Big machines VS hand tools

Early in the Greenway controversy, residents realized that use of overly large equipment would cause lots of damage. This was also the lesson from the work on Spaight St, where many mature trees died.

Another example from the wars against nature

I notified the Director of Parks that there was serious erosion starting in the woods below Forest Hill Cemetery.  I was thankful that he addressed the problem right away.  But to do a job fit for a shovel and saw, they sent two men, a bobcat, and a truck into the woods.

They left behind a damaged tree and disturbed waterway--that will send much sediment downstream next time it rains.  Disturbing the ground also opens the way for invasive species.

The role of education

This recurring story results from cultural values that must change.  Children need to learn...
  • The value of long-term perspectives and solutions
  • The landscape is a living organism.  You can't slash it's skin without creating future problems.
  • Sometimes work with hand tools produces better, cheaper results.
Elaborating on this last point:  To the men in the photo above, using heavy equipment may have saved time that particular day.

But when you consider the cost of gas for two machines, maintenance on the machines, the expense of the huge Vactor truck needed to remove sediment from the catchment basin below this disturbed waterway, plus costs to repair damage to Lake Wingra--the machine approach was not cost-effective.

The role of citizen volunteers

Realistically, the war against nature with big machines isn't going to change in the near term.  But the destruction could be reduced by teamwork between city workers and volunteers.

Let's take, for example, repairing erosion in the woods below the Cemetery.   In a nutshell, here's what's needed...
  • Mulch the trails, stabilize bare areas outside the trails
  • Redirect the flow of water away from trails (with surgical precision)
  • Create several large rain gardens where water enters the forest
  • Create rock dams in developing gullys
Most of this work could be done by volunteers with hand tools. The City could use small equipment to haul silt socks, piles of mulch, and piles of rocks to several spots in the woods.  From there, volunteers would spread them where needed.

The City would use a backhoe to create several basins for rain gardens.  Volunteers could smooth the soil and do the planting.

Local materials can help.  Small tree trunks on the ground can become the borders of trails.  Stones from the woods can fill gullies.  Leaf litter can be moved from places without erosion to bare, eroding areas.

Hand tools solve erosion at Hawksnest State Park

This summer, I volunteered at a park on Cape Cod, to control erosion threatening pristine Hawksnest Pond

I produced an erosion control plan, getting approval from the park's superintendent.  Silt Socks were provided as a donation thanks to Peter Tonn of Lodi, WI.  With the help of 12 hrs labor from park staff, plus 3-4 days of additional labor by myself with hand tools, the problems were mostly solved.

Especially interesting was restoration of the "giant mud puddle."  People trying to park too close to the pond had created erosion and runoff into a huge puddle--an ugly mess, contaminated with human and dog waste. 

The park superintendent talked about bringing heavy equipment and gravel in to fill the puddle.  But equipment was never available.

Finally, I attacked it with a shovel and rake.  After about 8 hours of labor, I had the puddle filled, and the bare surface nicely mulched with leaf litter from the woods. 

The only power equipment needed?  A chain saw to fell a dead tree, in order to block vehicle access, and a truck to drag the log into position.

Puddle filled, mulching underway.

Part of the gentle solution was to divert runoff--using silt socks--before it could reach the giant puddle.

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