Appalachian Trail Chainsaw Sawyer Training

Most people think it’s easy to use a chainsaw to cut up a tree. They may even own a chainsaw and use it to cut around their home or cut firewood. Yet, to be safe when using a chainsaw, one should be fully aware of how to properly use the chainsaw to prevent serious injuries and/or death. I see people all the time cutting around their homes using a chain saw while only wearing shorts, and won-tonly cutting here and there. The truth is there are certain characteristics of a chainsaw operation, and chainsaw use that the saw operator, known as a sawyer, should  be aware of in order to operate the saw in a safe manner.

To that end, the landowners (generally state or federal agencies) of the land the Appalachian Trail passes though, require that Appalachian Trail Maintainers whom operate chainsaws be certified to US Forest Service Chainsaw operator safety guidelines.

Chainsaw Sawyer makes bypass cut on limb, as swamper on left, chainsaw trainer on right and classmate in rear look on
Making a bypass cut at USFS Chainsaw Certification Class

Among other things, one must wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment, including rated chainsaw chaps to protect legs, a hardhat, safety glasses (a screen alone on the hat that does not meet eye safety rules), gloves, and boots. In addition one must attend an initial two day chainsaw operators certification class. Every three years thereafter the operator must attend a one day recertification class.

Some may think, “Hey, I use a chainsaw, I don’t need that class.” Yet, in working using a chainsaw on the Appalachian Trail, one is in difficult places to reach and it could be hours before a rescue crew can reach you.  Everyone will learn something at the classes to help their own safe operation of a chainsaw both in their personal use, and more importantly at remote worksite locations along the Appalachian Trail.

Sawyer cutting the lower limb from above as Chainsaw Sawyer trainer observes. Cut is more complicated then first looks as upper limb is laying on top putting lower limb in tension. Cut needs to be made from above so kerf doesn't close and impinge on saw. Look closely and the bar is visible. Note also that since that lower limb is suspending the upper limb, the upper limb will drop went lower limb is cut
Sawyer making safe cut on the lower limb.

I attended my third chainsaw certification class yesterday. It was held at the 501 Shelter located near Hamburg, PA along PA Route 501. It was attended by 7 sawyers renewing their chainsaw certification. The class was managed by Bob Sickley of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and taught by Peter Jensen, a US Forest Service Certified Sawyer Trainer and operator of a professional trail building company Peter S. Jensen & Associates, LLC.

Sawyer limbing off branches as Sawyer Trainer looks on
Appalachian Trail Sawyer trainee limbing off branches as Sawyer Trainer looks on
Next cut after removing limb using bypass cut to prevent bar from being impinged.
This is the very next cut. ATC Chainsaw Sawyer trainee making bypass cut while observed by trainer, swamper and classmate.


The class starts with 3 hours of professional saw operation instruction, and follows with 5 hours of hands on sawyer training where one of the crew cuts, and a second person is their helper, known as a swamper. The rest of the students observe the work, and after each cut critique the work.

It’s a very worthwhile program, especially considering the varying levels of experience that Appalachian Trail Volunteers bring with them to the trail maintenance efforts.

Sawyer making bypass cut on tree lying on ground
Appalachian Trail Sawyer trainee making bypass cut on tree lying on ground while being observed by classmates and trainer

This AT Sawyer training class was run by Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Information on being an AT Certified Sawyer is available on their website. The trainer at this AT Sawyer re-cerification class was Peter Jensen, who has decades of experience with chainsaws, the Appalachian Trail and is also a professional trail builder that operates a company called Trail Builders

Information on volunteering on the AT in general can be found below:

Volunteer with Appalachian Trail

Volunteering with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

Working On Some Wind Damage near Pogo Campground

Chopping up a large fallen tree near Pogo Campground
Chopping up a large fallen tree near Pogo Campground
This early march wind storm knocked down a bunch of trees. Dave and I got out early and cleared about 20 fallen trees between US-40 and Pogo Campground, where we met up with Rick and crew. There was one big mess of trees on the section south of Annapolis Rock where 3 trees were locked together and knocked over a forth. Yet most of the fallen trees, say 15, were north of Annapolis Rock. I would suppose that is because the popularity of The Rock leads to the Maryland Dept of Natural Resources to treat the area for gyspy moth a little more than other areas so there are less standing dead timber there.

