The End of Construction – April 11, 2014

With the final 700 feet or so of Section 8 of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) completed, we mark today as the day on which the original plan for the Trail has been fulfilled!

Al Gathright and Jerry Shields have a lot to be proud of with the original plan for the LOViT completed after 12 years of planning and construction. (Click the iimage to view more photos.)

Al Gathright and Jerry Shields have a lot to be proud of with the original plan for the LOViT completed after 12 years of planning and construction. (Click the iimage to view more photos.)

Twelve years ago, Jerry Shields and Al Gathright began an effort to create a hiking and biking trail along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita with the intent not only to provide a terrific experience for those who enjoy this beautiful part of the country in which we live, but also to provide an additional tourist attraction to the area that would help bring “shoulder season” traffic to the resorts, restaurants, crystal shops, and other businesses in our area. Their goal has been realized with today’s completion of the LOViT as the Traildogs groomed the final stretch that emerged at the Trail’s easternmost trailhead near the Avery recreation area below Blakely Mountain Dam.

A fantastic cake provided by Brenda Meeks of the Corps of Engineers. (Click the iimage to view more photos.)

A fantastic cake provided by Brenda Meeks of the Corps of Engineers. (Click the iimage to view more photos.)

A great group of old and new Traildogs was joined by supporters from the U. S. Forest Service, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to celebrate the event. Following the smiles, back slapping, and picture taking at the trailhead, the team adjourned to the Stephens Park Pavilion across the Ouachita River from the Avery site for an old-fashioned cookout with hot dogs, sausages, plenty of chips and cookies, and a special cake provided by Brenda Meeks of the Corps of Engineers.

After all were done eating, Jerry led the traditional “Hatting Ceremony” wherein new Traildogs Jay Marsh and John Nichols were presented with their Traildog ball caps and mugs.  It was perhaps the first time any of us have witnessed either of these gentlemen at a loss for words!

This tremendous accomplishment was carried out by many people and through strong coalitions with and support from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Arkansas Game and Fish. Additionally, the project received significant grants from the Arkansas Highway Department, the National Recreational Trails program, Montgomery County and the Mount Ida Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Ouachita Resort Owners, the Montgomery County Health Advisory Committee, and from many private donations. On top of all the support were the over 12,000 hours of volunteer labor put into the project. This has indeed been a monumental effort.

While we celebrate this day with great joy, we also realize that the job to maintain and perhaps extend the trail is far from over. The Traildogs and those who benefit from the Trail look forward to the continued support of these special agencies and to ongoing support from the Trail’s users and donors. And, of course, we always appreciate maintenance help from new Traildogs and other individuals and organizations. We sincerely thank you all.

A letter from Jerry Shields

Traildogs and Friends of the LOViT,

After twelve years of planning and ten years of construction, we have completed forty-five miles of trail and spurs, creating what is becoming one of Arkansas’ premier multi-use hiking and mountain biking trails.  We could not have completed this project without the support of our coalition members who have supported us through thick and thin.

The Traildog Volunteers have exceeded 12,000 hours of volunteer work on the Trail, and we have raised over two million dollars in grants, donations, in-kind work and land transfers, all necessary to create the LOViT.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at the Avery Recreation Area Trailhead

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at the Avery Recreation Area Trailhead (Click to see more photos from today’s event.)

We had a large group of volunteers on Friday, April 11th, who completed the last 2/10’s of a mile of hand finish work on the newly constructed link that takes the Trail down to the Corps of Engineers Avery Recreation Area just below the base of the Blakely Mountain Dam. In celebration of the completion, we had a noon cookout for all of that day’s volunteers, several visitors from the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Arkansas Wildlife Federation as well as several reporters. The Corps of Engineers provided a beautiful cake with the hiking sign symbol decorating the top. After enjoying some fire roasted hot dogs and brats, the volunteers fell on the cake like … well, a pack of starving dogs.

The final construction of Section Eight of the Trail has been completed, extending the LOViT from Brady Mountain Road 6.8 miles up and over both Brady Mountain and Blakely Mountain.  This includes a new vista just above the Blakely Mountain Dam, with views of the dam and the lake as well as a stunning view of the Ouachita River Valley south of the dam. The Trail then utilizes several switchbacks to traverse down the mountain to the Avery Recreation Area.

