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Trail assessment in the Shenandoah National Park

We were in the Shenandoah on Sunday to do trail assessment for the PATC.
We walked a loop on the Mill Prong/Laurel Prong/Cat Knob/Jones Mt/Fork Mt
trails starting at Milam Gap.  It was a short day, mileage-wise, but
climbing over,
under and around nearly 200 blowdowns is tiring - I'm still tired.  For
those who
are interested, the side trails in the Park are a mixed bag.  A few of them are
clear - and others are a disaster area.  The good thing is that the damage is
somewhat localized - all of the 115 blowdowns on the 1.8 mile lower part of
the Laurel Prong trail were concentrated in the first mile south of Camp
The majority of the blowdowns on the Fork Mt Trail were near the intersection
with the Laurel Prong Trail.   I think PATC probably still needs people to
go out
and assess other trails next weekend if anyone's interested.  All it
requires is
the ability to count and the agility to get around massive tangles of trees -
preferably without getting lost.  We won't be there this weekend - we have
other commitments.  But we'll be back.

Anyway, for those who might be interested, I'll attach our trail log entry for
this week.

Walk softly,
Jim & Ginny Owen

>>Sept 22 - Trail assessment in SNP (11.7 mi total) - Left home at 0800 - drove
to Swift Run Gap and picked up PATC trail assessment forms - parked at Milam
Gap.  We started down the Mill Prong Trail at 1100.  Followed Mill
Prong/Mill Prong
Horse Spur down to Camp Hoover (1.8 miles).  There were 2 minor blowdowns on
this section neither of which blocked the trail.  Someone had been in there
and taken
out a couple of the bigger blowdowns - this is apparently a heavily used
trail.  We wandered around Camp Hoover for a little while, then started up the
 Laurel Prong Trail which follows the road to the south of the camp.  The
first 0.6
miles to the Fork Mt Trail intersection had 23 blowdowns and some fairly
erosion damage.  The blazing was old and faded.  The next 0.5 mile was worse -
there were 92 blowdowns - a lot of them in tangles of 3 to 9 trees.  A lot
of chainsaw
work.  In this section we met 2 dayhikers and 2 backpackers who had turned
and considered the trail to be impassable.  They advised us to turn back,
but since
we were there to count blowdowns that wasn't acceptable.  The day hikers
had gotten
completely lost and been rescued by the backpackers.  The backpackers had first
gone up the Fork Mt Trail until they got to what they described as a "wall
of logs"
and turned back.  They were right (we saw it later), but it was also the last
obstacle on the Fork Mt Trail - there were only single blowdowns after that.
They then tried to go up the Laurel Prong Trail and ran into multiple
tangles.  At
that point they gave up and headed back toward Camp Hoover.  If they had kept
going they'd have been better off - after the first half mile beyond the
Fork Mt/Laurel
Prong trail junction, there were no more blowdowns all the way into Laurel
Gap (the
intersection of the Laurel Prong and Cat Knob Trails - 1.8 miles).  We
followed the
Laurel Prong Trail out to the AT (1.0 mile) and then returned to Laurel
Gap.  This
section had 21 blowdowns - most of them in a 100 yard section about a half mile
from the AT.  There was one blowdown where we walked between the root ball and
the rock that it used to sit on.  For another one, Jim crawled under three
trees while
Ginny was smart and walked around them.
>>When we got back to Laurel Gap we started up the Cat Knob Trail (0.5
>>mile) - it
was a steeper climb than we expected and then there wasn't even a view from the
top.  There were only 2 minor (stepover) blowdowns on the Cat Knob Trail.  We
turned left at the junction with the Jones Mountain Trail and followed it
for 0.8
miles to the fire road and the junction with the Fork Mountain Trail.
There were
only 3 minor blowdowns in this section - again someone had taken out a couple
serious blowdowns.  We followed the Fork Mt Trail back to the Laurel Prong
junction and counted 51 blowdowns, most of them in tangles at the lower end of
the trail.  One tangle had 15 trees in it and looked like a wall of logs.
This section
was heavily eroded in a number of spots and one quarter mile section on the
downhill was completely destroyed.  About half of the Fork Mountain trail
is eroded
to some extent.  This trail is designated as a horse trail, but I wouldn't
take a horse
up there - it was really tough just picking our way through there on foot.  We
followed the Laurel Prong Trail back to Camp Hoover (0.6 mile) then went back
up the Mill Prong Horse Spur and the Mill Prong Trail (1.8 mile) back to
Milam Gap
and the truck.  Got to the truck at 1800, changed clothes, wrote the Trail
forms and drove out of the Park via  Thornton Gap.  We left the forms with
the ranger
at the gate - she was happy to get them until she started reading them.
Dinner at the
Appetite Repair Shop in Sperryville, then home for a shower and bed.