Back In the Irish Wilderness

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Well folks, after spending all of July and half of August working for our Recreation Managers in the Potosi District of Mark Twain National Forest, my time to collect solitude and recreation site data in my 3 assigned wilderness areas has come again. I have just come back from a week spent gathering data from the Irish Wilderness. I left on Saturday the 13th for my temporary quarters in Winona, Missouri, at the Eleven Point Ranger Station. So far, despite heat indexes of over 100 F for muchtof the summer, we’ve received quite a bit of rain. For the first 3 days of my week monitoring the Irish Wilderness, it did nothing but rain. I later learned, after I got back, that several places had flash floods, including parts of the Mark Twain National Forest.

On the 4th day, things started clearing up, though every now and then it would shower lightly. I was hoping the rain would dissipate, because before I left on Saturday, I acquired a new toy….errr, I mean “tool” :P.

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Say hello to my little friend! Or, I should say, “big” friend…because this is a Silky BigBoy, with medium teeth.

Part of my job as a wilderness ranger intern is to help manage the trail systems that traverse the 3 wilderness areas that I’m assigned to look after. Now, trail work, especially in high heat and humidity, isn’t exactly “easy”. It can be very hard manual labour. I have a lot of respect for trail crews, especially the AmeriCorps groups, who spend a solid 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, outdoors clearing the trails so that visitors can enjoy their time outdoors. Trail work is a hot, sweaty, exhausting job. Add onto the labour if you are just using hand tools. In the Forest Service for wilderness management, only hand tools are permitted for trail maintenance – so no mowers, chainsaws, or string trimmers.

With that said, I had several opportunities to put the Silky to work, and I was itching to try it out. Not far into the designated remote zone, I found my first downed tree.

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This White Oak probably fell back in July when lots of severe thunderstorms rolled through Missouri. I do know that it wasn’t there when I was last in the Irish Wilderness. Like most fallen oaks, they might look all decayed or rotten on the outside, but I can assure you, once you start chopping or sawing into it, you’ll almost always find that much of the inner sapwood and heartwood is still solid. The exceptions are oaks that have fallen due to internal borer damage – in those cases, the heartwood will have been eaten out.

Time to get started! 🙂

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I was quite impressed with the ease of which the saw cut through. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Silky saws are almost like light sabres. 😉

With that obstacle cleared, I went no more than 100 yards further down the trail when I found my next target.

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This Black Oak also wasn’t there last time. I thought, “Looks like there’s going to be be a bunch more to go through,”…and there was.

The next day I decided to venture over to the Brawley Pond spur trail, which I had not yet been to. Getting to the Brawley trail-head takes you through the very small town of Wilderness, Missouri. No joke, the place is actually called “Wilderness”. Not to many people access the Irish Wilderness that way because it is off-the-beaten-path, and it is easy to get turned-around on the dirt and gravel roads in and around the small town. When I parked my government pickup at the trail-head, there was knee-high grass all over the parking area. I don’t think anyone had been there the entire summer!

**On a side note, it has occurred to me that, since many of the topographical features of the terrain were named after the former inhabitants of the area, the name, “Brawley”, was perhaps spelt at one point as “Brálaigh”, as it would be in Gaeilge. This only makes sense since the settlers here were Irish immigrants, many of whom spoke Gaeilge. The Anglicisation of Irish first names and surnames often tended to be phonetic equivalents.**

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Much of the forest along the Brawley Pond trail is open, with a decent mix of Shortleaf Pine as well as oaks and hickories. Only a few spots were thick with undergrowth, some of it (unfortunately) was Multi-flora Rose and Lespedeza cuneata (commonly referred to as “Lespedeza”).

Identifying and collecting data of invasive plants in wilderness areas is another of my duties as a wilderness ranger intern. The information is then passed on to our Natural Resource Specialist and Non-Native Invasive Species (NNIS) Coordinator, and a plan is formulated to deal with the invasives. At best, this just means snipping with loppers and pulling out the root system…at worst, it can involve a lengthy process of approving herbicide use in the case of especially noxious invasives that threaten wilderness character. Fortunately, this method is often used as a last resort when other efforts have failed.

Some wildernesses, such as the Hercules Glade Wilderness (second largest wilderness area in the state, after the Irish Wilderness) in the Ava District, have a special natural resource management program in which prescribed fire is used to restore ecosystems and biodiversity. This method has also been successful in controlling many different invasive plants.

As I made my way down the trail, I came across two downed trees that needed to be removed.

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The tree leaning over is an Alternate-Leaf Dogwood (Swida alternifolia)…on the bottom is a fallen Shortleaf Pine. An obstacle such as this is best removed because equestrians cannot pass through without circling around it. Unfortunately, this spreads tread impact and creates a footpath that others will inevitably take because the route is easier and more convenient.

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The saw made short work of both trees. The Dogwood was especially easy to cut through because of all the tension from leaning over with no support at the far end, with the upper branches weighing it down.

I kept going, stopping every now and then to jot-down the identities of invasive plants along the trail as well as their location from the latitude and longitude coordinates on my GPS unit. As the path turned south, I heard the distant croaks of bullfrogs and new I must be close to Brawley Pond.

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As the vegetation in this wetland area was so dense, I didn’t see much open water. To my dismay, there was a lot of Lespedeza all around Brawley Pond. The southern and western part was particularly bad, as I saw an very large area (easily 100 yards x 100 yards) covered in it. However, the rest of the forest had an open understory with relatively few invasives.

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This would be a great area to revisit in the autumn. As it was, the day was warm, and every now and then, a cooling breeze would exhale through the woodland, the trees gently weaving and whispering as their leaves were caressed.

A bit farther ahead, I spotted another downed and dead tree, this one an 8 inch Black Oak.

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A perfectly cut hinge :).

As it was a little after 12:00, I stopped to sit on the log for a lunch break, and afterwards, I shouldered my pack and continued the hike. A few hundred yards later, I found a small, shallow pool next to the trail.

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I guess this is the leprechaun swimming hole :P.

The open woods made an ideal place for a variety of mushrooms to flourish.

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There were golden Chanterelles dappled throughout the forest floor, silent symphonies of Black Trumpets, and various other fungi, including these unknown red-orange bits.

I followed the trail until I eventually reached what was an old logging road, which has been transitioned as part of the  wilderness trail system. Not far, perhaps a tenth of mile further to the south, is the junction at which the Brawley Pond spur connects with the northern part of the 18.6 mile White’s Creek Trail loop. The length of the spur trail is about 1.5 miles.

The following days were spent clearing the southern part of the White’s Creek Trail.

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The tree in the last photo probably took the longest to remove, because there were so many large branches to cut through.

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And this is why these kinds of obstacles should be removed as soon as possible. It might not look like much in the photo, but this trampled area is the beginning of an alternate path around the tree blockage. It was created by equestrians, likely from the same two riders I encountered in the beginning of my week. But I cannot blame them, because they had no other means of negotiating the blockade…and, fortunately, there wasn’t as much vegetation damage as I’ve seen in other places where visitor use is much higher.

 

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I took care to drag the leafy branches large limbs across the user-created path, covering and disguising it so that tread wear remains concentrated on the trail. Below is the final result of an hour’s work:

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Soooooo…that makes a total of 10 obstacle trees removed :). I’m sure there are more deeper in the wilderness, but these were the ones I could get to. Ideally, we would arrange a trail crew to come and clear the place out once or twice a year. Perhaps that will happen in the near future (hopefully). But for now, it’s just me…and it’s a lot of work for one person.

 

 

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