What’s the ice doing?

By Walter Opuszynski

This is the time of year that I start asking for reports about river ice across the trail to determine the potential for damage.  Working in such a dynamic environment as we do with the NFCT takes a degree of tenacity and routine maintenance.  Our NFCT Trail Maintainers go through great lengths to prepare our campsites and trail infrastructure to survive the winter and the potential for floods mixed with ice chunks.  When we build trail structure in the area where the land meets the water we either build it big, sturdy, and strong with rock and factor in the flow of water and make sure the angle of our retainer wall will allow proper shedding.  When we use lumber, we install it so that we can remove it for the winter so it won’t turn into splinters by freezing into the ice, or being raked over by ice chunks.

So far this year the ice isn’t looking that bad due to the unusual winter we are having.  Just thinking about the ice brings back two memories.  One hot and sunny, the other cold and snowy:

Hot and Sunny

There is a section of dam remains on the Missisquoi River in East Highgate, Vermont that we do not want paddlers to go near because, besides being a big chunk of cement that you could get pinned against if conditions are challenging, there is a hidden hole in its foundation under the water that has sucked paddlers under.  This safety issue caused us to install a portage trail around the remains and a warning sign on the structure to keep paddlers away.

In the winter of 2010 the ice break occurred during a few rain events.  The water was 10 feet above the average summertime height of the river.  The flow was so intense it ripped the warning sign, that we had installed with extra bolts secured directly in the cement, right off the dam remains.  I was once again humbled by the power of water when I saw the sign was missing.  I called up our buddy Drex at Advantage Signs to replace it in such a way that would hopefully guarantee some stay time. Drex came up with a plan and we headed up to East Highgate on a bright June day.

Cold and Snowy

This winter snuck up on us quick and Jeff McCabe, NFCT Trail Maintainer of Maine Segment 8, and I tried on several occasions to get into Spencer Rips to remove the floating log ladders we installed at a 2010 Waterway Work Trip but were foiled by scheduling and weather.  Because Spencer Road, a typical northern Maine logging road, got iced over early we had to wait until we had enough snow to snowmobile in.  At the same time we were hoping that the Moose River was iced over enough that we could get the ladders on each side and that the ladders were not frozen into the river (oh, the variables!).  John Willard from the Birches Resort allowed us to use one of his snowmobiles and we were soon on our way.

Fortunately the river was frozen over and we had all the right tools, and to top it all off, the ladders where not frozen into the ice.  It was actually easier to remove the ladders than the year before because we weren’t slipping on the muddy shore while trying to pull the ladders up the bank.

While out there we had a chance to check out the sign-in box installed in August.  There were over 30 signatures!

If there is one thing that keeps us on our toes, its old Mother Nature.  Let’s hope for no ice damage this year and good spring waters for paddling.