The Rock Pile Mtn Wilderness is one of the three areas that I will be managing during my time here in Missouri. It is just over 4200 acres in size, comprising of mostly hardwood forest including a few rocky glades, with some very rugged trail sections. As it is in a remote location with tricky access, not too many people pass through. Unlike the Bell Mtn Wilderness, there is only 1 trail-head at the end of a steep, very lumpy-bumpy and washed-out Forest Service access road. Again, wilderness areas aren’t supposed to be as “convenient” as your average city park. “Wilderness” means wilderness – don’t expect an easy journey in. Some visitors may not like the fact that there is only 1 trail-head and a rough access road, but for those who are self-reliant and like to be left alone without running into groups of people every minute with low-flying planes buzzing overhead as annoyingly as black flies, these remote locations serve as a place where they can enjoy themselves.
With that in mind, let me welcome you to….
…The Rock Pile Mtn Wilderness :).
For those who are wondering what all I take with me for these monitoring trips, here’s my checklist:
- Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus w/ 30 SPF sun-screen -haven’t yet needed to use this
- First-Aid kit, includes a QuickClot sponge
- Rite-in-the-rain journal
- wallet +keys
- heavy duty space blanket
- fleece jacket
- ultralight rain jacket
- 2 qt water
- prepared food
- 50 ft paracord attached carabiner on outside of pack
On my person –
- field cover/hard hat
- pocket knife
- radio comm
- SPOT location tracker – just in case, you can never be too careful….
- clipboard w/ data recording sheets, Forest Service protocol info, pen + pencil, pocket calendar, Rite-in-the-rain notebook, and topo map/s of the wilderness
- Pocket saw
Optional Items –
- folding bucksaw
- leather work gloves
The main trail is about 2 miles, running mostly north-south, and has some rather technical spots that can be impassible after periods of heavy rain. There are a few other trails further south in the designated pristine zone of the wilderness, but these are not often used, and you can get easily turned-around at the different junctions if you aren’t oriented correctly.
Something I particularly enjoy about solitude monitoring is that you almost blend-in with your surroundings, and at that point you begin to notice the overlooked subtleties that serve their own roles in the grand collective of the environment’s ecology.
Creatures as small as spiders and frogs go unnoticed by the majority of outdoor visitors, yet their role in controlling the insect population and being a food source for birds and snakes makes them an important part of this orchestra that is the wilderness.
Wherever a large tree falls, a space is created for other sun-loving plants to grow. In this spot, a large oak was felled from storm winds after being structurally weakened by oak borers. At first, you might think it as destructive, but the majority of new growth makes up for the loss. This young Red Maple (Acer rubrum)sapling is likely related to the more mature maple on the left in the photo. Maples grow fairly quick, and they have evolved to drop hundreds if not thousands of winged-seeds from each tree in order to continue the succession of the species. Open spaces like this one are prime nurseries for them, as well as Sassafras, hickories, and various oaks.
The fallen trees (if they are not already dead) become homes for insects and grubs, which feed on the wood, and they in turn feed the wildlife – black bears, spiders, weasels, frogs, mice, etc. Anything leftover decays and becomes part of the leaf litter or duff, that acts as a sponge to protect the mineral soil from erosion, allowing water to gradually soak in.
Fallen trees that block trails are removed via crosscut saw and-or axe.
This 6 inch Eastern Red-cedar (a juniper, Juniperus virginiana) was removed as it was creating an obstacle on the trail. Oftentimes, trail users will travel around the obstacle, creating another path which spreads the impact of tread. A good steward of the land recognises this as a problem and removes the obstacle – in this case, with an axe – else over time as more trees fall on the main trail, users will walk around them, spreading the impact of their tread, which can become destructive, particularly if sensitive native pants are trampled (as is often the case, unfortunately). To combat this, trail crews chop or saw through the obstacle, move the log/s out of the way and off the trail (perpendicular to it so that runoff water isn’t blocked by the log if it were parallel, which could lead to erosion problems on the trail itself), and then any limbs from the tree can be used to screen and block the user-created shortcut, showing the true route as the main trail.
I must say that I really enjoy working so much with hand tools. A chainsaw could never compare to the joy of working the wood using time-proven techniques and developed skill, nor could it compare to the feeling of accomplishment after you’ve cleared several difficult obstacles in a row.
On the week of the 23rd this month, I will be in Pisagh National Forest learning more about wilderness management and visitor interaction. It will be nice to head back East again, but I can already tell that I will miss the rocky Ozark mountains.