Rock Work in Massachusetts


By: Cara Davenport

There aren’t a lot of feelings on a trail project that are more satisfying for me than that moment when a rock finally shifts into the exact spot where you want it, and you know that it’s exactly where it needs to be—its “forever home,” as we’ve started referring to it.  Rock work is seldom an exact science; it’s a lot about communication, intuition, and leverage. There isn’t usually just one way that will work to move and set a rock, but there are a lot of ways that can end up taking a long time and creating a lot of frustration. Building structures with rock can be one of the slowest processes in trail work, but I think that it’s also the most rewarding. Not only do rock structures last much longer than most other structures, but the amount of work and focus and often teamwork that it takes to locate and choose a rock, move it, and set it in the ground always makes me feel really connected to and invested in whatever we’re building.  Sometimes the rocks even gain names as we manipulate them toward their final destination—on one hitch we built a retaining wall and gave our rocks marine- themed names like Moby Dick and Angelfish! 

As passing hikers often joke with us, there’s no shortage of rocks in Massachusetts. The journey of finding a rock close to a trail (sometimes not so close!), digging it out of the ground, and then putting it in a spot where it will improve the trail has a kind of natural consistency to it. The materials are coming from the same place where the project takes place; our job is to rearrange the landscape, to take the rocky potential that the area offers and recreate something with it in a way that helps people access their public land. It feels really special to be able to remember specific trails in DCR parks, and know that scattered throughout those places are rock steps and staircases that my crew members and I worked hard to move and set. Steps that will be there for a long, long time.