Avery will become the eastern terminus point of the LOViT and the ADA Trail the western Terminus; both will provide a large Day Use area with ample parking and restrooms. The Avery Recreation Area also offers a large group pavilion. These recreation areas will be excellent trailheads for any planned Trail events, including foot races and bike races.

We have begun installing trail directional signs and trail use signs on the new section to assist new users in staying on the trail and will be installing new trailhead maps along the trail at each official trailhead to assist users in planning their hikes or rides.

While the basic trail has now been completed, we still have a number of tasks to complete to make the LOViT the premier trail in Arkansas. We will be installing additional benches along the new section as well as building and installing trailhead signs at Avery and for the Spillway Recreation Area. We are also developing several trail interpretive signs along the length of the trail to provide information on the history of the Ouachita Forest, the geology of the area, as well as the flora and fauna found along the Trail.

A special word of thanks to all the dedicated Traildogs who have so faithfully supported this ten-year construction through all kinds of difficult terrain, weather conditions and a host of other issues that challenged our effort to complete the trail. We look forward to finding Traildog volunteers who adopt a section for the trail and assist in the ongoing maintenance and enhancements planned in the coming months.

We are planning an official opening of the entire LOViT system for early October, with the intent of having all the signage and benches installed for that special day. So, mark your calendars.

Trail Finish Work – April 2, 2014

A warm and humid day on the Trail today, but it didn’t slow down the seasoned Traildogs as we pushed the finish work further down the south flank of Blakely Mountain.

Armored and ready for hikers and bikers!

Armored and ready for hikers and bikers!

We completed finish work on the old tramway roadbed and down across the spring-fed creek at the bottom of the mountain. We spent a couple of hours armoring the very wet and muddy crossing of the creek as we began our approach up to the Corps’ security gate at the intersection of Rick’s Road and Blakely Dam Road.

We visited with the Progressive Trail Design Crew, who assured us they would complete the machine finish work to the Avery Recreation Area today.

John "The Rock Man" explaining how elves created this rock outcropping.

John “The Rock Man” explaining how elves created this rock outcropping.

We are scheduling our next and hopefully final workdays next week.  We are planning three scheduled workdays: Monday April 7th, Wednesday April 9, Friday April 11th, and, if necessary, Saturday, April 12th.

Once we determine our final day to complete this new and last section of the originally-planned Trail, we are planning to have a celebratory wiener roast on that day, presumably either Friday or Saturday at the Avery Recreation area. If you would like to be a part of the last day and the roast, please let us know. You can email us using the links on the Home page.

We will begin work at 9:00 am each day next week, with Monday’s meeting place being at the parking area to the right of the security Gate on Rick’s Road.

See you next week!

Jerry

Blakely Mountain Dam Vista – April 1, 2014

Spring and pollen are back as we began our descent of Blakely Mountain from the switchbacks leading down from the Blakely Mountain Dam vista site.

The Alpha Dog admiring the vista over Blakely Dam.  He stood at this spot when, over a year ago, we were laying out this last section of trail!

The Alpha Dog admiring the vista over Blakely Dam. He stood at this spot when, over a year ago, we were laying out this last section of trail!

Without the Trail, very few people have ever seen the view from this vista that overlooks the Dam and the bay leading up to the face of the dam. It is an area of large boulders that nature has taken time to paint with grey lichens and emerald moss.

A group of eager Ouachita Mountain Hikers came through our work site this morning, checking out the new trail from the security gate on Rick’s Road over to the Brady Mountain Road Trailhead. We could also see fresh mountain bike tread marks in the freshly turned soil on the trail. Seems everyone is ready to enjoy this new section!

A beautiful rock formation along the new tread.

