By Panhandle Trail Program Manager, Adam Fryska
March 29, 2019 – By now, the FTA community is well aware of the tremendous damage done by Hurricane Michael to the Econfina Section of the Florida Trail. On March 1-3, the Panhandle Chapter hosted the first major Volunteer Work Party to tackle this section. The scale of the challenge facing us quickly became clear; over two days, with 6 sawyers split between Econfina and Chipola, the crew was able to clear almost 1 mile of trail. The progress is slow and painstakingly difficult; the trail is often buried under 6+ feet of accumulated blowdowns and brush, all of it tangled into a complex and dangerous web of hidden tension and pressure. Great care must be taken to guarantee the safety of our sawyers, as a single cut can dislodge and shift the entire mass of fallen trees.
Following this first attempt, the US Forest Service (USFS) was able to secure the help of a professional sawyer team for a ten-day hitch at Econfina. The USFS sawyers were joined by our partners from Framing our Community (FOC), fresh off their most recent project of building a bridge across Alaqua Creek in Eglin. We put the word out for FTA sawyers to join the team, and for the past two weeks this exceptionally skilled crew has been making steady progress at clearing the trail south from the Scott Road trailhead. As of March 29, the trail is clear down to Two-Penny Bridge and onward to just short of Fender Bridge, a distance of almost 5 miles. We’re happy to share that day-hikers and local trail users once again have access to this popular section of trail. Our goal for the rest of this season is to clear the trail down to the road crossing at Walsingham Bridge, another 5 miles further to the south. At this point we’ll have a clear walking route across Econfina for next season’s thru-hikers, a tremendous accomplishment that was almost unthinkable when we first began to chip away at this project.
Many thanks to our dedicated volunteers for their endless energy and enthusiasm when faced with this difficult work, and a special thanks to Eric Lewis and Tom Daniel for their help in scheduling the maintenance events and recruiting FTA volunteers to join the crew. Of course, we also owe a tremendous thank-you to our partners at USFS and FOC for their assistance with this project. Working alongside these experienced professionals has been a fantastic opportunity for our sawyers.
Keep your eyes on the Panhandle Chapter’s Meetup page for additional opportunities to volunteer! FTA and FOC will be scheduling additional work days in the near future.