Not too far off the beaten path

August 12, 2017
BCT August Teen Trail Crew
BCT August Teen Trail Crew exploring at the end of the work day.

Seth King, BCT Projects Coordinator

Imagining a traditional AMC Trail Crew, visions of a dirty backcountry bunch, living deep in the woods with only a radio, a few tents, an arsenal of hand tools and hefty food rations probably come to mind. Daily life for an AMC volunteer crew on the Bay Circuit Trail doesn’t quite look the same. The BCT winds its way 230+ miles through the largely suburban outskirts of greater-Boston, connecting private, municipal, state, and federally-owned lands. Walks along paved roads comprise about one-third of the route, compared to two-thirds along trails and woods roads. Pockets of scenic green space are thus linked with the town centers and neighborhoods in-between. The trail is rarely more than a mile from the nearest road or house, and cell service is usually strong (depending on your provider!). This makes for a more front-country experience than many other AMC Trails programs, and provides both challenges and unique opportunities for making an impact.

Groundwork Lawrence Green Team custom trail crew hikes into the BCT work site on an access road under power lines.

In the summer, teen volunteers camp out at a local state forest campground and are able to dip their toe in the waters of trail work, feeling the satisfaction of physical labor and learning lessons in conservation trail work without having to dive into the challenges of backcountry spike crew. The campground offers the opportunity to sleep under the stars while enjoying certain creature comforts, like a shower at night and evenings relaxing around a campfire ring, a swimming pond and canoeing after work.

Building box steps
Teen crew builds box steps up a steep slope using imported lumber and gravel.

The teen crew piles into the van each morning to travel to their worksites, often accessible from trailheads in neighborhood developments. Hikes to the project sites rarely exceed 15 minutes. Rather than felling trees for construction material, imported materials like dimensional lumber, landscaping boulders, and gravel fill are often sourced from local vendors. Materials loads are dropped roadside or at trailheads as close to the project site as possible and carried in to the woods by hand or with the help of wheel barrows.  Over the past three years, BCT teen crews have constructed wetland boardwalks, installed check steps on eroded slopes, and the most recent crew just finished a box step staircase on the trail along the Merrimack River at land trust Andover Village Improvement Society’s Deer Jump Reservation.

Eastern Massachusetts terrain along the BCT is generally gentle to moderate (the highest point is only 600 ft above sea level), but there is much to see and experience. The trail traverses patchworks of old farm pastures, open hemlock groves, and flooded wetlands created by beaver activity. In many places dense thickets of invasive buckthorn shrubs, tangled bittersweet, walls of multiflora rose, and omnipresent poison ivy often line the edge of the corridor. While volunteers are directed to avoid poison ivy, our crews have contributed to land managers’ targeted invasive plant removal projects.

Scenic pond at Harold Parker State Forest
Scenic pond at Harold Parker State Forest

The chorus of birdsong and windblown foliage is joined by the whir of the crew’s power drill, the occasional rumble of a semi-truck on the closest road, or the barks of the neighbors’ dog warning away a passing squirrel. The route crosses babbling brooks and buzzing transmission lines, around glacial drumlins and kettle ponds, through industrial Lowell with its historic textile mills and across the sites of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

All of these places require consideration of different conservation approaches and different solutions to trail issues based on the ecological, historical and cultural context of the site. Work in these areas requires constructing not only trail structures, but building close relationships and partnerships with the local land owners, town conservation commissions and land trusts, and volunteers in the local community. Volunteers in these programs get a chance to create a difference in their own communities and discover hidden gems in their own backyards.

Check out to explore recreation options and volunteer opportunities across the BCT!

Sunset at Holt Hill, Andover
Crew visits Trustees’ Ward Reservation to watch the sunset from Holt Hill.


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Beth Gula

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.

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