A beautiful rock formation along the new tread. (34°34’6″ N 93°12’2″ W)

We had another crew of experienced trail groomers today, and we pushed the finished tread about halfway down the south face of Blakely Mountain through a steep, rocky grade requiring a lot of work to remove the loose rock from the steep angle of repose. At times, as you look down the trail at the Traildogs working an area like this one, we look like elves bending over looking for nuggets as we spend hours throwing rocks off the down slope to keep them off the new tread. Tomorrow will be another workday as we continue working the downslope of Blakely Mountain, which, due to yesterday’s short but heavy rainstorm, is a bit on the sticky side, but workable.

 

We will meet tomorrow, April 2, at 9:00 am at the intersection of Rick’s Road and Blakely Mountain Road, where you will see a security gate and a parking area just to the right of the gate.

Thank,

Jerry

U. S. Forest Service Prescribed Burn on Bear and Little Bear Mountains – Early April, 2014

The prescribed burn took place on Monday, March 31, on very short notice.  We did get a note out via Facebook, but we didn’t get notified in time to get a website update out ahead of the event.  The USFS was very careful with respect to placing notices at the trailheads, and they covered the length of the Trail to make sure nobody was on Little Bear or Bear Mountains at the time of the burn.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) is planning a prescribed burn on both Bear Mountain and Little Bear Mountain in early April, 2014.  The burn will cover some 5500+ acres from Crystal Springs to Brady Mountain.  The Forest Service will post signs warning potential hikers of the event, and it is most important that you do not enter this area prior to the prescribed burn event.

The prescribed burn will take place on a weekday in order to minimize any inconvenience to hikers and boaters on Lake Ouachita.

The map below, provided by the USFS, details the proposed burn area.  Note that the legend at the top center of the map does not refer to the map’s grid numbers.  The burn areas are those outlined in red.  Click on the map image below for a full-sized version (about 2 MB).

USFS prescribed burn of Little Bear and Bear Mountains in early April, 2014.

USFS prescribed burn of Little Bear and Bear Mountains in early April, 2014.
(Click on this image to download a full-sized PDF image of the burn area._

This article will be updated as more information is known, and we will update the LOViT Facebook page with this information too.

One-third of a Mile Closer – March 31, 2014

The last day of March proved to be a winner for trail diggers.  We had a great team of experienced Traildogs meet at the Blakely Mountain section of the trail just east of where the trail crosses Rick’s Road.

View from the Trail as it descends toward Blakely Mountain Dam.

View from the Trail as it descends toward Blakely Mountain Dam.

The Progressive Trail Design (PTD) team had roughed in and machine groomed the trail last week, and it was ready after two sunny days for the final hand grooming that only the Traildogs give to a a trail’s surface. We started the day developing the trail crossing sites on both the west and east sides of Ricks Road by constructing four large rock cairns on each side of the entry points and installing trail user posts on both sides of the road.

We then broke into two team working the trail surface and a special effort on the angle of repose to remove all the loose rocks that might later roll onto the trail. Trail lunch was at a sunny spot with large granite boulders to rest our weary backs on.

Progressive Trail Design excavator working at the gate on Rick's Road, which leads to the Corps of Engineers building and a LOViT Trail crossing.

Progressive Trail Design excavator working at the gate on Rick’s Road, which leads to the Corps of Engineers building and a LOViT Trail crossing.

At the end of the day we had completed 1/3 of a mile of grooming, stopping at where the trail intersects the old service road that goes to the overlook of Blakely Mountain Dam. The PTD excavators reached the gate at the end of Rick’s Road today and are about two days ahead of our hand finishing team.

We will be back on the trail tomorrow starting again at 9:00 am. We have placed some red flagging tied to a tree to mark where to park on Rick’s Road. My apologies for brain gas yesterday when I gave instructions to those, especially Chuck Dumas, arriving from the west to turn left when reaching the intersection of Owl Creek Road with the  Blakely Dam Road.  For those of you coming from the west via Owl Creek Road, turn right at the intersection and go to Rick’s Road on your left; go up the hill to the flagged spot and park.

Traildogs Dan, Robert, John, Jerry, and Doug.  (Mike, Chuck, and Loren are absent from the photo but also worked hard today.)

Traildogs Dan, Robert, John, Jerry, and Doug. (Mike, Chuck, and Loren are absent from the photo but also worked hard today.)

Those coming from the east via Blakely Dam Road, just follow the road to Rick’s Road, turn right, and go up the hill to the flagged spot.

We are planning our annual trail hot dog roast on the day we reach Trail’s end at the Avery Recreation area.

See you in the morning.

Jerry

 

Saturday Construction and Cookout – Mar. 22, 2014

Traildog Al provides instruction to the USAF crew.  (Click on this image to see more photos.)

Traildog Al provides instruction to the USAF crew. (Click on this image to see more photos.)

Saturday was a day to remember on the Blakely Mountain section of the Trail, with a gang of Little Rock Air Force Base Volunteers joining the Traildogs for a day of finish work on the newly constructed tread progressing east across the rocky southern face of Blakely Mountain.  The Progressive Trail Design Machine Crew worked through the boulder strewn slope, with the trailing two machines reaching the Rick’s Road crossing, and the lead Sutter Trail Machine reaching the Dam overlook area.

The rain showers that crossed the area Friday night made conditions less than ideal for finish work, but the volunteers persevered and pushed the finish work up to the Rick’s Rd. crossing, catching the two trailing machines by day’s end.

Wayne Shewmake of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation is a great cook. Note the open fireplace and the Dutch oven behind him. With these simple tools he created an outstanding lunch. Thanks Wayne!

Wayne Shewmake of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation is a great cook. Note the open fireplace and the Dutch oven behind him. With these simple tools he created an outstanding lunch. Thanks Wayne! (Click on this image to see more photos.)

The day was highlighted by the addition of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation’s First Cook, Wayne Shewmake, joining the volunteers, and while the trail volunteers were busy with trail work, Wayne was creating a feast at the Stephens Park Recreation Area fire pit for all the workers, including the machine operators. Wayne had created foil-wrapped packs of roast beast and fowl along with fresh vegetables, then slowly roasted them in the hot coals of the open fire. As the volunteer pack descended upon him, Wayne was ready with piping hot packets of savory, steaming hot food that the Traildogs fell upon, well, like a pack of starving dogs. Young and seasoned volunteers alike ate to the bursting point. Wayne then brought out a huge pan of hot peach cobbler, which brought on a frenzy of renewed feeding. Following this amazing feast, the semi-conscious volunteers were sure they now knew just how a three-day-old dog tick feels after feasting on their favorite pet!

A huge cheer for Wayne, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and the Air Force Base volunteers for their time on the trail and the long drive from their homes to join the Traildogs in the final stages of the LOViT construction.  What a great group of dedicated volunteers; our thanks go to out to each one in kind.

Saturday's Crew, along with chief cook Wayne.  We really appreciated the help from this great bunch of folks.  <br />LRAFB volunteers: Yia Thao, Isaac Duncan, Nick Pecne, Roman, Zaytsev, Robert Pilon, Dawn Pilon, Danielle Crowder and William Crowder. <br />Dogs: Dan Watson, Derwood Brett, Jay Marsh, Al Gathright, Robert Cavanaugh, Doug Pence (not pictured).<br />Chief Cook and AWF President: Wayne Shewmake

Saturday’s Crew, along with chief cook Wayne. We really appreciated the help from this great bunch of folks.
LRAFB volunteers: Yia Thao, Isaac Duncan, Nick Pecne, Roman, Zaytsev, Robert Pilon, Dawn Pilon, Danielle Crowder and William Crowder.
Dogs: Dan Watson, Derwood Brett, Jay Marsh, Al Gathright, Robert Cavanaugh, Doug Pence (not pictured).
Chief Cook and AWF President: Wayne Shewmake

Since the volunteer finish crew has caught up with the trailing machines again we are not planning a scheduled work period this week until we can assess the progress of the machines.

Thanks,

Jerry

Blazing the Trail – Mar. 11, 2014

Another good day on section eight.  The Traildogs pushed the trail further along the east slope of Brady Mountain, with grooming now only 1/10 of mile from the Forest Service road that leads down the mountain.

