Monday, July 17, 2017

No Stone Unturned

This week I was back with the maintenance division, keeping that towpath clear, safe, and b-e-a-utiful.  Once again, there was a small scheduling hiccup, and I spent the first day of the week with Officer Greene.  Now normally I would not mind this anyway, as I certainly appreciate Ranger Greene's company as well as the chance to spend more time with law enforcement.  But this time the delay worked out even better, as I got to experience another aspect of a law enforcement ranger's job I otherwise might not have been able to, going to court.  Ranger Greene had a DUI case he needed to go to court for.  Fortunately, I had never been to court before, so it was all new to me.  But it was interesting to see it from behind the scenes.  There was a lot more waiting around than anything else, and when it came time for Ranger Greene's case, the defendant simply entered a guilty plea, with the rest to be resolved at a later court date.  

The next day I sat in on a permitting and compliance meeting.  There were many projects and permits for park usage up for discussion.  Some were relatively routine, such as large groups requesting to hold bicycling events in the park, or the approval for a cable company to update part of the park's internet access.  Others were more interesting.  One of the permits was from Red Bull, who wanted permission to use park property to film a professional kayaker as he went through Mather Gorge at the Great Falls Tavern section of the park.  Another that was discussed had to do with one of the towns bordering the Canal needing to do maintenance on a water main.  The main ran underneath town property, canal property, and property of the CSX railroad, which runs along much of the canal and was once the B&O Railroad that competed with the C&O while it was operational.  The problem was that the actual boundaries of the properties are unclear and no one seems to have the records.  Any excavation on park land requires an archeologist present in cooperation with ARPA, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the town was being uncooperative. 

Too Legit to Quit
 After all that, it was back to business as usual with the maintenance division.  I worked another day with one of the CCC crews (the very same created by FDR in the New Deal).  Except this time the crew was actually here, rather than just me working with the crew leader like I did last time.  Myself and two other young men weed whacked (weed eated) a bunch of the culverts along the canal.  A culvert is a stone tunnel structure built to allow a stream crossing the path of the canal to flow underneath the towpath and the entire canal itself.  When trees grow on the sides of the canal their roots penetrate and weaken the berm walls, including any stone structures like culverts.  If they uproot in a storm they can cause a great deal of damage.  With a shrinking budget and maintenance department, the culverts of the canal had not been maintained for some time.  Last summer the CCC crews removed the trees from all the culverts.  This summer they are being weed whacked, and hopefully they will continue to be maintained.  The areas that require maintenance are from the towpath down to the top edge of the stone tunnels, usually very steep slopes with as much as a 15 or 20 foot drop to the stream bed below.  Its slippery work.

Caution: Proranger at work
 To compensate for the increased risk of weed whacking the culverts compared to flatter areas, they gave me this sweet helmet/earmuff/face shield piece of protective equipment, as well as a sling for my weed whacker (weed eater).

At the end of the day the crew leader took us up to this viewpoint at the top of a nearby mountain.  You can't see the rest of the turn of the river in this picture, but this is one of the large horseshoe bends in the potomac river in a section called the paw paw bends.  Across one of these winding sections of the river is where they built the Paw Paw tunnel that I shared in one of my other blogposts.  In a few thousand years (I don't really know how long it will take) this meander in the river will connect, cutting itself off as the river once again flows in a straight line, leaving behind the stretch of river pictured as an oxbow lake.  See that, I learned a few things in my geology course.

Dale mixes a batch of concrete mortar
 Speaking of culverts, here is one now.  The tow path is up above, out of the frame, and the canal bed on the other side.  This is Dale, the last remaining mason employed by the canal.  One day this week I helped him repair one of the wing walls of this culvert.  Its surface was getting degraded, losing stones, so Dale was filling up the holes, replacing the stones, and adding new mortar.  This is called repointing.  If we are being honest, I didn't really do much, as Dale is the master mason.  I really just helped him carry his materials down into the stream bed and helped spread and smooth the mortar.  He already had the project underway before the day I spent with him.  It was pretty cool to see how some of the historical preservation is done on the stonework at the canal.  Dale talked my ear off all day long, telling me about some of the other restoration projects, what has changed in the park in the 30 plus years he has been here, and just about anything else you can imagine, a few things I probably shouldn't repeat here.

Culvert wing wall being repointed
The top left section of the wing wall, extending out to the right from the tunnel, was already completed.  Dale and I worked on the section below.  He told me he starts from top to bottom that way each day when he cleans up any mortar that falls down and gets out of place he only has to do it once for that section of wall.
My last day with maintenance this week I spent running the towpath.  This just means driving down a section of towpath in search of any trouble, mostly downed trees.  There were no downed trees in our section, but there was quite a bit of garbage we hauled out. 

I spent one of my days off this weekend checking out a pretty cool local attraction, Crystal Grottoes, a beautiful site to behold .  This cave was discovered in the 1920's while quarrying for stone.  It supposedly has more formations, or speleothems, per square foot than any other cave in the world, including stalagmites, stalactites, columns, ribbons, curtains, flowstones, soda straws, broccoli, popcorn, and cave bacon (a technical geological term).  The cavern is only 8 miles away from my residence, so I rode my bike there.  I got to cool off inside afterwards as the cavern is 54 degrees, year round.  I was even dripped on by a stalactite growing on the cave ceiling, reported to be good luck by those who pedal tourist trips through caverns. 

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