Master Naturalists Study Trails at Southfork

On Saturday, March 25th, the Foothills Chapter of Arkansas Master Naturalists met in Clinton for training on Trail Construction and Maintenance. The day started early at the Van Buren County Library with a presentation by Roy Stovall, Trail Boss for North Central Arkansas Master Naturalists. Roy has hiked and studied trails in the United States, Canada and other parts of the globe and brings a lifetime of experience with his training program on Trail Science. Roy and his “Trail Patrol” construct and maintain over 50 miles of trails a year in the Bull Shoals State Park, Norfork Lake, Leatherwood Wilderness and surrounding areas. He is an active hiker and is involved in forming a chapter of the Ozark Highlands Trail Society. OHTS is the volunteer organization that built and maintains 230 miles of the 240 mile (as of 2017) and growing Ozark Highlands Trail, and pioneered the 15 mile Ozark Highlands Trail Lower Buffalo Wilderness Route in northwest Arkansas.

Normally, we wouldn’t think of a trail as a part of our wilderness experience needing much thought. We just need to follow a wildlife trail, right? However much pre-planning is needed before construction begins. When you start thinking about specifications for switchbacks, sheet flow, grade reversals, knicks, rolling grade dips and water bars, we quickly realize that a lot of planning needs to go into the construction of a trail. Gravity is a natural force that determines which way the dirt and water flow. A good rain can destroy a trail quickly, or make it impassable for a period of time. Gravity has a partner-the critter. Critters include pack animals such as mules and horses, pocket gophers, humans, bears, deer, cows as well as others that use the same trails. Critters burrow and plod through the tread (trail). Trail strategies are only as good as understanding the critter’s mind. Trail construction requires good teachers and experience to lay out and design sustainable trails. Roy is one of the best.

Then we have maintenance of these trails to contend with. The “Naturalists in Training” continued the day at Southfork Nature Center, where we met up with Bob Hartmann, Vice president of Southfork. Bob stopped his activity of moving logs around to take time to point out some of the flora and fauna at Southfork. Over 500 native species of plants have been identified and documented on the 75 acre preserve. We even ran across some Morel Mushrooms on one of the trails. And yes, we also have a few invasive species at Southfork, so some of the NiTs used their limb loppers to remove new growth from the trail.

Roy demonstrated some of the equipment used for trail maintenance such as limb loppers, leaf blowers, chain saws, as well as tools for chopping, grubbing, digging and tamping. He finished the day by making sure each student had a copy of the “Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook” by the USDA Forest Service.

The Foothills chapter is the newest of the 7 Master Naturalists chapters in the state. The chapter draws members from Clinton, Conway, Russellville, Heber Springs, Fairfield Bay and Greers Ferry areas.

The course for “Naturalists in Training” concludes with graduation on May 6. The application form for next year is available on the web page below. (Scroll down to “FAMN.”) New NiT classes will begin again in January 2018.

New members have a lot of fun learning about everything from rocks to plants and animals found in the Ozarks, Experts teach classes in eco-regions, geology, astronomy, mammals, Interpretation, entomology, herpetology, ornithology and botany. Lessons also include practical skills like stream monitoring and trail maintenance. You do not have to have a college degree to participate. Everything you need to know to be an active member will be provided during the training. Students receive a certificate upon completion and must complete 40 hours of volunteer work and 8 hours of advanced training before December 31st to maintain membership in Master Naturalists.

Article by Bob Verboon

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