Fallen Trees? FOW Volunteer Sawyers to the Rescue

Conservation // April 04, 2018

Ever wonder how fallen trees are cleared from trails? Tree falls are an unfortunate and common occurrence in the Wissahickon, and most park users have seen the impact of large fallen canopy trees throughout the park, which sometimes block the very trail on which they are hiking. What to do? Climb over? Under? Go around? Turn back? Depending on the situation, options can be limited and often hazardous.

Since 2013, FOW has partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to keep the upper trails clear of fallen trees. If you have been lucky enough to come across the FOW volunteer Sawyer Crew while traveling on the upper trails, you know they are a highly skilled and dedicated group of trail stewards. In 2017 alone, they cleared over 50 fallen trees from the upper trails. The volunteer sawyers are a small subset of FOW’s volunteer Crew Leaders with specialized skills and training who have spent countless hours over the years doing this dangerous work without one injury.

Led by sawyer Chuck Kirkland, this group of motivated and self-directed stewards are organized to rapidly respond to fallen tree alerts–often within 48 hours. In the depths of winter or the peak of summer, they haul 40, 50, sometimes 60 pounds of gear into the park to do their work. In addition to the physical challenges, clearing fallen trees poses numerous hazards, particularly on steep terrain.

Following the lead sawyer on-site, the crew assesses the situation together and plans a strategy. Job positions are assigned, responsibilities are reviewed, then the team goes to work to implement the plan. Last year, for the first time, FOW’s volunteer Trail Ambassadors were invited to assist the Sawyer Crew by acting as flaggers to intercept trail users before they reach the work zone. This has proven to be a great opportunity for outreach and public education, and, of course, ensures the safety of both the sawyers and trail users. FOW hope to expand the ranks of Trail Ambassadors in this work.

Early last December, FOW initiated a dedicated sawyer training program by engaging Kirkland as the official sawyer trainer to formalize and develop a two-day, 16-hour training. Attending the inaugural training were members of the Sawyer Crew, members of the Crew Leaders, and two FOW staff members. Over the two days, participants learned the following:

Safe Aware Working Standards (SAWS). This was an in-class review of every component of sawyer safety. Kirkland trained the crew on everything from communication in the field, public safety, and first aid response, to operational features of chainsaws, personal protective equipment and supplies, crew responsibilities, and unique challenges in the Wissahickon.

Field Application. Classroom lessons moved to the field as Kirkland demonstrated and attendees practiced how to handle and operate a chainsaw under his close supervision.

Volunteers who completed the two-day safety training, and are not yet sawyers, are eligible to join the crew in the field. New volunteers continue to work under Kirkland’s direction to gain experience and skills at a slow but measured pace before they are eligible to officially join the ranks of the valiant FOW volunteer Sawyer Crew.

If you happen upon a tree fallen across a trail, please report it by doing the following: take a picture, pin it to a google map, Text WISS to (267) 966-2207 and follow the prompts to report a downed tree with your map link and photo. We need to know the exact location and be able to assess the size and level of difficulty of the removal job in order to promptly and safely clear the tree from the trail. If you are lucky enough to see the FOW Sawyer Crew in the park, heed safety signs, stay on the trail, and wait for the “okay” to proceed. Happy Trails!