Sunday, September 11, 2011

Trail Maintenance With NParks & TNF

Received an unexpected email from Karen.  She asked if the TNF Run Leaders were interested in doing some trail maintenance work inside the MR trail.  This led to some interesting discussion among the Run Leaders but I had no hesitation in volunteering my time.  In some of the ultramarathon races in USA, the Race Director requires participants to clock a certain hours of trail maintenance works before he/she is eligible to participate.  For example, Western States 100 Miles requires participants to clock eight hours of service as a way of giving back to the running community.  This service can be in the form of trail maintenance or volunteer services at any run or ultramarathon.  For Wasatch Front 100 Miles, participants are required to complete 8 hours (one full day) of trail work. Eligible trail work will include maintenance of existing trails or building new trails.  And the Angela Crest 100 Miles requires participants to clock eight hours of Trail Maintenance Work that supports an Endurance Running Event while general volunteer work at an ultramarathon will not be accepted.  As trail running become more and more popular in Singapore, it is great on the part of NParks to engage trail runners and nature lovers to help maintain the various trails.  :)

On the morning of 3 Sep, I met up with Karen and Carey before reporting at the carpark next to Venus Drive.  There were a total of 10 volunteers, mainly made up of TNF staff (3) or their friends/family members (3).  Alvin and Brokie were there too, together with David, the only other runner who took part in the TNF run series.  The NParks officers, Amin and Chris came shortly.  Amin, the OIC, then gave us a quick briefing to the morning's work.  We were to load up onto the NParks vehicle and proceed to pick up cookies and working tools at the entrance of the trail.  The vehicle would then drive us as far into Rifle Range Link (stream crossing) as possible, until it was no longer accessible by vehicle.  We then had to carry the cookies and tools into Rifle Range Link, about 100 meters from where we stopped.  The ride to the location was uneventful but we were all very excited.  After about 20mins, we entered the Singapore Island Country Club, passed through their carpark packed with many expensive-looking cars, and into the entrance of the trail.  One of the NParks officers unlocked the barrier while we get ready to disembark to pick up the cookies and working tools, laying by the side entrance of the barrier.  There were about 30 cookies and 3 cangkul in total.  Alvin, Carey, David and I went to pick up the cookies and tools, and passed to those who remained in the vehicle in a human chain.  Then, we began our bumpy ride!

It took us another 20mins to reach where the vehicle was supposed to stop.  Along the way, Chris (I think) had to wield out his parang several times to clear the path, so that the branches would not hit us.  Alvin, Brokie and David stood during the journey to get a premium view of the trip.  There were only two walkers we seen walking towards the SICC direction.  We then passed the Jelutong Tower and more even more runners and walkers.  By the time we reached our destination, it was already 10am!  Carey and Karen distributed hand gloves to all of us before we commenced our work and we quickly unloaded ourselves, the cookies, and working tools.  And this was where the hard work really started.  I led the way, carrying a cookie and the rest followed swiftly.  The guys carried two cookies while the gals carried one.

There were a total of 3 locations where we had to touch up the trail and we split ourselves into 2 groups, led by Amin and Chris.  At the first location,  Amin gave an introduction to everyone before he left with 3 guys for the third location.  We then got down to work with Chris' supervision.  First, we had to clear the path.  I.e. removed the loose stones, rocks, etc.  After that, we had to "even-out" (not sure the right term to use) the ground.  I.e. remove the stones and rocks that were below those loose ones.  All of us were involved in the first segment of the trail works.  We used our bare hands to pick up the loose stones and rocks and put to one side as we would need them later.  However, only Alvin was involved in the second segment as there were only three cangkul and two of them were brought to the third location (which was furthest away from the vehicle).  Alvin was a very good worker and was brilliant at using the cangkul.  He attributed this to his NSF stint as a engineer in the Pioneer Platoon.  :)  As I was getting bored watching Alvin, I decided to join the other team.  They were much faster as the area to be paved was slightly easier to maintain.  In fact, they had already started laying the cookies.  Laying the first cookie was easy, but it got harder and harder as it was difficult to find a perfect match.  Often, we had to remove a cookie laid earlier and match another more fitting one.  After we had laid the cookies, we had to fill the pockets in between the cookies with the soil, sand, stones and rocks that we removed earlier, to ensure that the cookies were stable.  Lastly, we had to use our hands to pound and compact the area.  After completion, we encouraged those runners who ran past us to try out our end-product.  We were really pleased with our works.  By then, the other team had almost finished their tasks so we continued with the second location.  As this was a fairly small area, and with the experience gained earlier, we were able to complete our task in half the time.  :)  Chris and the rest had also finished their task and came over to help out at the second location.  When completed, everyone was very pleased with what we had contributed.

First Location
Third Location
I recalled one of the event website stated in their trail maintenance work requirement that "We feel that we need to be stewards of the land that we use and love.  Those who have volunteered for trail work have discovered that it can be a lot of fun, so go out and enjoy yourselves!"  It is indeed very true.  At least for the group of us that morning.  It was some hard work, some fun but lots of satisfaction.  I hope there would be more opportunities to do trail maintenance works and that there would be more like-minded trail enthusiasts to take up such challenge.  :)  P.S. The next session of Trail Maintenance with TNF would be on 17 Sep.

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