Digging in the Dirt: Howe Sound Crest Trail Edition (First Edition)

 

“Did you bring your pulaski?” Willa asks me with a smile. It was on the 'optional' gear list for today's event, and the unfamiliar word had sparked some interest and confusion from the group. “What is a pulaski?” someone shouts.

 Paul Geddes wielding his pulaski. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Paul Geddes wielding his pulaski. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Around us is the buzz of people gathering in the morning: meeting each other, stretching, tossing snacks into daypacks and car doors slamming against a backdrop of the naked green ski runs of Cypress Mountain and the lush temperate rainforest of Vancouver's North Shore mountains.

As the group gathers, we compare and select tools for the day from the back of a BC Parks truck. The tool names read like a packing list for a Russian labour camp: pulaskis, mattocks, and other associated grub hoes; heavy-handled shovels for serious digging and steely rakes.

 A view of Howe Sound from part of the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Photo by Heather Mosher.

A view of Howe Sound from part of the Howe Sound Crest Trail. Photo by Heather Mosher.

The right tools, the right people

The mission for today is trail maintenance - or, as I've sold it to this group of volunteers organized through the ACC Vancouver Section, to hang out in the forest and dig in the dirt for an afternoon. "It's a bit like being a kid in a sandbox all over again!" I wrote in the event description, and the selling worked - we have plenty of hands here to get dirty.

After a quick briefing from BC Parks ranger Andrew Simpson, we shoulder our digging tools and march a short distance up the wide, gravelled path that marks the start of the Howe Sound Crest Trail. This classic Vancouver trail, often tackled as an overnight or an ambitious one-day trip, stretches twenty-nine kilometres from Cypress Bowl in North Vancouver, up to Porteau Cove, a scenic bay sandwiched between Howe Sound and Highway 99. Today, our work is to dig ditches and clear culverts on the easily-accessed, well-built, and extremely popular southern portion of the trail.

The digging is fun and we wield the pulaskis with enthusiasm. We learn to watch the terrain for signs of stormwater flow, anticipating where the trail might flood and digging out clogged ditches. We drag branches and organic debris out of culverts to route water downhill, and carefully shore up our freshly-dug ditches with large, flat rocks. The work is satisfying.

 Susan Vickers getting down in the dirt. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Susan Vickers getting down in the dirt. Photo by Heather Mosher.

 Georg Meseck and the crew team up to dig out a particularly big ditch. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Georg Meseck and the crew team up to dig out a particularly big ditch. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Short-term work for long-term gain

This trail in particular has seen significant upgrades in recent years, and it is built to last, withstanding weather, rainfall, and the thousands of feet which tread on it each month. However, with erosion from heavy use and copious rainfall will inevitably take their toll, and the trail needs annual cleanups to help prevent debris from accumulating and causing blowouts during heavy winter rains.

Volunteer power is critical to keeping trails like the Howe Sound Crest Trail in good shape, and simply through the power of numbers, even an inexperienced group on a short, fun day like this can do a surprisingly significant amount of work. If twelve volunteers put in a four-hour day, that alone is forty-eight person-hours of trail work - a huge amount of labour, and an effort which is greatly appreciated by BC Parks.

At the end of the day, and to surprising enthusiasm from the group, I entertain the idea of hiking back up the Howe Sound Crest Trail in the winter to admire our handiwork and watch our freshly-dug ditches in action. In reality, the rainy, cold hike might be a hard sell, but there's a warming feeling of satisfaction knowing that our small efforts will make a visible difference in the trail over time.

 Georg Meseck having fun digging in the dirt. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Georg Meseck having fun digging in the dirt. Photo by Heather Mosher.

 Mathias Kvick takes a break. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Mathias Kvick takes a break. Photo by Heather Mosher.

 Susan Vickers, Georg Meseck, Karine Poliquin, Doug Mcleod take a short dance-break. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Susan Vickers, Georg Meseck, Karine Poliquin, Doug Mcleod take a short dance-break. Photo by Heather Mosher.

Fun loving, hard working, dedicated volunteers

Besides, it's just plain fun to spend a day with good people getting muddy, figuring out how to get the water to go where we want it to go, and using our hands and tools to build something out of rocks and dirt.

Digging in the Dirt 2: Howe Sound Crest Trail Edition will take place in North Vancouver this Sunday, June 19. To register or for more information, see accvancouver.org/events or contact Heather at heatherhmosher@gmail.com.


Join the ACC today

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To join Heather and other volunteers, check out the Vancouver Section website below. Check out the other 22 regional sections across Canada and join the one that suits you best. Or just join for the other awesome benefits such as our national level trips, discounted hut nights, affordable guide books and maps, etc. Need we say more?

Great people, great opportunities all lead to great memories. How could you say no?