PHOTO GALLERY | Rebuilding the Beartown Shelter
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.
A third team is now on site to finish the project.
The Wildcat Lodge is named after the trail it sits on, which according to local legend was itself named after a bobcat that Civilian Conservation Corps Inspector Jack Lambert saw in the 1930s.
The corps built the lodge in 1939 as an in-between station for skiers. Back then, the run that would become Butternut Ski Area in Great Barrington was called East Mountain, while in Lee, behind what is now the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Oak N' Spruce Resort, there was another ski hill.
Both ski hills were built by the corps.
The lodge was situated between the two so that skiers traveling from one to another had a place to rest and warm up, said Adam Morris.
Morris, the Beartown Complex Forest and Park Regional Coordinator, helped write the grant that obtained funding for the project. He wrote the grant with Craig's predecessor, Melissa Patterson, in 2014, but has worked with Craig on the project for the last two years.
Both men were helping with the log carry on Tuesday.
"It's a no-petroleum job!" Morris said.
But some devices came in handy.
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, Morris explained, 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.
The forest team got here from different parts of the country. Simkins hails from Atlantic City, Brown and Julia Graham are both from Belmont.
Rick Martinez and Molly Lowell are from farther afield, Denver, Colorado, and Saint Kitts in the West Indies, respectively.
All five were brought together by their love of the outdoors and their desire to serve.
"It's being outside and working for education and the environment," Graham said of her involvement.
Beartown isn't the only place the program is sending members.
"We're cutting a new trail at Monument Mountain," said Maura Lowrie, an association member who has worked with the program for three years.
Lowrie was on site to help train the crew — and hoist the log.
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.
The log was placed on the ground off to the side, away from where the team was placing large rocks in the ground to provide a foundation for the rebuilt structure.
"It's like playing with Lincoln Logs," said Simkins.
Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-464-4872 or @BE_EoinHiggins.