My crew and I paddled into the wind and rain on three metal canoes filled with gear and tools. It was a dreary way to start the hitch on Fish Pond, but we woke up the next morning to the fog burning off the water. Our project was a fish barrier dam to prevent the spread of invasive fish. The entire dam would take more than five days, the length of our hitch, so we were in charge of a crib on one side. The crib would be built using dimensional lumber that an SCA crew canoed in the week prior.
We spent a couple days filling bags with sand, rocks, and mineral soil
from the shore to make a wall around the area for the crib. The goal was to block off the flow of water so it would be easier to work in the crib with power tools. Not to mention, we wanted to stay as dry as possible.
The sandbag wall didn’t work as well as we hoped – the water continued to leak through. It was frustrating because we took out almost an entire bank of sand and wasted a lot of time and energy before we realized it wasn’t going to work. Part of trail work is knowing how to use resources around us. It’s not only a requirement but a skill, to be able to see the land and forest for uses other than the common. But with the ethical expectations of Leave No Trace, it sometimes feels a little wrong, at least to me, to remove or transplant sections of land, or use resources that in this case, with the sand bags, wasn’t so much for the finished project as it was for human convenience.
Instead of worrying about the wall, four of us put on waders (thigh-high rubber boots) and got wet. SCA’s gear isn’t always in the best shape, and most of our waders had holes in them. Actually, holes is an understatement. Work became swimming with power tools, but at least our leather boots stayed dry. If I stepped on land or climbed over the crib with waders on, it was like pulling along the weight of a small child. Not to mention, they were five sizes too big so I walked like a duck with broken feet.
The water wasn’t freezing, but it was mucky and semi opaque, making it difficult to see the drilled holes. Little guppies swam around my ankles. Frogs and crawfish played around, too. We whipped the crib together in a day and a half. Next came filling the crib with rocks.
Normally we would gather rocks from around the pond, but the DEC previously dropped concrete blocks on an island a little ways from our work site. It was their idea to have us transport the concrete with our canoes and use it to fill the crib.
A few problems with this plan. The concrete blocks were in an inconvenient location and weighed eighty pounds each. The only way I could carry a block was if I had a stronger boy smash the block on the ground to split it in pieces. The concrete was pretty crumbly, so it worked. But the more pieces, the bigger mess it made, and the more time it would take to carry them to the canoes.
One plan was to set up a zip line using rigging equipment, but that failed. A second plan was for the boys to do the carrying, while the girls do the transporting. Max, our project leader, stayed by the crib to help us remove the blocks from the canoe. This worked for a while, but it was slow going; only three blocks could fit in a canoe before it got weighed down and stuck on the rocks at the bottom of the pond.
It was a challenge to maneuver a two-person canoe front-heavy with concrete. Small steers made big turns, and it’s not like I was paddling through deep, open water. It was more like a hydro-obstacle course with shallow grounds and narrow canals, rocks and logs jutting out of the water. Sometimes when my canoe got lodged on a rock, I had to hop into the water to push it on through. Soon the sound of metal hitting rock was worse than nails on chalkboard. It was personal. We laughed as much as we could at how silly it all seemed.
Our plan worked for a while until the boys were so tired of carrying concrete, it wasn’t worth it. There were thousands of rocks closer in proximity to the crib. Practicality won, so we filled the canoe with rocks, making shorter trips to the crib. The sand bags were thrown in, too, and I joked that it was like tossing dirty, wet pigs into a pen.
This hitch had some planning issues, sure. But the important thing is we finished the crib despite the doubts of our supervisors (before he left mid-hitch, Max began a sentence with, “If my some God-given miracle you finish this crib…) and despite the poor planning by DEC. My SCA coworkers are some of the hardest workers I know. When we arrive back at headquarters to reunite with the other crews, we want to say we got it done. We want there to be something to brag about. And we did.
*photo cred to Leah Rudge