YOUTH RANGER PROGRAMME 2011:
REVIEW DAY 6: 22nd August 2011: Upland Path Repair
For the last day of the Youth Ranger Summer Scheme we undertook the repair of a section of a mountain trail.
The popularity of the Mournes as a recreational area means that the trails and paths in the mountains are constantly in need of repair and maintenance. Doing path repairs prevents erosion and protects the fragile upland heath ecosystem of the Mournes. Once a path has been properly repaired it will withstand years of walking traffic and, by encouraging people to stay on the path, will prevent damage to the surrounding vegetation.
We bussed up to the Ben Crom Dam where, after a tool safety talk, we collected our tools; spades, shovels, picks, rakes and crowbars. Fortunately we didn’t have far to go – only a few hundred metres from the dam. The path here was originally little more than a sheep trail but in recent years it has been used more regularly by walkers and others. It is just a track worn through the heather into the peat and you need to scramble over rocks in some places. It cuts across a steep slope so, when it rains, water running down the slope washes over and down the path causing erosion of the soft and muddy peaty soil. If this went on as it is for a few more years then patches of soil and vegetation would get washed away leaving bare rocky scars across the slope which would just continue to get bigger and bigger as more water washed over them.
The technique of path repair we used is called “Benching”. This requires the path surface to be slightly sloping downhill to allow water to run off it gently without it washing away the path surface. First we had to remove the soft peaty soil layer of the existing path down to a rocky foundation by digging it out with the spades and transferring the soil to holes and gaps to the side of the path. Then we had to add more loose rock to build up the level of the path before finally filling and levelling the path with sand and gravel.
The sand and gravel had to be dug with pick and shovel from a “barrow pit” which is like a mini quarry we had to dig into the ground nearby the path. Because the Mournes were covered by glaciers during the Ice Age in some places there is lots of finely ground sand and gravel under the layers of soil and vegetation which was created by the ice grinding down the granite rock as the glaciers flowed over it. Once levelled and compacted, the sand and gravel surface provides an ideal surface for walking on and resists being washed away.
In some places steps needed to be built to get round massive boulders and to adjust for the level of the path. For these we had to find suitable large flat boulders and move them into position with crowbars and straps and then level them up using smaller rocks. Finally we bedded them in, filling any gaps with more sand and gravel.
We worked on a 30 metre section of the path, preparing half of it but finishing 15 metres of new path completely including several steps. The MHT Upland Path Repair Team, all volunteers, will be continuing the work on this path right up to the Slieve Binnian Col.