Labors of Love: Stewardship Projects at Ragged & Pinnacle

We’ve all done it. Stepped quickly over a water bar, moved confidently along a well blazed trail, pressed our way up a hillside stair somewhere far into the woods and then, taken a moment’s pause to catch our breath. There’s climbing somewhere up ahead and it’s hard to think about the ground underfoot when there is rock to be touched. Yet someone has done a lot of work to ease your way. You don’t know who, or when, or how but you do appreciate their labors. Then ready to move once more you hurry onward towards the crag.

No one does trail work for the applause, or the fame, or the groupies… there are no groupies. Instead those who labor with rock bar and pickaxe do it to make the spaces we love that much better and the experience of visitors that much more positive. Erosion, access, species protection and recreation are often at odds and a well maintained trail keeps the balance. So who maintains the trails?

On June second, the RMF’s Chuck Boyd and a group of volunteers cleared a season’s worth of deadfall from the spillway of a small dam on the property of the Ragged Mountain Foundation. A tiny part of the 56 acre preserve and dwarfed by the larger water company dam upriver, this dam is nonetheless vital to maintaining passable trails and good neighbor relations downstream. Most visitors have no idea about the dam, just like most don’t notice the carefully revetted trail along the base of the cliff, or the way fallen logs just seem to disappear from the path. Yet without the dedication of volunteers who perform these rituals of maintenance, the Ragged Mountain Preserve would quickly fall into disarray. That's why Chuck and his crew, pushing back the undergrowth with weed whacker and bucket, are key to allowing Ragged Mountain to continue as the only parcel of land in the state preserved for the purpose of rock climbing.

On June 11th, the RMF’s Matt Conroy and Nate McKenzie along with thirteen others from Rock Climb Fairfield gathered at the trail to Pinnacle Rock beside a stack of 62 timbers and mounds of tools. While the RMF doesn’t own Pinnacle, it’s importance to the local climbing community has made it a focus of the Foundation’s efforts and in partnership with Rock Climb Fairfield has worked to improve the crag since 2017. 11 hours of lifting, lugging, digging and cutting later, a sweaty and exhausted crew had turned a rubble strewn slope at the cliff’s right end into a sturdy staircase. The value of a less dangerous, better defined trail ensuring easier access to the top while limiting erosion is enormous. That such a project happened at privately owned Pinnacle is just one more sign of how much these volunteers care about the CT climbing experience.

While not every user may grasp the care and effort that goes into such improvements, the RMF would like to thank one organization that truly does. Both of these projects, along with several others, were funded by a generous $5,000 grant from REI. For the past seven years REI has consistently supported the Ragged Mountain Foundation with similar grants. These grants have supplied the materials and tools to maintain trails, build walls, erect stairs and keep water levels under control. These projects, which benefit all users of Ragged Mountain and Pinnacle are signs of REI’s vision and dedication to supporting the local outdoor community.

Thanks to REI and the volunteers from Rock Climb Fairfield, the Ragged Mountain Foundation is better able to carry out its mission of preserving Connecticut’s high and wild places.