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Finding The Way

MOUNT ASHLAND — Linda Krawczyk lifted the eight-pound mash hammer high overhead, held it aloft for a second, then swung it at a granite boulder.

At another large rock nearby, Scott Lowen followed suit with a double jackhammer.

Their hammers struck their targets nearly simultaneously, sending granite fragments flying.

"It's definitely a workout, but it gets the job done," Lowen said during a break.

While they may appear to have been sentenced to hard labor for breaking the law, they are breaking rock in a labor of love on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Krawczyk, 53, a mail carrier in Grants Pass, is a member of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and a volunteer trail worker. Hailing from Farmington Hills, Mich., Lowen, 23, is a member of AmeriCorps' Northwest Service Academy based in Trout Lake, Wash.

A half dozen AmeriCorps members from the Trout Lake facility and a dozen volunteers, including a group from Southern Oregon University, have been working on a half-mile section of the trail on the south flank of Mount Ashland since Friday. They expect to complete the trail restoration project today.

The work has been centered on two bogs about a quarter-mile apart at roughly 6,000 feet above sea level near the Oregon-California border.

"They are building turnpikes which will keep the water off the trail, reducing the mud factor," explained Steve Johnson, a recreation specialist responsible for trails in the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

He was referring to elevated structures on the trail that include a wooden rectangle built of heavy wooden beams filled with the broken bits of granite.

"Raising the trail bed will help keep the tread dry and protect the resource so folks won't go around it and make the trail wider," said Ian Nelson, Pacific Crest Trail Association representative for Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Johnson and Nelson identified the areas where the trail work was needed most. Next to the trail snaking past Timberline Lodge, the easily accessed section of the PCT is one of the most heavily used portions in Oregon, Johnson noted.

The trail fix-it crew has been working in different sections of the PCT in Southern Oregon and far Northern California since June.

You name it, they've done it: built retaining walls, cleaned drains, cleared brush, dug out trenches and broke boulders. In addition to the heavy hammers, their tools are picks and shovels, McClouds and Mattocks.

The AmeriCorps members receive meals, a place to sleep and a small stipend. They sleep under the stars and work under the blue sky — until the snow begins to fly, that is.

"The combination of having these (AmeriCorps) folks do the technical work and the volunteers there to help is indispensable," Johnson said. "We couldn't get those wet areas taken care of in the same fashion if we didn't have them."

"The fact is, we don't have Forest Service trail crews much anymore," he added. "We haven't had trail crews on our district for 10 years. So these people are life savers for some of this technical work."

The PCT is in relatively good shape because of the work provided by AmeriCorps members and trail volunteers, Nelson said.

"Sadly, this work is the end of the season for us," said AmeriCorps co-team leader Kori Ault, who is from the Portland area and has a master's degree in genetics.

"It has been a lot of fun for us to do this kind of construction work out here," she added. "I wanted to get my hands dirty and give back to the trails that I love so much."

Co-team leader Scott Goldin, 25, who is from the Boston area and has a degree in psychology, was also impressed by the scenery.

"I've never been to the Northwest before," he said. "It's staggering it is so beautiful out here."

Ellen Schneeberger, 22, from Marquette, Mich., had just earned a degree in social justice from the University of Minnesota before joining AmeriCorps for the season.

Describing herself as a lifelong "city girl," she noted the work has offered her a whole new experience in life.

"It's been a challenge," she said. "But it is fun to live in the woods. It has been awesome to be outside like this for four months. This is gorgeous out here."

When his AmeriCorps work is done this week, Lowen, who has a degree in outdoor environmental education, will head to Utah, where he expects to have a job leading trips into a wilderness area.

Goldin plans to return to Massachusetts to visit family, then move to Ashland, where he hopes to find work in the outdoors.

"I don't plan on doing this as a job ever again — as I said, I'm a city girl," said Schneeberger, drawing laughter from her co-workers.

"But I would love to volunteer to do this in the future," she added. "I love to live in cities but I've got to get out once in a while. I'll definitely be back."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Scott Lowen, 23, a member of AmeriCorps, swings a hammer to free a rock from a turnpike on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Ashland Tuesday. - Jamie Lusch