It takes a coordinated team of volunteers to ensure that the 113 kilometres of Avon Trail can be navigated safely. Bruce Graham, Trail Monitor Captain, keeps careful tabs on the state of the trail through reports he receives from trail section monitors. Bruce explained to me as we walked a section of trail at km 33.2 – Line 20, “All sections of the trail are blazed, but sometimes, due to overgrowth, the blazes go under cover”. With a garden pruner in hand, he trimmed away some overgrowth and the Avon Trail diamond marker appeared along with a recognisable white trail blaze.
The trail is divided into 21 sections, with two side trails divided into 4 sections. Ideally, each section is assigned to a team of two volunteer trail monitors. Currently there are 36 trail monitors, leaving three sections without monitors. “This happens due to attrition, with some member monitors retiring and moving out of the area”, admits Bruce. “We could use more trail monitors”.
Each team monitors its section a minimum of three times a year: in early spring, early summer and late fall. The trail monitors walk their sections to ensure the blazes in both directions are clearly marked. Using garden pruners, the trail monitors clip away encroaching plant growth that can obscure blazes on trees and poles. “We depend on our monitors to provide a trail monitor report, using our standard report form, that is sent as a photo by email to me”, says Bruce. Having well-marked trails with visible blazes, free of obstacles like branches and fallen trees, is critical to maintaining trail insurance coverage. “We need hikers to be confident they can follow and stay on the trail”.
Bruce also relies on the heavy maintenance trail crew. Each Friday, at a meeting over coffee, Bruce, Ken Nicholson, who leads the heavy maintenance crew, and other volunteer crew members review Bruce’s notes from trail monitor reports . Essential trail maintenance is planned, then undertaken with the help of heavy lifting volunteers. The crew use equipment appropriate to the task: saws for tree limb cutting, post hole diggers, “bear cat” grass cutters and gas-powered Stihl hand-held brush cutters.
David Williamson acts as Quarter Master for trail maintenance operations equipment. Equipment and blazing kits (with white and camouflage paint) are stored in a shed in his yard.
Denis Rawe volunteers his expertise and services as the Construction Team Coordinator. This group uses their woodworking skill to build quality design step stiles, foot bridges and boardwalks for soggy areas. Stiles are used to climb over animal fencing along the trail. The older, “ladder-type” stiles are gradually being replaced by more user-friendly “step-type” stiles. The newer design makes it safer and easier for hikers to climb the stiles. “A hiking group such as the Tuesday morning ramblers can cross the flat step stiles much more efficiently,” notes Bruce.
A step stile (see photo) was recently installed on the section of trail I walked with Bruce. Another ladder stile on the same trail is on the list to be replaced.
“It takes more than 5 hours of skilled labor to complete one of these newer stiles and we really appreciate the volunteers working on them”, says Bruce. “End to end, we have 23 stiles on the trail. Ten are replacement step stiles. The construction crew will replace two more with step stiles in October, leaving us 11 ladder stiles to work on in 2019 and beyond”.
Bruce is grateful for the enthusiasm shown by all Avon Trail monitor and maintenance crew volunteers. He spends many hours during the year with these groups and walks the trails with new trail monitors. “I really enjoy the time I spend walking a trail section with a new trail monitor because I can use the new monitor to determine if the existing blazing and sign posting keeps us on the trail”. He is happy with improvements in trail blazing in 2018, noting that the quality of trail blazing has increased.
As Trail Monitor Captain, Bruce prepares a Trail Monitor Report for the annual general meeting in November and maintains records of all section monitor reports.
My wife Cindy and I joined the trail monitor volunteers in 2018; we manage one of the 21 sections. Cindy reflected on the experience as follows:
“Being a newbie to the Avon Trail, I was a bit hesitant to take on the role of monitor. However, the supports in place are incredible. Bruce is so patient and informative as he reviews your section with you and teaches you the ins and outs of a well-blazed trail. David ensures you are outfitted with a great blazing kit, and I can’t say enough about the maintenance team who clear out fallen trees and mow the grassy sections. With such a great team, being a trail monitor is the easy part – and so rewarding when you meet hikers and ask how they made out and get reports of a well-blazed and easy-to-follow trail.”
If you would like to join the pool of trail monitors simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and Bruce will contact you. Acting as a trail monitor helps you learn about a section of the trail and provides you with a sense of conservation stewardship. It’s a great way to contribute to the Avon Trail.