For the last day of the Scheme we were up at Ben Crom Dam working on the repair of a badly eroded mountain trail. Thanks to the popularity of the Mournes as a recreational area, trails and paths in the mountains are constantly in need of repair and maintenance. This path, like many mountain trails, has been created simply by constant trampling of the vegetation and washing out of the topsoil. Consequently it has no proper foundation or drainage and the effect of rain run-off and foot traffic is causing erosion of the topsoil across the mountainside.
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, protecting the fragile upland heath ecosystem of the Mournes.
After a tool safety talk, we collected our tools; spades, shovels, picks, rakes and crowbars and headed up to the Dam in the trucks. Fortunately we didn’t have far to walk in with the tools, just a bit of a climb up the steps to the top of the Dam.
We started off by preparing a Borrow pit next to the path which is like a mini quarry. 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, created by the ice grinding down the granite rock as the glaciers flowed over it. Once levelled and compacted, the sand and gravel provides an ideal surface for walking on and resists being washed away.
We then split up into groups, working on different tasks on various sections of the trail. Some of us were digging out a foundation trench through the peat and filling it with rocks. Others were building steps or placing cut turfs to edge the path. Ryan and Conor dug the sand out of the borrow pit to keep us supplied with surfacing material. This has to be levelled carefully as it requires the path surface to be slightly sloping downhill to allow water to run off it gently without it washing away the path surface.
Eventually, after lunchtime, the rain was getting a bit too heavy to work in so it was back to the Gate Lodge for a closing review of the summer’s activities and the presentation of awards and certificates, including the John Muir Awards for those doing the Discovery Award this year.