Now, this tree was pretty massive, about 18″ DBH (DBH=Diameter Breast Height) and only about 1/3 is visible in this picture that I took of the setup Dave made so we could cut off the stump. Rick’s crew arrived just in time as we had moved the stump more than 1/2 way across the trail and welcomed their extra hands that made quick work of ‘tossing’ the stump the final 3 feet. Finished off the day clear two big entanglements on the Griggs Trail.

Helping Hikers Find the Appalachian Trail

New To AT Sign at Parking
New To AT Sign at Parking

The Appalachian Trail from US-40 to Annapolis Rocks is by far the most used section of the AT in Maryland. Maybe by a factor of 100 to 1. Many of the people that come here have never hiked on the Appalachian Trail and getting to it here is a little different because of changes made when Maryland was building I-70.

Years ago the AT simple went across US-40. But when the freeway was built, US-40 was shifted 100 feet north and part of old US-40 remains. To get to the AT here, hikers walk up 200 feet of old US-40, then turn left onto a trail for 200 feet.

Often though, folks get confused, especially those new to hiking and don’t understand that there is a little oddness to get to the AT. Many times they’ll wander, miss the blue marked trail and walk down the steep tick filled hill to get to the trail. In the first place this is a safety hazard. In the second place if becomes an erosion control problem.

I have made a number of improvements to stop short cutting down and up the embankment, yet those improvements were for those that knew where they were and trying to save time or avoid a wet trail.

The latest improvement here are some signs to direct those new to the area how to get to the AT. While there was a large sign directing folks to the AT at the parking area, once past it and on what had been US-40, folks forgot about it. So a new blue “blaze post” is installed with a ‘To AT’ directional sign pointing the way down old US-40 and this reinforces the existing blue blaze post at the trail head so when folks see the blue mark they now know what it’s for.

Navigational Aid on Appalachian Trail in Maryland

Appalachian Trail Blaze Post along I-70 Freeway in Maryland
Appalachian Trail Blaze Post along I-70 Freeway in Maryland

Normally the Appalachian Trail is marked with 2″ x 6″ rectangular paint ‘blazes’ on trees every often enough so the trail is marked well.

In some places though there is a lack of trees. The obvious places are crossing creeks and fields. Yet here along the I-70 in Maryland, the AT follows the freeway for 1/4 mile. On one side is a chain link safety fence. On the other is a steep hill from the cut made for the freeway through South Mountain to reduce the grade of the roadway.

So there is a serious lack of proper trees here and it’s an unusual place. Hikers cross the I-70 Freeway on a dedicated footbridge. Northbound hikers meet a junction with the blue marked trail (which 50 years ago was the AT) and the staggered white blazes are ambiguous. I did manage to find a tree in close proximately of the bridge to blaze. But a second one is important at such a turn and the only trees were really too far off the AT to have the blaze reliably seen.

Si after thinking of other solutions including using the fence in some manner I decided the easiest solution was adding a ‘blaze post’ here to mark the trail. I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to dig the required 18″ deep post hold. But was I wrong and I’m used to digging in rock mountain ground. Yet, from what must be some result of building the I-70 Freeway, there is a consistent almost concrete like layer exactly 12″ below the soil in every direction. So my 1/2 install of the post turned into a 2 hour event.

In the end is a nicely visible blaze in both directions.

Clearing The Invasive Oriental Bittersweet Vine on Appalachian Trail at US-40 in Maryland

Oriental Bittersweet pictured above along the I-70 Freeway in Maryland.

Oriental Bittersweet is an invasive vine that is a native of East Asia. It grows very well here in Maryland. So well that it will grow to the top of a 50 foot tall tree, strangle it (hide the tree from daylight) which eventuall will kill the tree. The tree will then fall and become a blowdown to clean up. Or get left there.

The trouble with leaving the blowdown there is the bittersweet will grow over the downed tree and look like a hedge. Meanwhile it’s secretly planning an attack on nearby tree spreading 50 to 80 feet at a time in this manner.

