Category: Trail Work

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

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
Looking North on AT along I-70 at Pine Knob in Maryland

Carrot and Stick on AT along I-70 at Pine Knob

Some folks don’t think about the effects of their actions. Perhaps they’re visiting a place and think, it’s only me, what can it hurt.

Well, on the Appalachian Trail, there are effects by everyone and you are not alone.

What I’m talking about is the “Leave No Trace” ethic. You are never really alone anywhere on the Appalachian Trail. And at Pine Knob, this is especially true. Because of the sign on the footbridge over the I-70 Freeway, the easy access from the freeway and the close proximity of popular Greenbrier State Park, this section of the AT gets a workout. Often the parking area is full and folks scramble to park. For some reason though, they’re in a hurry to get to the trail and take short cuts to save 30 seconds.

Please don’t take short cuts. The trail is maintained by us volunteers, the damage done by folks taking short cuts just leads to more work for us, and keeps us from taking care of the AT itself.

So recently I’ve done a little work to give incentive to stay on the AT from/to the blue marked access path from the parking. I laid a path of gravel on the dirt section of the AT along the fence next to the I-70 freeway. That’s a ton (2000 lbs) of gravel carried in 400 meters to the trail by manual labor. About 4 hours work shuttling in the stone. The picture shows the gravel loose but in no time after a rain it will get pushed into the ground and disappear to the eyes but not the feet. The result will be a hard surface that won’t get muddy and will give an added reason to stay on the trail for the extra 100 feet. Please do.

Looking South on AT along I-70 at Pine Knob in Maryland
Looking South on AT along I-70 at Pine Knob in Maryland

Garbology on the Appalachian Trail

I have volunteered doing trail maintenance along a busy stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland at Pine Knob (US-40 aka Annapolis Rocks). The AT crosses over the I-70 Freeway here on a foot bridge. Last spring I removed about 9 inches of mud from the bridge that had settled back about 50 feet. It was a major task and took about 5 hours.  Yes, mud is part of regular life on the AT but it seemed to me that a long stretching sloppy muddy mess on a 6 foot wide fenced in cement foot bridge with no other place to walk ought to be avoided for safety reasons.

Garbology on the Appalachian Trail
Garbology on the Appalachian Trail

Since then I’ve implemented a number of measures to prevent the water and mud from flowing down there in the first place including waterbars on the Blue Blazed access trail from the parking area and on the AT along the safety fence next to the freeway. I’ve effectively stopped the water from the access trail yet even with a water bar about 75 feet uphill from the bridge on the AT, water and mud are still making it there.

I put a little bit of gravel down on this section last June to harden up the surface.  The stone sorta just sat there since we really didn’t have any soaking rains. Once it got wet this fall though, the little bit of stone laughed at my effort and vanished into the tread with no trace at all.

Garbology? Where is that in this Article?

So I brought up a little more stone to fix this problem and each time I walked back for another sack of stone, I picked up some of the litter around the trail. This is just some of the trash I picked up. I took out about 3 times that much just from this short 600 foot section of Blue Access trail. Please take your trash with you.  Leave No Trace. It may seems sometimes that you are all alone yet, someone is nearby and will see where you’ve been very soon. Thanks.

Muddy Section of AT near Bridge Prior to Applying Stone
Muddy Section of AT near Bridge Prior to Applying Stone