Cape Cod National Seashore personnel and volunteers from the Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore have begun the process of peeling away the dense overgrowth that has accumulated in the "closed" section of the Red Maple Swamp trail. This is a massive project that will require many combined work sessions. The good news is that the work has begun.
Break out the trail mix, binoculars and bug spray. The Red Maple Swamp Trail in Eastham will be back in business.
The popular local boardwalk through the swamp at Fort Hill has been closed for five years by Cape Cod National Seashore as it was unsafe and repair funds were lacking. While it is still not fully operational, work is under way to make close to a full-mile of the trail walkable, from Hemenway Landing to Fort Hill. It should be open by the summer. The spur portion will be repaired at a later date.
"This is a long time coming," Seashore Superintendent George Price said last Friday morning at a celebration at Salt Pond Visitors Center. "Since we closed the Red Maple Swamp Trail people on the Cape have had no problem complaining about it. Guess what was a topic at every one of these meetings? The Red Maple Swamp Trail."
National parks have been struggling with maintenance due to tight federal budgets.
"It's finally being kicked off and that's something we're happy about," Price said. "And we appreciate the involvement of the Friends of Cape Cod National Seashore."
Price noted that the Seashore has a lot of trails and many are difficult to keep shipshape due to funding, their number and the remote and difficult environments they're in.
The Red Maple Swamp Trail isn't remote, it is next to Fort Hill, and right off two paved roads: Fort Hill and Hemenway roads. But it is in a swamp. Repairs have to be done in muck and mire and heavy pieces have to be lugged in without disturbing a sensitive environment.
"The trail was put in the 1960s," Price said. "There was no water then. It was a dry period. By the time I was around 12 years ago I could see it was in bad shape. At one point it was so deteriorated it wasn't safe. So we made the decision to close it. People were going over the barriers so that's why we did the dismantling. It created a firestorm in the community."
"The Red Maple Swamp Trail is part of people's everyday lives," added Karst Hoogeboom, the facililities manager at the Seashore.
True enough. People jog along it for exercise, take their kids out for walk and bird watch in the brush, especially in the spring when warblers stop by.
"As we did our estimates costs continued to go up and topped out at $1.5 million," Price said, with a sigh.
That figure was intimidating.
"Could we get volunteers or details of prisoners?" Price wondered. "With all that was going on we couldn't take it on a couple of years ago. We brainstormed other options. We talked with Fire Island Maintenance Chief Jim Dunphy who does this all the time. Finally last year Jim came up and looked at the trails."
"I found it overwhelming to be part of this program," Dunphy said. "For us at Fire Island, this is where we're striving to go, to get the kind of involvement you have with the Friends and partners. I'm so proud to see the work done with the support of the Friends group. I'm looking forward to coming back and walking the trail."
Dunphy gave them some tips on budget-priced park maintenance.
"He laid out something straightforward. It would work if we did it piecemeal," Price recalled. "We'd have to learn how to do the work anyway. We can do it in sections and it will cost less if we learn how to do it. I was concerned $1.5 million was a big tab to chew off. But the Friends made a commitment."
They not only volunteered they raised cash, presenting Price with a $25,000 check on Friday.
"What is it that made this happen? The word is tenacity," declared Pat Canavan, president of the Friends. "The tenacity of the community pushed us to have tenacity, too. The fund-raiser was a big leap for us because people contributed in many different ways to make it happen."
The trail work coordinator for FCCNS is Bruce Hurter, also a board member. They also have a cut and burn crew coordinated by Carl Sylvester that works with Dave Crary, Jr and the Americorps volunteers.
The trail work began with the trails crew, volunteers and staff. Footings had to be put in the mud, footings that wouldn't rot and wouldn't sink. They used plastic underpinnings.
"And it was overgrown," Price observed. "The first challenge was to go in and cut the brush. It does go through a swamp and some areas are dry and some are wet. We were replacing posts with cedar, some of which was harvested at Fort Hill."
"There were a lot of challenges with the curbing and toe rails and plastic wood," Price said.
Holes had to be drilled in the plastic for screws but drilling too fast melted the plastic. The trail winds about and curves and the straight plastic railing needed to match that. The staff came up with the idea of a portable oven to heat and bend the straight plastic railing to match the boardwalk twists.
"Like the barrel makers and wheelwrights do," Price noted.
"We didn't jump in blindly. I activated a trail crew several years ago. And ultimately we thought outside of the box and made an oven," Hoogeboom said. "In the spring every year we now go out and do an inventory of all the trails. We work through the trails on a six-year cycle to keep them in good repair."
They've received $500,000 in funding so work can continue in phases. The remaining work should take 18 months.
The White Cedar Swamp Trial off the Marconi Center in Wellfleet, is also in declining shape. It's more remote, being a mile in from the parking lot.
"It's in the situation the Red Maple Swamp trail was 10 years ago," Price said. "We're doing band-aids and certainly hope we don't have to shut that down for safety."
Seashore takes alternate route to boardwalk repairs
Pilot project tests less expensive way to reopen section of popular trail.
