• Trail crew dives into wilderness of Kachemak Bay State Park
By Joseph Miller
Special to the Homer Tribune
Across the Bay in Kachemak Bay State Park, nature enthusiasts and avid hikers may occasionally hear the distant whirring of a chainsaw. While certainly out of place in the local slice of pristine wilderness, the faint sounds of power tools signify another living presence in the park.
This is the active call of the Kachemak Bay Trail Crew.
Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park consists of 400,000 acres of wilderness located directly across Kachemak Bay from Homer. Within the park, the land maintained by the Alaska State Parks is a smaller slice of the entirety, known as Kachemak Bay State Park.
Within this State Park, public-use cabins, yurts and campsites are available, as well as 86 miles of hiking trails to be enjoyed by hikers from all over the world. It’s the trail crew’s job to hike, maintain and work to make these trails as accessible as possible for the people who hike them.
The job involves digging tread for the trails, brush-cutting through thick vegetation and logging out beetle-kill deadfall that prevents clear passage along the trails. Working within such a diverse and ever-changing environment in the park, the job is an uphill battle. To the trail crew, however, it’s the job that they willingly and happily signed up to do.
The tools of the trade for an Alaska State Park volunteer generally consist of chainsaws, heavy brush-cutters, gallons of fuel, a variety of hand tools like pulaskis, log-movers, felling axes, shovels, rock bars and a supply of food and water enough to last them until the trail has been cleared.
Due to the varying lengths of some of the trails, some crew members work, camp and live on the trail for more than a week. They fight against a seemingly untamable wilderness until the job is complete.
Some days are easier than others according to crew members. But, the conditions are never bad enough to keep them away.
“I keep coming back because there isn’t another job like it out there,” explained current trail leader Robbie Young. “There’s no micro-managing or suffocating schedules. We’re just trusted to do the work we signed on for and it always gets done.”
Young is a former member of the volunteer trail crew. This is his fourth consecutive summer working for the park.
While members of the trail crew were drawn to Kachemak Bay for different reasons, none of them are — or ever have been — residents of the state of Alaska.
This year’s crew comprises an eclectic mix of nature enthusiasts from the city-settings of Chicago and San Diego, the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, the countrysides of Northern California and the vast prairies of Montana.
They met in Homer in May, ready to work and enthusiastically complete whatever would be required of them.
On the volunteer contract all members sign at the beginning of the summer, the major requirement for this position was surprisingly simple:
“I ask you to bring a strong work ethic, a good attitude and an inquisitive mind,” the contract stated. “You will be provided with an opportunity to learn new skills and/or improve existing ones while living and working in one of the most incredible areas in Alaska.”
Wildlife keep crews on their toes
Life across the Bay is never dull. A trail crew’s typical work day is regularly interrupted by curious black bears, oblivious moose and an irritatingly constant swarm of hungry mosquitoes.
Crew members are regularly reminded they are not alone in the seemingly uninhabited wilderness. The wildlife often leave clues of their presence in the forms of tracks, ominous piles of scat and occasionally by showing themselves to unsuspecting crew.
As the summer winds down and the majority of trails have been successfully cleared and maintained, the trail crew begins its final project of the season; the construction Humpy Creek Bridge.
The new bridge will be near the trailhead of the Emerald Lake Trail, otherwise known as Humpy Creek.
One of the more popular trails, the Emerald Lake Trail is a 12.6-mile loop that sees a lot of traffic from hikers throughout the summer.
It is the hope of the state parks that, with the construction of this bridge, the trail will become even more accessible to the hiking public and will increase the aesthetic experience of walking through Kachemak Bay State Park.
Kachemak Bay Park Ranger Roger MacCampbell, said he began his long career in the system as an intern maintaining and mapping trails. He recognizes the importance of volunteers in the bay.
“That’s why I depend so much on the volunteers, because they make it fun,” MacCampbell explained. “Young people come from all over the country to work here and try to learn something. They develop character traits out in the park that they’ll have for the rest of their lives. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that every once in a while, volunteers come back.”
“As a native Virginian and member of the Kachemak Bay trail crew, this reporter finds the trails across the Bay are the best resource for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Alaska State Parks.”
“The living conditions are most generally uncomfortable and the job itself is increasingly difficult. But it is rare to find a job so rewarding in its nature.
As the season ends and members of the crew continue to blaze their own trails in the different directions that life takes them, there is the unanimous belief that being part of the trail crew of this state park has been one of the most gratifying experiences of our lives.”
“If you have a strong work ethic, a good attitude and an inquisitive mind —and find yourself with an empty time slot next summer — there may be a season of sweat, mosquito bites and adventure just waiting for you in the snow-capped mountains across Kachemak Bay.”
“Until then, let the distant buzzing of chainsaws serve as a reminder that, while we’re enjoying ourselves up the trail, we put it there for you.”
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