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Feast or famine on the water trails crew

By Melissa Gearman

Unlike many other field crews, work on a water trails crew can be very much a feast or famine type of situation. Some rivers will give us more work than we sometimes think we can handle. We’re working at least ten hours a day (many days more than that) and it seems we don’t get anywhere. Snag after snag and jam after jam seems to be blocking our path to open river, freedom and a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

This second half of the year, though, has been a completely different story. It seems the past couple months have been very mild in the addressable snag department. Sometimes we spend most of the week paddling and only come across a snag or two. Sounds relaxing, right? Think again. Each day we don’t find a snag we have paddled on average 10 miles. Multiply that over three days a week for the past seven weeks and the miles (and the sore shoulders) begin to add up.

Another thing we have had to deal with is the one thing all canoeists dread, portaging. Due to water levels, we have been using canoes (as opposed to the jonboat) almost exclusively the second half of the water trials season. Using canoes is great. It’s quiet, we get to see more wildlife and when we do run into a snag we can address it with two feet (somewhat) firmly on the ground even if that ground is in the water. Using canoes can also be not great. If the water is too deep we can’t cut. Because we have used canoes so much the past two months we have come across snags where we can’t do anything. It’s a frustrating situation for two reasons. One, snag removal is our one and almost only job. And two, a non-addressable snag usually means portaging.

A couple of weeks ago we came across the largest log jam I had ever seen in my life. An acre of logs and other woody debris was blocking the channel and had actually cut off a section of river and created a new channel. There was no way through this jam and no way to address it. So, we portaged. We didn’t have a path to follow so we had to find our own up a hill, over two large logs, through some tall and itchy brush, over another log, and another, and finally downhill to the end. An hour and a half later we had all of our gear and canoes on the other side. Just because we don’t run into snags doesn’t mean our job isn’t still exciting.