Repairs made to a popular boardwalk trail deep in a swamp in the Cape Cod National Seashore have raised the possibility that a long-closed section could reopen soon.
"Our fervent wish is to be able to allow people to walk it this summer," Seashore maintenance head Karst Hoogeboom said of the closed section of the park's Red Maple Swamp Trail, one of the Seashore's 11 official trails.
A little under half of the trail has been closed for five years because of deterioration of boards and posts and because of the expense of repairs, estimated now at $1.6 million under a standard government construction contract similar to what is used for road rehabilitation, according to Hoogeboom. The swamp trail repair also required a financial incentive because it was not a typical construction project, he said.
But the popularity of the half-mile trail, located in dense woods between Fort Hill Road and Hemenway Road, has led the Seashore staff to look for new and less expensive ways to repair the closed section and keep the trail open for the future.
"It's one of the most beautiful trails in that entire park," Eastham resident Noreen Thompsen said Tuesday. Last year Thompsen advocated to have the closed section of the trail repaired as part of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. "Congress is not funding the national parks adequately," she said.
In consultation with officials from Fire Island National Seashore in New York who also maintain boardwalks, an in-house Cape Cod National Seashore crew is repairing a 150-foot section of the swamp trail boardwalk as a pilot project. The materials for the pilot project, such as high-density polyethylene plastic, were obtained through a competitive bidding process and paid for through a Seashore fund of recreational fees, Hoogeboom said.
With this method, the Seashore hopes to repair the 1,300 feet of closed trail for a total cost of $571,000, he said. The Seashore hopes the materials for the rest of the repairs will come from a National Park Service fund of recreational fees, he said.
As of Tuesday, 60 to 80 feet of the 150-foot pilot section had been repaired and the rest could be finished in two to three weeks, Hoogeboom said.
The Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore had raised about $25,000 by year's end toward the project as well.
"People continue to send us money for the swamp trail," Friends president Patricia Canavan said. "It's really amazing to me. People feel this specialness about this place."
The donations also give the National Park Service a sense of who is behind the project, Canavan said. "Showing that local support is important."
The mild winter so far has helped move the pilot project along, Canavan and Hoogeboom said.
"There's visible progress," Hoogeboom said. "We kind of discover something. We scratch our heads and make adjustments."
Hard-hatted workers with chain saws and weed wackers made the first cuts Saturday in the closed section of the Red Maple Swamp walking trail, part of the National Park Service's plan to reopen and maintain the path without spending a bundle.
At 9:30 a.m. the crew of two Cape Cod National Seashore maintenance staff and a handful of volunteers from the Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore stepped around the orange cone barrier on the boardwalk and headed into the dense woods.
"We have a long way to go, but it will start today with clearing brush," said Pat Canavan, president of the Friends group, near the entrance to the trail.
The volunteers received special training by the National Park Service to operate the chain saws, Canavan and Seashore maintenance head Karst Hoogeboom said. Another, larger group of Friends volunteers were clipping weeds around stone walls near the trail entrance, part of the Seashore's National Public Lands Day event.
National Public Lands Day is a coast-to-coast celebration of public land where volunteers help remove litter and invasive plant species, blaze new trails and maintain existing ones and plant seeds.
President Barack Obama, in a proclamation issued Friday, called on Americans to "rededicate ourselves to this critical work and continue looking after these natural treasures and protecting our historic and cultural heritage for generations to come."
A little under half of the 0.8-mile swamp trail has been closed for five years because of safety concerns and structural deterioration, according to Seashore materials. The price tag of $1.5 million for repairs is daunting, both Canavan and Hoogeboom have said in recent months.
But based on the advice of Fire Island National Seashore staff, who have worked on many boardwalk maintenance projects, the Seashore will repair a 150-foot section of the trail this fall using an in-house crew and with the help of Friends volunteers, Hoogeboom said. The plan is to develop a process for all future repairs.
"We're just waiting for the material delivery for the pilot project," he said. "Our goal is to get it open as soon as possible."
On Saturday, Friends volunteer Jim McDowell said he'd been approached by a visitor asking what was going on. "She was so excited to hear that something was going to start on the trail."
Wayside Exhibits for Province Lands Bike Trail Ready to Install
The Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore is excited to see the newly completed wayside exhibits which we funded for the Province Lands bike trail.
Click on images below to view more readable (and zoomable) pdf version of Wayside exhibits.
Salt Pond (photo by Ross Johnston)
FRIENDS of the Cape Cod National Seashore is a non-profit organization of dedicated individuals who have a very special love and respect for this spectacular National Park.
FRIENDS responsibilities and activities include:
Promoting the educational, environmental, historical and other purposes of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Assisting in the provision of interpretive programs for visitors to the park.
Providing volunteers for important projects such as natural resources programs and trail maintenance.
Encouraging private donations to support seashore programs.
Managing several special funds that contribute to important educational, archival and research projects in the seashore.
Click above to view Public Service Announcement video promoting the "Friends of CCNS"