Rebuilding The Mt. Tammany Trail

By David H. Day © 2001 - All Rights Reserved

The Plan In spring of 2000, the NY/NJ Trail Conference began work on a project in conjunction with Worthington State Park to rehabilitate the Mt. Tammany (Red Dot) trail. With its trailhead in the same Dunfield Creek parking lot as the AT, it was very easily accessible to even the most casual visitor. And over the years it has had many visitors. This trail has been a favorite of families, hikers and climbers; and over the years was literally being ‘loved to death’.

Over 20 years ago I first hiked this trail, and currently it is essentially the same route as it had always been. It is a very heavily used trail during the spring, summer and fall. Only about 2.5 miles long, it goes pretty much right up the ridge edge on the north side of the Delaware Water Gap. For part of the way up, it has wonderful views down into the Gap, of the river, Mt. Minsi, and the flats to the east of the ridge. While steep in places, the areas with the best views are quite attainable by most hikers.

When the Trail Conference’s NJ field representative approached Monica and I to head up this project, it was just a day or two after the New Year. We met with Larry Wheelock to discuss the scope and feasibility of what was proposed. Looking at photos and maps, we reviewed what the Worthington managers and Trail Conference had requested, and pondered and planned. It was going to take a great deal of time and concentrated effort to refurbish the trail and to reverse the damages of time and use. Agreeing to undertake the project, we scheduled a walking tour of the site to detail what would need to be done.

The first thing you saw of the trail was ‘the gully’. From the parking lot, there was a very steep hill, which rises about 70-80 feet to a wooded plateau. Over the years, people had ignored the trail’s correct route and simply climbed and slid down the embankment. Once that became a visible route, other people began to scramble up the same way. In the sandy soil of that hillside, this ad-hoc trail had become a nasty, rutted, open wound on the hill face; while at the same time, the real trail became abandoned and overgrown.

Above the gully, the trail rejoined and continued along its original route; crossing the plateau and edging up and onto the spine of the ridge. This entire section of the trail was in the same sandy clay soil, and wherever it sloped up or down hill it was eroding and washed out. In one area, the flooding from hurricane Floyd had created ditches over 2 feet deep where the trail had been! Further up, the problem was the opposite one. There, the bedrock of the ridge had been exposed up to 15 feet across as the trail grew wider and wider as hikers walked to the sides to avoid the ever-growing gullies.

Someone once said that the three most dominant concerns in trail design are "drainage, drainage and drainage". It would only take one look at this trail to see the truth in that statement. For thousands of years rain and snowmelt had found its way down those hillsides and over the ridge top, leaving things largely intact. When the water flows normally off of a hill it is spread over the entire hillside in what is called ‘sheeting’; and the roots and such keep things held together. But once a trail becomes ‘walked in’ enough to form even a small a depression in the soil, the water will collect in it. Since the natural tendency is for people to head more or less straight down the hill, the collection quickly becomes a stream as the water changes direction and also takes the same shortest path. Left to its own devices, the water will continue this trend, until you have a washed out ditch. Then the hikers move over to avoid it, and the process begins again, two feet to the side.

The first part of the project was to re-open the original trail alignment and to formalize the trailhead so people would be directed to use the real trail. This required ‘hardening’ the trail to make the treadway durable enough for the hundreds of people per day that use the trail in season. A major part of the hardening process included insuring proper management of water flow as the trail traversed around and up the end of the plateau. Once that was done, we would have to block off and remediate ‘the gully’, which would hopefully re-vegetate and heal over time. It was decided that this would be our Spring Project.

Measurements were taken, drawings were made, material lists were prepared and the schedule was set. Worthington’s Supervisor, Helen Maurella, undertook the acquisition of the purchased materials and supplies. Getting volunteers lined up to form the crew was begun by the Trail Conference, using direct mail, news articles and telephone calls. Amid dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls over the next few months, all the disparate aspects of the project began to come together; from a truckload of recycled railroad ties to a couple dozen volunteers.

The Spring On the day the work was to begin, a grand group of men and women arrived. Most had never done trail work of any sort, but all were there to learn how and to do what they could. After a short course in trail construction concepts, tool usage and safety we took a walk through the work zone to look at what was to be done. With a strong illustration of why this needed to be done visible only 200 feet away in the form of ‘the gully’, they spread out along the trail in teams and prepared to work.

The first thing to be addressed was the re-opening and hardening of the official trailhead and pathway. This would mean 2 sections of cribbed retaining walls, built into a flight of terraced steps, a regular set of terrace steps, and a stretch of combined terraces and reinforced side hill contouring. This would get the people back onto the designated pathway, and up onto the plateau via a durable, correctly drained and user-friendly tread.

Monica went back and forth between the groups to instruct and show the people what needed to be done on the upper terraces and side hill part. I laid out the locations for the cribbed terraces, and showed the folks who were working on them what was intended. One of the people, Ron Snider, was in the construction business, and undertook to head up the cribbed timber staircase team. After a very short time, everybody was working away as if they had been doing it all their lives.

