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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 
 
PHOTOS 8: BRIDGING THE GAP,
PART 1: BOG BOARDS      
 
JANUARY 16, 2006
 
 
"The wise man bridges the gap by laying out the path by means of which
he can get from where he is to where he wants to go."
-  J. P. Morgan
 
 


Friendly grouse who shared the bog boards with me high up on North Carter Mountain in New Hampshire on Day 125.     9-1-05

On a path as long as the Appalachian Trail, there are numerous places where hikers/runners have to "bridge the gap" over roads, waterways, rock crevices, wetlands, and fragile alpine environments.

In this first part of three regarding various forms of bridging, I'll cover "bog bridges."

I was fascinated in general by the bog boards (also known as "puncheon"), wooden walkways (boardwalks), and other means of crossing wet areas and alpine zones that I found from North Carolina to Maine. I took at least sixty-one photos of them! I can't put them all here, but I'll show you a variety of the types of bog bridging along the AT and the environments in which they are used.

I'll also be the "Bad Guy" and show you some problems along the way.

I love the AT and believe the Conservancy and thirty maintaining clubs do an outstanding job of preserving the Trail. However, there are places where hikers' safety is compromised because of poor maintenance of these degradable wooden boards, and perhaps I can draw attention to the ones that need replacing. I got really tired of falling off bog boards!

As you'll see, I had a love-hate relationship with them similar to my love-hate relationship with rocks.

The absolute gold standard of bog bridging along the AT is in New Jersey's Pochuck Swamp, which is located in the "drowned lands" of the Vernon Valley.

The AT used to be routed on roads for two miles around this beautiful swamp until 2002, when the extensive (and very expensive) project was completed after seven years of construction. Now hikers enjoy a full mile of magnificent sturdy boardwalks through the lush swamp, as shown in the photo below. I thoroughly enjoyed my hike here on Day 92.

The boardwalks sit several feet above the ground so hikers can walk through the area even when the swamp has waist-deep water. (It was pretty dry when I passed through at the end of July.) Thin pilings are bored deep into the swamp. There are several observation decks, one bridge about 50 feet long, and a 146-foot "floating" suspension bridge over the Pochuck Creek. I'll show one or both bridges in Photo Essay #9.

It was hard for me the rest of my journey north to NOT compare every subsequent "bog bridge" with this most excellent standard set by the NY-NJ Trail Conference. Because it is new and obviously built with care, there are no rotted, uneven, slanted, or algae-covered boards such as I encountered later.

This is the easiest kind of bog bridging to run but I walked most of it in order to savor the beauty, listen to the birdsong, and take photographs.

There were very few other boardwalks (bridges that use closely-spaced horizontal boards) along the AT. I photographed this very narrow one through a little wet area in Virginia close to the I-81 crossing on Day 34:

I have photos of only two other short boardwalks on the AT (New Jersey on Day 91 and Massachusetts on Day 102).

WALKIN' THE LINE

My love-hate relationship was with the more common type of puncheon (bog boards) - the ones that were laid vertically, sometimes singly and sometimes in pairs. These are used in wet areas (swamps, bogs, marshes, or muddy spots) and fragile alpine zones.

There is a variety of materials used for this kind of bridging, both in type of wood and how it is cut or split. Some are simply round logs laid next to each other, with no real flat side, as in the photo below from Day 132 in Maine:

The type above is hard to walk on (and nearly impossible to run on), especially when wet.

A few others in Massachusetts are made from more exotic - and expensive - cypress logs, always easy to identify by their curves. This photo of cypress boards is from Day 102:

The cypress boards are usually wide enough to walk comfortably, although you can see the renegade trail to the left in the photo above where some hikers have shown their treadway preference.

A few bog boards (and bridges over creeks) appeared to be manufactured from plastic materials made to resemble wood, which would certainly eliminate problems of rotting but are undoubtedly more costly.

GOOD BOARD, BAD BOARD

Bog boards frequently helped to keep my feet dry by not having to walk through water and mud, but they were often treacherous. I cannot count the number of times I slid off bog boards that were slick as ice from moisture and algae or moss, slanted badly to one side, wobbly in water if they weren't attached to anything stable, or rotten and broken. Others were under water (in the summer, even) or missing entirely.

Here are three examples illustrating some of these problems. I don't mean to pick on these two states, because most states with bog bridging/puncheon had some very nice boards as well as some that were sorely in need of replacement.

In the first, the Great Swamp near the Hwy. 22 crossing in New York state on Day 97, there were broken, narrow boards, some of which were submerged in the murky water. There were also missing boards in this section, forcing hikers to wade through the muck (it's not like you can see what's on the bottom).

When I emerged at the north end of the swamp I saw a hand-written sign warning hikers about flooded trail ahead. There was no sign at the end where I started. Mind you, it was August, not even the wet season. Imagine what it was like in April when the water was probably much deeper.

The section above was also badly overgrown, a problem I encountered several times through dry AND swampy areas in other states. It's hard for club volunteers along the entire AT to keep up with rampant growth in the summer (hint, hint: if you live near the AT, please consider volunteering with your local maintaining club).

The next two examples are from Maine, which probably has more miles of bog boards than all the other states combined. It's also the most rugged state, it has the most water features (swamps, bogs, lakes, streams), and there appears to be an attitude of, "let's make the AT as tough as possible here."