While a team of 4 Traildogs (Al, Chuck, John, Mike) pushed down the mountain, Traildogs Robert and Dan started from Brady Mountain Road and painted blazes along the trail, catching up with the rest of the team just in time for lunch!  Well planned!  The new tread is now marked all the way to where the Trail joins the Forest Service road that comes out on Spillway Road.

4.08 miles of Section 8.  The "End" point is at the Forest Service Road that breaks out onto Spillway Road leading to Echo Canyon Resort.

4.08 miles of Section 8. The “End” point is at the Forest Service Road that breaks out onto Spillway Road leading to Echo Canyon Resort.

We will not have a scheduled workday on Wednesday, March 12, but will return to the trail on Thursday at 9:00 am.  We will continue to meet at the parking area on Spillway Road.

The Progressive Trail Design Team is now pushing the trail east of Spillway Road and up the western flank of Blakely Mountain toward a crossing at Rick’s Road.

 

USFS 2012 Volunteer Organization of the Year Award for Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson, one of the first U.S. Forest Service Rangers who worked with the nascent Traildogs during the first years of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail design and construction, could not be with the Traildog team when the Forest Service presented the Traildogs with their 2012 Volunteer Organization of the Year Award.  However, Tom met with Traildog Mike Curran for dinner on March 6, 2014.  In Mike’s words:

“I had a wonderful visit and dinner with Tom and Sandra Ferguson last night. Tom is one of the original Traildogs, now living in Rodgers, Arkansas. I had the opportunity and pleasure to present Tom with the Regional Foresters award for his participation as a volunteer Traildog building the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail.”

Mike Curran (right) presents the USFS 2012 Volunteer Organization of the Year Award to Tom Ferguson.

Mike Curran (right) presents the USFS 2012 Volunteer Organization of the Year Award to Tom Ferguson.

More from Alpha Dog Jerry Shields:

“Tom was one the first rangers we worked with in the first years of the LOViT. It used to be a joke about me trying to keep up with Tom, Al, Tim Oousterhous, and Tom Ledbetter when we were laying out the first legs of the trail – all of these guys were long of leg and could walk you into the forest floor, and I had to learn to walk twice as fast. Tom was one of those quiet ones who was a vast reservoir of trail building knowledge. He was also the one who loaned Al Gathright and me books about the early days of the Forest Service and the great fires of the early 19th century. He introduced us to the man who designed the Pulaski, named after himself, and who was the Forest Service’s first real hero.

“Tom is good guy who taught us how to build trails properly. I am glad I had the opportunity to work with him.”

Thank you, Tom, for your work on the LOViT from all of us who came along later.

Boy Scouts – Mar. 8, 2014

Pipe Spring Trailhead sign Installed by Boy Scouts

Pipe Spring Trailhead sign Installed by Boy Scouts

On Saturday, March 8th, eleven volunteers from a Little Rock Boy Scout Troop led by Eagle Candidate Rhett Gill joined three of the Traildog volunteers – Robert Cavanaugh, Al Gathright and myself – on the LOViT to install two new Trailhead Signs that Rhett had designed, planned and led the construction of for installation on the Trail. Rhett and I had planned this day of installation over a month ago, and, amazingly, it was a perfect day to be out on the Trail.

The Scouts and their leaders arrived at the Crystal Springs Trailhead by caravan at 9:00 am from Little Rock with a 16-foot trailer holding two beautifully constructed trailhead signs. There were six scouts and five of their support leadership, all ready for a LOViT experience.  We drove from Crystal Springs west on USFS RD 47 to the Pipe Spring intersection of the LOViT and Charlton trails where we had planned to install a new trailhead sign to assist hikers and bikers at this busy trail intersection. The signs had been completely fabricated, painted, and roofed in Little Rock, with each sign weighing approximately 500 pounds.

Eagle Scout candidate Rhett Gill on left oversees installation.

Eagle Scout candidate Rhett Gill on left oversees installation.

At the Pipe Spring location, the sign was to be installed 150 feet off the road near Walnut Creek.to help prevent vandalism from visitors who seem to delight in shooting holes at anything along this busy forest service road. After arriving at the site, the scouts, led by Rhett, quickly attacked digging the two thirty inch holes necessary for installing the signs. Fortunately, the soil in the area was not solid rock, and within 45 minutes, the scouts, using pry bars and post hole diggers, had the holes ready.