Most of what was required for the cribbed steps involved digging a trench into which the bottom layer of timbers were to be laid, drilled, and ‘nailed’ into the ground with 2 foot long steel reinforcing bars. Then the next layer is placed on top, staggered back by several feet, leveled off and dug into the hill as needed. In some places the rate of climb required more than one layer to result in a useable terrace / step area. This was then repeated over and over as the steps worked up the hillside. Each terrace would also need to be filled with rocks and dirt as it was completed.

On the upper section, Monica laid out the side hill and terrace areas, as well as a couple of cribbed steps, and dove into the work with the team up there. Since the soil was so easily eroded, it was necessary to do the same sort of process with the timbers, creating landings and reinforced edges for the side hill areas. Then the side hill contour could be cut into the hill to make a well-drained, durable and easily walkable treadway.

For the rest of the first day and for much of the following four work trips, work continued on these aspects of the project. I was kept very busy with cutting, notching and shaping the 50 or so timbers that we used. Between the cutting and constant sharpening of the chainsaw, it was hard just to keep up with them. The timbers we were using were reclaimed railroad ties, which are very durable but weigh 400 to 500 pounds. To get the 8’ long pieces up the trail required the efforts of 6 people using nylon slings. Even the smaller, 4’ pieces for the cribbing took multiple people and a great deal of effort to move to their destination. Railroad ties, steel rods, rocks and dirt all simple materials but the results look great and will hopefully last a very long time.

On the last trip of the spring season, we put the finishing details on our ‘grand staircase’ and began to fill in and block off the old herd path up the hill. By digging in and planting large rocks and piling logs and brush along the length of the gully, we hoped to slow the flow of water down the hill. By making the bottom and top of the ditch ‘ugly’ and difficult to pass through, we hoped to keep the hikers from continuing to use that path. We also blocked off the old path over to the ditch, the maintainer did the blazes, and the Parks personnel put up formal signs for the trailhead.

The Autumn
In the Fall, we once again convened at the Dunfield parking lot to begin the next part of the project. Having dealt with the urgent issue of the gully from the parking lot, we could now begin to move on up the trail to the next major issue – the relocation around the washouts where the trail makes it’s first move up to the ridge edge. While our turnout was somewhat smaller (due in part to the AT Pochuck River project drawing folks away) we had a loyal, more experienced and very effective crew again.

In relocating the trail away from the damaged area, we had only option – to place the trail directly up a defile in the ridge. So we began by building a series of rock wall terraces at the base of the defile. Then we constructed a stone staircase that went up the notch of the defile. This was done by building a series of rock cribs and filling in behind them with small rock and rubble. Using a sledgehammer, the rubble was then pounded into ‘gravel’. Onto that bed of gravel, the next step rock was placed; followed by the next crib wall, and so on. As the defile got narrower, the step rocks could be locked directly into the notch. This 3-D jigsaw puzzle created a solid, durable alternative to the flood-ravaged ditch.

Below and above this staircase, we put multiple water bars to control the flow of water. The object of them was to keep the water from adopting the trail as a new creek bed and restarting the erosion all over. Water bars are made from either logs or, preferably, rock. Angled across the trail, they look like low curbs, steering the water back to the normal direction of flow. Rock water bars are much more durable, but require you to dig in the stones. Most water bar stones are like icebergs – only 25% is showing above the surface. By the time we will have finished this trail, there will be dozens of them – from small berms to huge ‘waterworks’.

Just above the new staircase, the relocation rejoined with the original trail’s path. The point of joining was just at, and had to cross, the head of the washout. In here, we built another series of stone steps, set into the ground and locked against one side of the hill. On the other side, where most of the drainage had been running through, we constructed a series of low, cribbed retaining walls. Then over these we piled a great deal of riprap and gravel to slow the water flow and encourage the healing of the washed out area. Then we piled some limbs and debris on top of that to help keep the foot traffic directed up the new stairs.

For the rest of the trips we continued to put in 1 or 2 step stairs where needed and over a dozen water bars. Additionally, we began screeing the sides of the trail to redirect hikers from the widened areas, back to the main pathway. We also had a detail led by the maintainer, Karen Rosencrans, which went back and blocked off and filled in the old trail with logs and branches and such to promote the healing of the washed out areas.

On one of the trips, we also did a minor relocation, lower down, to move the trail away from the edge of the plateau. This section was being eroded away and was in danger of falling away all together. It was also, being in view of the parking lot, an invitation for people to cut down the hill at that point. To avoid having another example of ‘the gully’ we needed to dissuade people from going down the hill at that point. We ended up putting in about 50’ of reinforced side hill with a drain and stepping-stones at the end where a small seasonal creek crossed the trail.

The Crew We would like to thank the great volunteers who turned out this past year. We would also like to thank Helen Maurella and her Worthington staff for their total cooperation and participation. All told, we had over 30 people, young and old, who participated in the first season of work. They ranged from corporate executives to construction workers to school teachers, and most had never done trail work at all. Many turned out multiple times, some only once or twice. But everyone reported having a good experience. Many intend to return for the 2001 Spring season, and we hope to have even more folks join us. Everybody is welcome to come out and give it a try. We supply all tools and on the job training. You supply your lunch, gloves, water, and a willingness to get dirty. It is a great way to get out, have fun, and give something back to the trails we all enjoy so much.

To see photos of the project and the folks at work.
For information, or to sign up to join with us, email us.