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Crow’s Nest: Horse-Shoe Trail improvements

June 23, 2018

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

The Horse-Shoe Trail Conservancy has started some major improvements to the trail where it passes near and into Crow’s Nest Preserve. The treadway had become muddy in this section and hikers spread the muddy area wide as they tried to pass around the mud. Instead of being a 3 or 4 foot-wide trail the trampled area exceeds 15 feet wide in places. (This is why Leave No Trace principles advocate walking right down through the middle of the mud rather than making more ground muddy by trampling the area beside the trail.)

This is what one area looked like before the project: perpetually muddy.

.Photo: Daniel Barringer

The new trail improvements called for some smart materials technology. The new treadway sits lightly on top of the land despite consisting of 22 tons of gravel (so far). First, a geotextile fabric is laid down on the path; this lets water through but the gravel won’t sink through it and disappear into the mud.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Then an expandable web of cells is spread on top of the fabric. When filled, this keeps the gravel from moving laterally or washing away in floods. Notably, this honeycomb can be cut or arranged around boulders in the trail, so that the boulders don’t have to be moved.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Then volunteers filled the cells with the 22 tons of gravel using shovels and wheelbarrows. Finally a mechanical tamper was used to pack the gravel tight. The edges of the plastic cells will be lined with rocks and the trail topped with more gravel when finished, preserving a natural appearance. (A raised section of trail like this is called a “turnpike” in trail maintainers’ lingo.)

Photo: Daniel Barringer

The improved treadway will invite users to stay on the path and allow the adjoining vegetation to recover. The installation has already survived the incredible 4.5″ of rainfall we had one night a couple weeks ago. The treadway is designed to support both human and equestrian use of the trail.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

The project is by no means finished, which means you can participate in building future sections when the work is scheduled. We’re still waiting for the ground to dry out some more so the gravel can be delivered nearby. Natural Lands and the Horse-Shoe Trail Conservancy will put a call out for volunteers for the next sections.

Warwick Woods Campground and the nearby Pennsylvania Granite Quarry have graciously provided vehicle access to the site, without which this project would not have been possible.

If you’d like to see this project, broadly speaking it is located between St. Peter’s Village and Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. More specifically, it is near the southwestern corner of Crow’s Nest, where the Horse-Shoe Trail leaves the bed of the Boar’s Back Railroad and heads toward Mine Run. It is the section between Trythall and Northside Roads.

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