One example of the vandalism in this area was that a directional sign post installed last year at the site had one of the five directional arrows torn off and one partially torn off by vandals, who then pulled the post up, then replanted it, turned so the directional arrows pointed in the wrong direction. While the scouts worked on the trailhead sign installation, the Traildogs repaired and reinstalled the sign correctly. Forest Service Rd 47, known to the Traildogs as “Beer Can” road, seems to draw an inordinate number of visitors who enjoy littering and vandalizing, versus those who work to enhance the beauty of this scenic part of the forest.

Moving the heavy sign into place.

Moving the heavy sign into place.

The next task was for everyone to lift the unwieldy 500 pound sign off the trailer to transport it to the installation site. Twelve willing bodies lifted the sign and carefully carried slowly down the trail to its final resting place. Rhett carefully measured the depth of the holes and the length of the sign legs to ensure it met the standard of previously-installed signs on the trail. All hands lifted the sign, turned it 180 degrees, and slid the two legs into the holes to the cheers of all there. Using a two-sided post level, they leveled the sign, mixed the concrete and filled the holes around the posts. The scouts did the work, while the leaders and Traildogs watched to ensure everything was done safely and to trail standards.

The scouts also installed one of our Carsnite Trail Usage signs next to the trailhead sign to remind users that only hikers and mountain bikers can legally utilize the trail. Then, after a lot of picture taking and hand shaking, we loaded up all the tools and caravanned to to the new Brady Mountain Road trailhead parking area.  While three of the scouts dug the two holes for the second sign, the others fetched water from the nearby creek and mixed the concrete in a wheelbarrow for installation of the second sign.  Utilizing the same lift and tote process, the second sign slid safely into the two holes, and within an hour, the second sign was leveled and braced into place by the Scouts.

Sliding the second sign into Place at Brady Mountain Road.

Sliding the second sign into Place at Brady Mountain Road.

It  was a great experience watching these enthusiastic young men working together for a common cause to add these new signs to our trail system. No less enthusiastic where their adult leaders, who have encouraged these scouts to look for projects to give something back to the community while earning their advanced scout badges. I am sure Rhett’s Eagle Badge Evaluation Committee will agree this was a excellent Eagle Scout Project.

We appreciate the US Forest Service supporting this effort by approving the construction and working with the Traildogs to mark the installation sites. This installation is one of the first steps the Traildogs intend to complete in making the LOViT the best designed, best constructed, best signed and best maintained trail system in the state. Without the help of volunteers like the Scouts, our progress toward this “BEST of the BEST” goal will be a long road.

 

A special thanks to all the Scouts, especially Rhett Gill and their Leader Terry Gill, for a great day on the LOViT.

Thanks,

Jerry

Section 8 Construction Progress – Mar. 8, 2014

The Progressive Trail Design machine crew has successfully pushed the segment eight construction over Brady Mountain and down to Spillway Road. Utilizing a number of switchbacks, they have created a nice transition down the east side of the mountain, keeping the slope at a manageable level. We are planning to resume the hand finishing work starting Monday, March 10, at 9:00 am. We are changing our rally point to Spillway Road, where we will park at the Forest Service Road on the left just before you reach the end of the spillway.

Directions: take Brady Mountain Road north from US 270 approximately 1.8 miles to a right on Owl Creek Road.  Follow Owl Creek Road until it terminates at Blakely Mountain Dam Road. Turn left at the stop sign, and drive to the sign for Spillway Recreation Area. Park in the open area to the left of the road, where you will see pink ribbon on the trees. We will be utilizing this parking area for the next two weeks. We will hike into our tool cache and begin working our way down the east slope of Brady Mountain.

The weather for next week looks promising, and we hopeful the machine crew can push the trail from Spillway Road to where the trail intersects Rick’s Road by the end of the week. We are approximately 2 1/2 miles from the end of construction.

Thanks,

Jerry