DELAWARE, Pa. - Split a log from a fallen tree and anchor it on both sides of the ditch -- instant bridge.
Need a path down a steep slope? Not quite as easy but scout the surrounding woodlands for appropriate stone and lug it to the slope. A few chips and lots of sweat later, a stone staircase.
The passing creek washes away the stream-side trail. So move the the trail.
Those were a few of the obstacles that the National Park Service trail crew at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area had to overcome the past couple of years as they worked to restore, reroute and renovate the lower Hornbeck Creek Trail, also known as the Indian Ladder.
The formal ribbon-cutting ceremony will be Tuesday afternoon when the trail - up to Colosseum Falls - will be reopened to the public. Members of the crew who did the work gave the New Jersey Herald a preview of the result on Friday.
Many areas of the park were still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, which caused flooding rains in the fall of 2011. Then came the late winter and early spring storms of 2018. Downbursts of near hurricane-force winds from one March storm ravaged the eastern slopes of the Pocono Mountains that overlook the Delaware River.
Hard hit were areas such as the ravines of Hornbeck Creek, Raymondskill Falls and Childs Park.
Some of the work, such as a then-new bridge over Hornbeck Creek, and restoration of paths at Raymondskill Falls were funded and done before the March storm, as part of regular maintenance and restoration.
The storm took down trees at Raymondskill; devastated Childs Park, which still is not completely restored; and caused flooding and uprooted trees along Hornbeck Creek.
The attraction of the creek, as with all the creeks on the Pennsylvania side of the park, are the waterfalls. Raymondskill has the tallest falls in Pennsylvania and Hornbeck is noted for the Colesseum Falls, where the creek comes over a rock ledge, into a bowl hollowed out of the stone, and then continues on its way toward the Delaware.
That “bowl” apparently reminded early visitors of the famous Rome landmark.
On Friday’s visit, there was little water coming over the falls.
Members of the crew, many of whom grew up in the area, said that in winter, the walls of the bowl are covered with icicles, and in the spring melt, the creek rushes down the streambed.
On Friday, the approach of humans caused a great blue heron to leave its pool side hunt for food and fly away.
The original path, said members of the crew, had been in use for more than a century. At one time, there was a roadway into the forest and there are remains of utility poles and stone steps up a hillside.
“There used to be cabins up there,” said crew member Mark Dalton as he pointed up the slope.
The crew varies in size with the seasons and with the amount of help from groups such as the American Conservation Experience of Ashville, N.C.
The crews of a half-dozen young adults - three have already helped on the Hornbeck project with a fourth coming, - “have been a godsend,” said Britt Salapek, the park’s recreation planner. Her responsibility is to put together the plans and logistics needed before step two, seeking out funding for the projects.
In the case of the Hornbeck project, the park was able to use money collected from the various fees for certain areas in the park.
Park public relations specialist Kathleen Sandt said federal legislation allows the park to keep 80 percent of the fees collected for the park’s use. The remaining 20 percent goes into a regional fund for parks that do not collect fees to compete for.
Sandt said there are about 75 National Park Service units in the region which includes Delaware Water Gap, known as DEWA.
Friday’s tour was only a few steps along when John Christman pointed out the new crushed rock surface to the entrance road off Route 209 near Chestnut Hill Road.
“This used to be rutted and muddy,” he said, explaining the stone was crowned so water would drain off.
The parking lot was also expanded to where it can hold nearly a dozen cars. Trees felled in the March storm were cut into the appropriate lengths to make the rudimentary, but appropriate, guards to outline the area.
The crushed stone was also used to delineate the pathway. Just a few yards from the parking lot, Christman pointed out the recurring problem in the park - Mother Nature having her way.
Here, the creek, swollen with rain, flooded its banks and cut a new channel.
In keeping with National Park Service philosophy, the creek couldn’t be forced back into its former course, so the trail was rerouted and elevated slightly. A new row of rocks “armors” the side of the trail, protecting from future washouts.
Along the way, the crew pointed to overblown trees which pulled up huge rootballs as they toppled, leaving holes where the trail used to be.
In other areas, the rainwater eroded out the trail. New channels, also known as water bars, were built to direct the water off to the side of the path and not down its length.
Some of those water bars are deep. To cross them, the crew took cedar logs, cutting them lengthwise, and anchoring them with locust logs.
“This is my favorite trail,” said trail crew supervisor John Casey. He said the work involved removing about 100 trees off the mile-long trail from parking lot to Colesseum and about 20 percent of them were reused in the several bridge structures along the way.
“That’s trees above 8-inches caliper (diameter),” he said. “Anything less than 8 inches we considered as brush.”
What was most challenging was rerouting the trail, sometimes onto the side of the ravine.
The force of the water from the 2011 floods and the 2018 washouts, undercut tall banks, causing them to collapse. With the path now elevated above the creek, it’s hoped the washouts won’t occur.
In one spot, however, the scouring of a hillside had left tree roots just dangling where there was once a hillside.
In that area, the crew built cribbing then filled in behind it to form flat surface for the path.
The biggest accomplishment was in an area where a contractor was to have built a new wooden bridge to make a safer crossing. That project was planned to correct damage from the 2011 storms.
But the rerouting of the trail because of the March storms left the trail on the slope above the new bridge.
And the solution - a 15-step stone staircase - is the masterpiece of the trail.
Each of the stones, some weighing more than a quarter-ton, was picked from the surrounding area by the crew, based on its size and shape, then trucked by motorized wheelbarrow, to the site.
“That’s one reason for all the stone on the path,” joked crew member Garrett Wilson. “We needed a highway to get back here.”
And along the way, there was always Salapek in her office, going over the plans, the budget and state and federal environmental regulations.
“It’s not all sweet roses,” explained Dalton. “She keeps the system flowing smoothly.”
The entire project is not finished. There is still the upper falls on the Hornbeck and work is ongoing to connect the existing trail there to the existing trail system of the nearby Pocono Environmental Education Center.
The recreation area is home to approximately 150 miles of trails which are the responsibility of the half-dozen members of the trail crew, the men who build bridges from logs and stairs from stone.