Trailbuilders at work in Niagara Gorge | News, Sports, Jobs

NIAGARA FALLS — The pace of hand sledding is slow and deliberate, the strokes practiced and controlled. Slowly the big rocks become small. The river roars in the background.

Tido has been on this section of wall for a few days now, first building a dry-stacked retaining wall along the Whirlpool State Park stairs, then moving on to backfill. Backfilling Seems Easy Until You Think “slap, slap, slap” for endless hours in sight, safely protected by goggles and hearing protection. The wall section is maybe 2 feet tall and 4 feet long or so. The work has an almost zen feel to it.

“Tidon” is a trail name Tom Schafer uses in his work for Tahawus Trails LLC where partner Tom Kindling is in charge of the $1.433 million restoration of the lower half of the Whirlpool Staircase. A similar crew rebuilt the top of the range in 2016.

“The whole trail was sliding downhill,” Kindle explained. “Everything is so stiff. We see lots of birds and notice the river changing.

There is no easy way to lay the 800 to 1000 pound quartz conglomerate slabs. In another location, the trees would give a leverage advantage for lifting heavy loads.

Here it is a different situation. Old hillside cedars may be supple, but they deserve respect rather than half-ton rock bracing work.

Instead, the crews set up a line of steel cable, reinforced with tripods, straps and winches. They use the system (and gravity) to bring rocks closer to where they need to be.

There are six highlines defined from top to bottom. Each is winched and then used to wedge, push, slide and roll the slabs into place with rock bars, rollers, branches and cribbing. So much leverage, so many triangles in one place would make Archimedes and Pythagoras proud.

“A lot of these things are incorporated from mining, logging and shipping,” Kindling said, pointing to a splint inserted into a belay line. “It’s a lot of problem solving and at this point, a lot of tricks.”

The trail was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and was rebuilt in the 1960s.

“Much of the existing work is mortar,” Kinding said, “So they had to bring concrete.”

The team is trying to replace dry cell construction (most 60s work) with more dry cell construction and will repair mortar work (from CCC) if necessary.

Erin Amadon has worked as a professional trail builder for over 20 years. That day, she was working alone, further down the stairs.

“I did a bit of everything” she said, leaning on a rocky bar, “working on bunks, moving rocks down.”

Women trailbuilders are not that rare. Much of the work, as much as it may seem muscle based, is based on technique and leverage. Amadon said she recently visited a professional trail builders conference and was heartened to see 33 women in one session.

For her, it is difficult to understand what is most fascinating.

“See plants and nature, see biology and old work,” she says, “how they did it. I like geodes and fossils when you break a rock. We put them behind.

Tido began to philosophize about things.

“Each place has its own magic” he said. “This place is beautiful.”

The weather can be a constant battle.

“We’ve been lucky so far this spring,” Kindling said. “The first week we had rain and snow, but now we have t-shirt weather. We cross fingers. »

Of course Kindling said that before the clock turned earlier this week. Rain, snow or sleet, however, the workers were there, slowly, deliberately, building what was to last a century or more.

They will be here, living in rented accommodation, with Diesel the lab mix keeping watch, until late June/early July, depending on progress.

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