Logging has increased along the Sawbill Trail over the last couple of years. Almost every month a new logging site or road appears, along with the commuting loggers, heavy equipment and - of course - logging trucks.
The industry has come a long way since the horse logging days. It is now almost entirely done with big harvesting and processing machines. Like many modern industries, this has drastically increased productivity, but reduced the number of workers.
Back when I first came to the West End, there were temporary logging camps where the lumberjacks lived in shacks that were dragged from one site to another. The lumberjacks used chainsaws to fell, limb and cut the trees to length. Rubber-tired skidders pulled the trees out to a landing where they were typically cut to the 100” length required by the pulp mills. The lumberjacks were a colorful group of mostly older men who worked incredibly hard, played hard and often drank hard. Now, lumberjacks are skilled machine operators who live in town and are respected members of the community.
This week a new logging road appeared along the Sawbill Trail, cleared out by two cats in just a day or two. The road is actually a section of the old Sawbill Trail that was abandoned back in the mid-1990s when the Sawbill Trail was reconstructed from the end of the blacktop on the Tofte end, to the Grade Road, six miles south of Sawbill Lake. When that project was in the planning stages, an alert engineer noticed that the Sawbill Trail and the Grade Road were parallel to each other for a little over two miles. The county was planning to rebuild the Sawbill and the Feds were planning to rebuild the Grade, so they combined the two roads along the route of the Grade and abandoned a couple of miles of the old Sawbill Trail.
Not only did the scheme save everyone money, but it eliminated the most twisty and dangerous section of the Trail. That stretch ran over a series of eskers, which are steep ridges of gravel that were deposited by the receding glaciers in the last ice age. When the road was built, back in the ‘20s, the easiest thing was to put the road on top of the eskers, resulting in a narrow, twisting road with steep drop-offs on both sides. You can still see this phenomenon in the West End along the Honeymoon Trail, among others. On the Sawbill, the curvy section included one notorious bend that was widely known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” I never heard if anyone actually died there, but many cars and trucks wound up in the woods at the bottom of the steep slope.
Right after the road was abandoned, it was a favorite for grouse hunters, but it only took a few short years before wind fallen trees and new growth made the old road impassable, even for hiking. Sometime this week, I’m going to go in to see how far the logger has cleared the old road, and revisit that stretch of eskers. With a little luck, I may even get to visit my old friend, “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Back when the Sawbill Trail was rebuilt, the county planned to pave it. It was very controversial at the time. Eventually, a compromise was reached that resulted in a complete rebuild, but left the surface gravel and the road as narrow as possible. Now, 20 years later, it seems that the paving is on its way, probably in 2014.
Paving the Sawbill Trail somehow just feels wrong, but the engineers make very convincing arguments for the safety, maintenance, and environmental benefits of paving. There is less gravel mining needed, no dust to kill roadside vegetation, less sediment washed into trout streams and far better braking distances and vehicle control. In addition to all those benefits, the traffic on the Sawbill Trail is busy enough in July, August and September, that the gravel forms terrible washboard that literally shakes vehicles apart. Paving has become unavoidable, but the county plans to keep the road to its current width with no new construction.
There is good news and bad news considering the current amount of snow back here in the woods. The good news is that right now there is 28” of snow on the ground. The plowed-up snow banks here at Sawbill are over 6 feet high and impressively deep. The trees are also loaded with snow, so it really is a good old-fashioned winter scene at the moment and ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The bad news is that if it snows again, I’ll have to shovel the roofs of several large buildings here on the property. Shoveling roofs used to be a routine chore, often needing to be done twice a winter and even three times in a snowy year. In the last 10 years, I’ve only had to shovel twice. Shoveling roofs is the kind of job that is only fun for about 15 minutes. After that it is just hard, boring work. The invention of the iPod has made it slightly more interesting, but does nothing to prevent aching arms and a sore back.
As I’ve said many times before, though, it’s the price we pay to live in paradise.
Airdate: February 14, 2013