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Hot on the trail

Sam Bauman

A quarter-mile may not sound like much of a distance, but when you’re hacking out a hiking trail through the Sierra wilderness in the middle of the summer, it’s quite an accomplishment.

And that’s what 20 volunteers from all over the United States accomplished last weekend in four days of dirty, strenuous, bug-bitten work with saws, matlocks and hoes. The group came to Tahoe under the auspices of the Elderhostel program, an organization that brings persons 55 or older together in either an educational or work program. In this case the group came to work on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

“It’s a chance to put something back into the country,” said John Muir, 76, of Oak Park, Ill., no relation to the famed conservationist Muir. He was joined by his wife, Charlene.

The leader was Tahoe Rim Trail veteran John Daegling of Tahoe Vista. “We’ve never had a serious accident,” he said as his crew hacked and sawed away at virgin wilderness. “But plenty of mosquito bites this time.”

The group stayed at the Biltmore Hotel and commuted by bus to the work site by the Truckee River at Tahoe City. The new trail starts back about a half-mile from State Route 89 on a road paralleling the river. In standard procedure for cutting a new trail, the trailhead is left for last so that hikers will not start on the new trail before it is finished.

It’s easy to see what the 20 seniors have accomplished as you walk up the fresh-cut trail: 4-foot-deep duff removed and filled in with rock and dirt; trash trees lopped off, large boulders dug out of the ground and moved to help control water runoff.

Hard work, yes, but as Garry Butterfield of Saint George, Utah, said, “I’m still young enough to be able to contribute something to Tahoe. Hard work, yeah, but just what me and my wife Mary hoped to accomplish.”

Walter Crook, who traveled to Tahoe from Richland Center, Wis., said, “I was happy to pay $425 for the privilege of working here. Kids don’t understand it, they think me and Janet are crazy to pay $425 to work like this. But service is an important concept for Americans.”

Tom Schrimer of Medina, N.Y., said he “lost my sole” when during a strenuous moment he put extra pressure on one foot and his boot literally exploded. “Shocked everybody,” he said.

Gail Schrimer added, “This is dynamite, working in state parks like this.”

And helping out on the whole project was Alicia Stuart, 7, as she helped drive a trail marker peg into the tough ground. She is the daughter of Jay Stuart of Reno who was assisting in leading the group.

So why travel hundreds of miles and pay for the chance to sweat and strain in the wilderness? Perhaps Tom Garrey of Batavia, Ill., said it best: “You form lasting friendships, it’s a nice vacation and you can look back down the trail and see what you’ve accomplished. I’ll be back in two years to see the finished project.”

That may be optimistic. There are still some 12 miles to go to complete the 150-mile loop around the lake. But with the way volunteers are continuing to pitch in, such as the women’s group from the Sierra Club working on Armstrong Pass this week, it may just happen.

If you want to help it happen, contact the Rim Trail office at (702) 588-0676.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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