Volunteers Rebuilding Wildcat Lodge

The Berkshire Eagle
Friday, July 7, 2017
GREAT BARRINGTON — “Is anyone not ready?”
 
John Simkins’ voice cut through the forest on June 29. Hearing no complaints from the seven other people surrounding a log, he counted down from three. 
 
All eight squatting figures rose. The log came with them. They moved forward.
 
Simkins leads a team of five Americorps members working with the Student Conservation Association for Massachusetts. Their mission: to rebuild a historic lodge in Beartown State Forest. 
 
“There are three crews for 10 days each,” explained Tim Craig, the program’s manager. “The project should take about six weeks.”
 
The groups are repairing and reassembling the Wildcat Lodge in Beartown. The lodge is about a half mile off the access road, past a vista that stretches as far as the Catskills on a clear day.
 
Most of the lodge’s chestnut logs are intact. But years of decay broke through the roof and water rotted out part of the floor. That degradation, combined with the lodge’s slow sinking into the ground, prompted the work. 
 
The first crew took the structure apart, piece by piece, labeling every item. Simkin and his team put it back together, using new hemlock logs to fill in the six rotted out chestnut pieces from the original lodge. 
 
Four timber carriers were arranged along the length of the wood. 
 
A timber carrier consists of one long wooden shaft with an adjustable metal hook hanging from its center. The hook drapes over the log and digs in when lifted.
 
The path for the eight carriers had a steep uphill section, covered in mud. That required stopping more than once. 
 
But once the team crested the top of the trail, an even more treacherous downhill slope presented problems for the crew, from loose rocks to shifting weight. 
 
“There’s a large rock on the left!” shouted Emma Brown, from the front of the log.
 
“Clear on the right,” Simkins hollered from the back.
 
Fixing the lodge has become an urgent need because of the increase in hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail — up 20 percent this year. 
 
Greater traffic means greater strain on trail shelters, so the lodge needs to be brought up to date to provide an alternative place to stay. 
 
The program, which works with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, has made that possibility a reality. 
 
All told, it took about half an hour to move the piece of wood the half mile or so to the lodge site. “One more lift!” said Martinez, as the crew approached the clearing.
 
“It’s a no-petroleum job!” Morris said.