[Actually, I'm not whining or complaining. It WAS tough in Maine (and New Hampshire), but those are the two states to which I most want to return!! They are beautiful and I relished the challenge.]

Anyway, this is what part of the puncheon looked like through a muddy section in a sub-alpine area a little south of the Fourth Mountain bog on Day 143:

Not only are these very narrow, single boards (requiring a great deal of balance and agility), they were also slanted and slick with algae. At this end of the Trail you're coming off mud, slick roots, and mossy rocks and stepping onto a raised surface that's even more risky for a fall.

Because it's muddy, walking alongside the boards isn't a much better option for the hiker OR the environment.

In the next photo, which shows part of Arnold Swamp (Day 137), you not only have slippery, rounded boards that are uneven and slanted different directions, but some are also missing or submerged in water. This water was deeper than in the Great Swamp (ask me how I know!).

Some boards in other areas behaved like a teter-totter from end to end (which was disconcerting, but I got used to it), and one section in Maine's Hundred-Mile Wilderness swayed side to side as it floated in several feet of water - even more disconcerting because I wasn't expecting that at all. Only some quick reflexes saved me from falling in. Thank goodness I wasn't carrying a 35-pound pack!

KUDOS

The best method I saw to avoid the problem of slick bog boards was the use of wire mesh on top of the board. Interestingly enough, these wide, single boards were the furthest south of any bog boards I photographed, although they weren't the first I crossed. They were in a moist rhododendron forest in Tennessee on Day 29:

 

I appreciated the work the volunteers did on these boards and on some bridges over streams in the same area. You can see the detail above. They were flat, wide enough (about 12 inches) to walk comfortably, sturdy, had drainage spaces built in, and the chicken wire-type mesh gives hikers a better grip when the boards are wet.

This was the only general area in which I saw the wire mesh on boards, but I think it's a great idea to use anywhere there are bog boards and rustic wooden bridges that get all slimy.

The parallel boards shown below are sturdy, fairly wide and evenly spaced, and not covered with algae even though they are in a wet area in Pennsylvania (Day 65). I liked boards like these because losing my grip or balance wasn't an issue.

These boards in New Jersey (Day 91) are also very sturdy and are probably raised high enough on pilings to accommodate spring flooding:

Here are some more photos of bog boards that are in pretty settings through sub-alpine areas in New England.

These boards carry hikers over the wet edge of a lake near the summit of Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts (Day 104):

Vermont has some great bog boards, such as these from Day 107. They are in such good alignment that they resemble a railroad track:

It was with more amusement than irritation that I carefully climbed over and through this mess the beavers made on bog boards (below) on Day 105, also in Vermont. Walking around the pile wasn't an option because the water looked too deep.

This is another good example of how hard it is for volunteers to keep up with the Trail, so hikers should be adaptable and flexible no matter what obstacles they encounter.

I eventually adopted the attitude on this journey to expect the worst and if things turned out better, that's great! This coping strategy worked well with the rocks, too. (If you followed along in the journal, you know how frustrated I was the first couple months with my inability to run as much as I thought I'd be able to run.)

There is another photo of a beautiful Vermont bog scene between Peru and Styles Peak in the journal on Day 109.

This is very functional bog-bridging on one of  the Goose Eye peaks in Maine (Day 127), located between the ladders shown in two photos from that day in Photos #7. The slope is very steep on either side of the Trail. The boards keep hikers from damaging the soil when it is wet.

Two other photos I like through wet areas in Maine can be found in the journal on Days 131 (acid bog in the Bemis Range) and 143 (Fourth Mountain bog). There are many miles of bog bridges in Maine to challenge hikers and runners on the AT.

CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES

Clubs in several states, including North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Connecticut, have come up with some different ways to "bridge" wet areas.

The first creative solution I photographed is this crushed stone (sand?)-and-log pathway, followed by wide log rounds, just north of Clingman's Dome in the Smokies (NC/TN) on a wet day in May (Day 15). These solutions worked for me (i.e., I didn't fall).

This example in southern Connecticut (Day 98) is even more elaborate (and new), built with some type of crushed rock and treated boards.

Wow. That is not only time consuming but also back-breaking work to haul in all that gravel. Bless 'em!

BRIDGING FRAGILE ALPINE ZONES

Bog bridges are also used in alpine zones on mountain summits where plants have a tough enough time surviving the raging winds, extreme winter cold, and thick blanket of snow that they don't need the added challenge of people trampling over them in the summer. Several of the bridges are through interesting peat bogs.

Here are two photos of bog bridging I took in this zone in New Hampshire. There were also some in Maine.

This one is on the foggy summit of Mt. Success just before the AT crosses into Maine. There is another photo of the summit in the journal on Day 127.

One of my favorite summit photos is the one below from Day 120 of the adventure run. It shows a peat bog on the summit of Mt. Jackson in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. I'll talk more about peat bogs in the photo essay on alpine environments.

Are you "getting the picture" yet why some of my days were so slow on the Trail??

Bog boards are just one of many reasons why running the AT is difficult, but aren't they interesting? I consider them an attraction as well as a challenge. (Taking so many photos took a bit of time, too!)

Next up: part 2 of the bridging series will cover the various kinds of hiker bridges along the AT over creeks, rivers, gorges, roads, etc. Part 3 will show some interesting bridges that hikers share with motorists.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil