near_Farmer_Bridge_1.jpg (34457 bytes) This is the area where there used to be a farmer's bridge over a side channel of the local waters.  Here you see the piers which are ramping up from the south to where the actual bridge structure will be installed.  The water looks low in this picture, but remember we have been in the middle of a multi-year drought!
Crew_by_farmer_bridge(Wheelock)a.jpg (85490 bytes) Here the boardwalk approaches the location of the farmer's bridge from the north.  You can see the height of the deck compared to Monica standing next to the end.  This is about where it begins to ramp up to the actual bridge structure.  We were very fortunate throughout this project to be "blessed" with dry conditions -- otherwise Monica would be knee-deep in mud and the deck would be at her shoulders.
LastPochuckPier(5-5-2002).JPG (116871 bytes) On May 5th, 2002 the final pier was driven.  Here is the crew doing the honors in Larry Wheelock's photo.
FarmersBridge_InstallingRailing_01.jpg (44487 bytes) This is the "Farmer's Bridge".  Since the bridge is so far above the ground and water, a handrail is required.  Here you see Wes Powers (green shirt) and some of the others fabricating the railings onto the bridge structure.  Note how high the grasses are -- the boardwalk is actually about 7 feet in the air below where Wes is standing!
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Nice bridge!  That's David on the southern end, checking out the bog turtles at sunrise on one of the summer 'double-header' weekends.  We camped on-site to monitor the equipment, to avoid loosing the time needed to move it all in to the worksite every morning.  It could take as long as a half hour per round trip from the vehicles -- you'd loose half a day's time, just getting ready to work.  [photo: Monica Resor]

FarmersBridge_SouthEnd_01.jpg (32212 bytes) The finished bridge, from the southern end, with the morning mists across the swampland meadows lifting behind.  [photo: Monica Resor]
NorthBound_OnFarmerBridge_02.jpg (20052 bytes) On the farmer's bridge, looking northbound toward the suspension bridge about half a mile ahead.  The morning mists hid the larger bridge from our view.  The swamp is a magical place at sunrise...  [photo: Monica Resor]
FarmersBridge_NorthEnd_01.jpg (42550 bytes) Looking southbound at the northern end of the farmer's bridge.  See how quickly the swamp retakes it's own.  This section of boardwalk was put in less than a year before, and has already been weed-whacked once to keep it open.  Once the drought is over and things really begin to grow, the walkway will require regular 'mowing' to keep it from disappearing altogether!  [photo: Monica Resor]
FromSuspBridge_SB(with mist)_01.jpg (24772 bytes) Looking back toward the farmer's bridge from the southern end of the suspension bridge.  Shortly before Monica took this picture, we were treated to a visit by a juvenile red-tailed hawk.  He had been hanging around while we worked at the farmer's bridge area -- allowing us to watch him practice his hunting skills.  Believe me, from 10 feet away, he was one intimidating bird!  [photo: Monica Resor]
SuspensionBridge_Dawn_NB_02.jpg (33112 bytes) Morning is a magic time in the Pochuck wetlands.  If you can get there, go!  [photo: Monica Resor]
SuspensionBridge_Dawn_NB_01.jpg (23151 bytes) The Pochuck River Appalachian Trail relocation was the reportedly the largest single construction project (yet) on the AT.  It was declared open at a gala on October 20, 2002.  In attendance were crew members, dignitaries, and one of the local black bears.  The boardwalk is a means for us to walk through a magical world of herons, hawks, eagles, turtles, red-winged blackbirds and the other creatures which inhabit the wetlands.  The wetlands themselves are a wonderland for those of us who want to see what some of New Jersey might have looked like when the bears and eagles were in control.  [photo: Monica Resor]

Please -- if you have the opportunity to do so, come to this amazing place; and if you can, spend some time at dawn or dusk and let the swamp work it's magic on you!

  More Pochuck River AT Project photos are on the NY/NJ Trail Conference website.

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