I’ve been working controlling Oriental Bitterswwet at the Appalachian Trail Trailhead and along the Appalachian Trail as it crosses the power line clearing near US-40 in Maryland. There is really quite a lot of bittersweet here. Acres and acres of it in fact. I’m tackling the area near the trail where the fallen trees will cause work and hazards.

I use a Stihl Hedge Trimmer to chop the vines up and the result is pretty impressive. It does take a lot of time. I’m going to keep on this stuff and keep cutting it so it eventually will die from many of cuts. Then when controlled native vegetation will return while continual prevention of new bittersweet plants sprouting here. It will be a permanent task.

Oriental Bittersweet Controlled on AT
Oriental Bittersweet Controlled on AT

Here is a picture of Oriental Bittersweet out of control at the US-40 AT Trail Head. Much of this are is already been worked on but I didn’t take pictures yet.

Oriental Bittersweet Growing Over Trees on Appalachian Trail in Maryland
Oriental Bittersweet Growing Over Trees on Appalachian Trail in Maryland

Keeping Folks Walking On The Appalachian Trail (vs around it)

V-Shaped Waterbar on Appalachian Trail

The picture probably doesn’t look like much. What you are looking at though is something that co-volunteer Bob Andrew saw on the AT in North Carolina. Gene, the current Ridge Runner at Annapolis Rocks has a great name for that, V-Checkdams.

I’m talking about that angled log located below the big log. To digress for just a second, we call these logs waterbars. What they do is hold back eroding soil and level the trail tread so it’s not just a rut. When you put in a big log (you take what you can get [i.e. is close by] and move in this business), many hikers find the step up difficult and cheat so walk around. This widens the trail and creates more erosion.

So Bob Andrews ingenious solution here works like magic. Immediately after installing on of the V-Waterbars, hikers magically walk right down the center of the Appalachian Trail. I call this Trail Magic. There is a little irony here in that many novice hikers see a waterbar and think it’s a step — yet this V-Waterbar actually is a step.

That’s the first one I put in. So far 6 are in place, and probably and equal number to be installed over the summer.


V-shaped Waterbar on Pine Knob - Appalachian Trail
V-shaped Waterbar on Pine Knob – Appalachian Trail

Volunteering on the Appalachian Trail at Annapolis Rock

Capture of showing home page (Pine Knob Shelter in photo)
Capture of showing home page (Pine Knob Shelter in photo)

Over the last year that I’ve been working here on the AT between Pine Knob and Annapolis Rock, there have been lots of folks have been inquiring about how to help out. In the past I’ve handed out cards with contact information for the South Mountaineers Trail Crew (which can be found on the PATC Website – see link below).  Yesterday though, I decided to set up a volunteer organization website to build up a group of interested folks and have a way to communicate work events and schedules. So wander over there if you want to help out and Volunteer on the Appalachian Trail at Annapolis Rock.

The site is named, and I choose that because Annapolis Rock is a little ambiguous. The official name is ‘Annapolis Rock’ without an S as seen on the cropped map image below. Yet the name is written all of the time as Annapolis Rocks, so I choose Pine Knob instead since the name is pretty straight forward. Pine Knob is the name of the hill you climb as you walk from the trail head toward Annapolis Rock and is where a lot of effort is required because of the slope there.

Map Clip of PATC Map - Annapolis Rock
Map Clip of PATC Map – Annapolis Rock


So please visit our Maryland AT Volunteering Website and join us. It’s a work in progress and much more content will be there soon.

Other volunteer opportunities exist including the South Mountaineers – now in it’s 25th year. Visit the PATC Website and choose newsletters for the schedule for the South Mountainers Trail Crew.

Carrot and Stick After 1 Month

The stone has almost vanished after a month and only 1 real rain. Should be out of sight soon as it rained again yesterday and more is supposed to come in a couple days. 42 bags of gravel, 50 lbs each gone. But not really. The stone adds support to the base and should keep things from becoming a sloppy mess making people walk other pathways that are not desirable for us AT maintainers.

Update: 2017 June: This really worked well. The stone pushed in and is firm. Water from all the rain lately has run off and only a few places had standing water.

Applachian Trail Along I-70 After a Month
Applachian Trail Along I-70 After a Month Stone Mostly Pushed Into Trail Tread  (Feb 2017)