Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wanted: Trail Zamboni

First time WVers frequently add a new dimension to work projects. In September of 2008, rookie volunteers Joe Maglaty and Ron Eydelloth accompanied veteran Rick Volpe to Glacier National Park…a far cry from their suburban Philadelphia flatlands. Several days of sledge hammering, wheel barrowing, picking, and shoveling provided ample opportunity for Joe and Ron to commiserate (and brainstorm) about WV tool enhancements to make their lives easier.

In particular, Joe fantasized about a "Trail Zamboni" that would, in one pass, turn a rocky, uneven trail into a smooth thoroughfare for outdoor guests. Little did Joe realize that his wish would nearly come true in August of 2009 as he again joined Rick on a WV trail project in the Medicine Bow National Forest of Wyoming. That’s Joe enjoying a ride in his “invention” under the control of fellow Philadelphia teammate Howard Dupee.

Look'n good! Thanks to Rick, Joe, and Ron for sharing their creative efforts with the rest of us. No word yet on when this trio will be mass-marketing their new machine. We'll keep you posted.

Have your own story or WV-inspired wacky idea to share? Let us know about it. Post a comment or send us an email and we'll feature it on the blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Painting Our Corner Of The Big Picture

Ever sought personal fulfillment by being an integral part of someone else's grand vision? That's exactly how it felt leading an eager group of young, enthusiastic students on Wilderness Volunteers' Buffalo National River service project in late March.

Long time National Park Service employee and former Buffalo National River trails supervisor Ken Smith has a dream. Our nation's first National River, dedicated in 1972 (exactly 100 years to the day after Yellowstone was established as the nation's first National Park), had no single trail that hikers could walk along the river bluffs along it's entire 60-mile length. While trails were created long ago and have been in use in the greater area for many years, the lack of a through-route was obvious to adventurers seeking solitude by foot and pack -- especially those lacking the skills or equipment to enjoy the river by paddle and canoe.

With great forethought and experience, and with the support of park management, Ken carefully mapped out the remaining 25-mile stretch to link existing fragmented trails into what will ultimately become the Buffalo National River Trail through the heart of this great Oak-Hickory, Ozark forest. Of course, great visions are such because of missing ingredients -- as is usually the case with public lands, lack of money and personnel top the list. As a retiree and volunteer himself, Ken literally took matters into his own hands and began raising money through a new foundation he established for this purpose, and he began recruiting volunteers in earnest, at first locally, and later involving national conservation groups like Wilderness Volunteers. He's even written an entire book Buffalo River Handbook filled with insights and information about the river and trail system in the area.

Persevering through a gauntlet of spring rains and mud, and mild, leaf-crunching fall colors, volunteer groups camping on the beautiful river beaches under massive limestone bluffs for a week at a time have completed 10 of the 25 miles, usually at a pace about .25 miles per week. It's slow going, but Ken seeks quality not quantity, and his watchful eyes and constant supervision ensure that it's done right the first time.

Our group certainly endured heavy rains and cold conditions, but as we found out, it's tough to dampen the spirit and enthusiasm exuded by youthful vigor. This intrepid group from DePaul University never flinched, despite some wet sleeping bags and cold feet. Each and every student demonstrated resilience and hopefully took home something special from their week of trail construction. If one word can sum it up, John called the entire experience "fantastic".

Volunteerism rewards the soul. Best of all, it introduces us to special people like Ken Smith and special places like the Buffalo National River.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Kitchen Kits 101

What’s in your kitchen kit? When I became a WV leader in 2000, I was sent a basic cook kit consisting of four cooking pots (two large and two small) with lids, two coffee pots, and an assortment of utensils which included large spoons, a spatula, a Sierra cup, and other items. As the person who does all or most of the cooking on trips I lead, I wanted to make food preparation as efficient and easy on me as possible, so over the years I have added a variety of kitchen tools to make my time in the backcountry kitchen as pleasant an experience as possible.

One of the first items I added was a high quality folding knife with a partially serrated cutting edge. Conventional wisdom is that more injuries occur when someone uses a dull knife. I don’t know if this is true, but a sharp knife certainly is better and more efficient when I have to cut or chop various ingredients. My next additions had to do with coffee preparation. I am an advocate for quality coffee, even in the backcountry, so I first tried using a plastic French press coffee maker. The French press works well, but dealing with the coffee grounds, especially when wet was a problem. What I use now is a large plastic cone that takes number 6 paper coffee filters. I also have two stainless steel carafe type thermoses into which I filter the brewed coffee. This system works well for several reasons. I can set aside the used grounds in the paper filter, and they will dry out before being put in the trash. I can also make coffee well in advance of breakfast and keep it hot so when folks start getting up a fresh cup of coffee awaits them.

I have added other items to my cook kit as well, and the above represent only some of the refinements I have made to my kit. Everything I have for the kitchen kit fits in a large duffle that is easy for agency personnel to put on pack animals for transport into the backcountry. If I am leading a trip where the agency does not supply pack support, I modify my kitchen kit to accommodate the circumstances. What modifications have you made to your cook kit that others might want to know about? Post them here.

Hash browns with mushrooms and bacon bits.

6-8 cups dried shredded potatoes (available in the bulk section of most grocery stores)
2 packages of dried wild mushrooms
1 package of bacon bits (substitute sundried tomatoes to make dish vegetarian friendly)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for cooking

Re-hydrate dried items in warm water. Allow about 30 minutes for this process. Add ingredients to hot oil and cook until tender and potatoes are starting to brown. It is important to constantly stir the potatoes as they can stick easily to the pan.

Note: The above potato amounts may vary depending on what else you might be serving with the hash browns for breakfast.