Five hitches. Fifty days. East Texas.
When the Trails Across Texas Crew first arrived in Tyler State Park in early March, we still had cold weather clothes packed in our bags just in case we had a couple more chilly mornings at the tail end of the spring season. We soon found out that we needn’t bring any cold weather gear to Tyler again, as the summer sun was beginning to gather its strength day by day. We were set to put in a new trail, about ¾ of a mile long, that would replace the original trail route done by the CCC boys back in the mid 1930s. Expecting to have the project completed within three to four hitches, we quickly got to work…
On our first hitch we consisted of a full crew, which was much needed for all the underbrush cutting and corridor clearing that had to be done before tread could be dug in. It took us a couple days to cut and clear all the thick, thorny underbrush at the feet of the tall Loblolly Pines that towered over us. We followed a path of red tape laid out by our project partners; Chris and Erick, and cut any green briar or vines that stood in our way. Thankfully, the park had prescribed a controlled burn to the area in which we were working about a month or two before we arrived, so the underbrush that consisted of thorny vines was mostly dead and therefore easier to clear.
After the corridor clearing was finished, it was time to start putting in the tread. We began our workdays by pulling pick-mattocks, cutter-mattocks, McLeods, and shovels out of the trailer, and hiking them down the existing trail to the turn off for our worksite. We split up into teams of three or four, and worked on separate sections of the corridor, cutting tread and then leap-frogging the teams in front to begin work on the next section. As the days passed by, we found we were running into some unforeseen difficulties that were hindering our progress. The proposed trail route that we were putting in was in a very hilly section of the park, and we had an incredible amount of full bench to dig out, which takes a considerable amount of time. And on top of digging full bench, we quickly discovered that we were digging into thick clay.
By the end of our first hitch, the crew was stunned by how difficult the tread digging was proving to be. When we returned for the second hitch, we carried on digging tread, and finished the entirety of the trail re-route, which was quite a relief. The work was slow going and each day was increasingly hotter as the season transitioned farther into an early Texas summer.
After completing the first two hitches at Tyler State Park, we had a brief hiatus from our trail re-routing project as we headed out to Bastrop for 10 days to work on some minor installations there, and out to Caprock Canyons for another 10 day hitch.
On the third Tyler hitch we began prep work for the bridges that would be installed over several creeks which the trail crossed here and there. At this point in the season we were down to six members, so there was only so much we could do every day on the worksite. Our days consisted of digging holes, three to four feet deep, and two feet wide, which made us all feel like Shia Labeouf for several days. After digging holes for the bridge posts, we brought down some heavy 6 foot posts and set them into the holes one by one. Following the placement of the posts, we poured concrete that we carried down from the roadside into a wheelbarrow and mixed it with a dirty hoe before pouring it into the holes and around the posts. Then, grip hoists were used to drag 800lbs I-beams down from the roadside to the bridge sites, where we pulled them across the ravines and set them into place. Chainsaws were used to cut notches into carefully marked and measured out posts, so that the I-beams would sit level on all of them. We continued this repetitive pattern of digging, setting in posts, pouring concrete, and cutting, all the way through our fourth hitch as well.
During the last hitch at Tyler, our 6 man crew was able to begin laying boards down on top of our I-beams, and putting in joists and decking too. The last two days were devoted to decking the first bridge site, which was a fun, but slow going procedure. We had a generator running with a compound miter saw hooked up to it, where we would cut our boards to length, some folks carrying boards from the saw to the bridge, and others screwing in the boards to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, the process was so lethargic that we were only able to get half of the decking laid down before it was time to say goodbye to Tyler State Park for the last time.
The project out at Tyler SP was long, tedious, and time consuming, but something for all of us on TAT to be proud about. Despite not finishing any of the bridges completely, we did the work that had to be done to ensure that they could be finished by the next crew, which is all we needed to do. Now we can go back in a year and look at the bridges that’ll be finished by the next TAT crew and reminisce on the hard work we put in to each and every one of them. Hopefully our new trail reroute will be used for the next 80 years, just like the original one put in by the CCC back in the 30s.
Hayden Price – Trails Across Texas Crew Member