Rim Trail maintenance no holiday for volunteers

Twenty-eight laborers, who have some kind of investment in the trail that circles Lake Tahoe, see that their hard work results in more than walls, switchbacks and drain ditches.

It also builds character, and that's why they were there. Many of them hike the trail that opened up a few years ago.

"It's not until you actually do that that you appreciate how arduous the work is. It's not just grunt work; it takes skill. It's not a piece of cake," said Kathy Hardigan of Stockton while lugging a rock the size of a loaf of bread off the new section of trail. "It's a lot harder than backpacking."

The crew set up a backcountry camp 3 1/2 miles south of the Echo Summit Sno-Park trailhead on the Rim Trail -- which is also the Pacific Crest Trail there.

On Monday, the volunteers put in four switchbacks and two openings for water to drain off the trail at Benwood Creek northeast of Bryan Meadow. A steep grade marks the old route plagued with roots and boulders.

The crew covered the old route with trees and rocks to anchor the hill and guard against erosion -- the enemy of the Tahoe basin.

"It's all about erosion control at the lake," said Shannon Raborn, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association director.

Raborn does the trail work for personal reasons, too.

"I backpacked up here with Ed Laine and remember these roots. They were painful with a full pack," she said, pointing to roots on a 40-degree grade. The roots make an elevated maze that is as an obstacle course for backpackers heading for Little Round Top.

Raborn and other crew leaders organize the backcountry camps twice a summer.

"Labor Day is great for families to come out," she said. Parents and children from four families were there Monday.

Jerry Bowerman and Karen Clark from Sebastopol have shown up the past three years.

"We want to give back to the community," she said.

In 2000, Labor Day brought snow to Mount Rose for workers at the backcountry trail work camps.

Max Jones, who runs the resort at Spooner Lake, leads one trail crew on mountain bikes. Regular trail work happens three times a week.

"It's forever -- a labor of love," Raborn said, acknowledging how organizing trail work can be similar to owning a home.

Work began last year on the section of trail about 1,200 feet above the California Conservation Corps facility. It was finished over the three-day Labor Day holiday on Monday at noon.

John McKenna, Rim Trail Association board member, said he's amazed that so many people ages 13 to 65 would give up their holiday weekend to work on a trail. Some of the volunteers are retired. At least one, Phil Briseck of Gardnerville, showed up for the manual labor with a leg injury.

If that's not enough of a challenge, there's the change-in-an-instant weather in the Sierra Nevada. The crew huddled under a tarp waiting for the thunderstorm to let up Sunday.

The view of the fireworks over the lake at Stateline from the crew's camp added to the excitement in the evening -- along with political discussions, margaritas and warm brownies delivered by a friend of Raborn's.

Buck Browning, a Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit pack ranger, brought in two horses and a mule Monday to take out the crew's kitchen.

The three-person kitchen gang got some of the biggest kudos of the weekend for its spaghetti with and without meat, dough cookies, stew and vegetarian chili.

"That was (the assignment) for me," said Joan Davies of Minneapolis. "I've done trail work before in Glacier National Park with the Sierra Club. I know how hard it is."

Davies decided to make the trip to Tahoe when she saw an article about the backcountry camps in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"I said, 'Someday I want to go there,'" she said.

More than 170 people have worked on the 165 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail.


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