Text and Photos by Gene Kenny, NWS Board
I should have gone away this past winter. Every person I met asks, “How’s the Fern trail project going?” I don’t really mind the question. I enjoy telling everyone about the project, but I forget who I’ve told what details to. As you know, the NWS annual meeting is this month and we are assembling our committee reports. As I wrote the Long Range Planning Committee report, I realized how many things have happened this year regarding the Fern Trail Boardwalk Restoration and I’d like to share some of those with you.
When you read this year’s report, you’ll learn about our fund raising efforts and the generosity of our members and business members and the foundations that are supporting this project. You’ll also learn about the volunteers who started clearing the trail, identifying trees that need to be removed. Volunteers also removed the old ground level boardwalk in November of 2021.
You may recall that this effort began in 2019. Flooding on the Fern trail was extensive that spring. Discussions began to find a solution. The first plan was drawn in the Fall of 2019 and a request for financing from the Knowles-Nelson grant program was requested and, in February 2020, was granted.
This past winter was very similar to 2019, with more snow and sub-freezing temperatures. So, in preparation for building the new boardwalk, two questions needed answering: “how extensive is the flooding along the trail?” and “how deep does the flooding get?”
The first was easy to answer. I got out on the trail early and often in April and noted where the transition from snowfall or ice went to water. Some of the water was pretty shallow, but I reminded myself this doesn’t go away until the ground thaws. And how would I get through this in a wheelchair or a walker? I did this at both the north and south ends of the Fern trail. So I know where the boardwalk will start and stop. It will extend about 1800 feet.
The second question was a little more difficult to answer. I thought I knew where the deepest areas were along the trail, but the winters of the past 2 years weren’t very cold or snowy. This past winter we got both. I started off wearing boots at the beginning of April, but moved to waders quickly. My first pass through the trail, the deepest areas were approximately 15-16 inches, but then April showers arrived with the ground still frozen. The deepest spots got to about 19 inches. I chose 9 locations along the trail and measured the depth of the water at each site almost weekly.
It was the end of June before the trail was passable. The only areas of mud were at the sites of the previous ground-level boardwalk.
At this time, I can report that all the drawings and the written plan for the new elevated boardwalk are in the hands of the DNR Engineering Department. I know many people would like to help with this project. They have offered to work on the construction or support this work with monetary donations. It is a wonderful project for Newport State Park and anyone with limited mobility will benefit from the boardwalk.
Hopefully, I’ll have more information I can present at the Newport Wilderness Society Annual meeting on July 30th. I also might be able to tell you where I’m going on vacation this winter.
Top photo: Gene Kenny on the Fern Trail, April 21, 2022; photo by Deb Ford