Limb by Limb


Camp is literally buzzing today. A little more than 12 years ago we started working with a respected lumberjack named Brett. Birch Trail is lucky to be set in 430 acres of pristine wilderness. One of the responsibilities of being the current steward of Birch Trail is caring for the forest and the natural beauty of camp. The trees that make our camp such a stunning wilderness environment also present a danger if not managed properly. To that extent we have Brett come out to the property each year and cut down any dead trees, limb up branches and ensure that the general health of our forest at Birch Trail remains strong.

When we started this process over a decade ago we wanted to make sure that no trees or branches were in danger of falling on cabins. Over that time we have continued to learn about what makes a forest healthy and the overall forest at Birch Trail has thrived.   This of course has made Birch Trail a beautiful camp to look at, but what is more important to me is that Birch Trail has become a healthier place because of it. Branches will always fall off trees and there will always be sticks on the ground, however we have been able to reduce the amount of this natural debris greatly and have removed so many of the problem trees. Through this process we have been able to educate ourselves about healthy forests and share that knowledge with the campers. We have the names of trees up around camp to help campers identify different types of trees and campers in our rangers and explorer classes learn more about the natural environment.

Brett is a great guy and a very talented lumberjack. Today we decided to err on the side of caution and take down a huge Basswood tree outside of the office. It’s a magnificent tree, but our caretaker Russ and I had some concerns about the health of this tree. When we asked Brett about it this morning he immediately hopped in his bucket truck to check it out and confirmed our concerns. The tree was dying- it could stay up a few more years on it’s own or come down now. Because the tree was in the central area of camp and close to our main office I decided to take it down. Brett agreed that it was a smart move and started to work on the massive tree.

I think it’s amazing to watch how he takes down a tree, the way he starts with the many little limbs and then the smaller branches, the larger branches, the top and finally moving down to the bottom of the trunk. His method of cutting down the tree changes with each step. The limbs are easy for him, but the larger branches require a technique of cutting with one hand on the chainsaw and bracing the branch with the other arm and then letting it fall in a controlled motion. The highest branches are too heavy to cut on his own so he ties a rope to the branch, which is then wrapped around the tree for leverage, and his helpers on the ground use the rope to lower the branch down once it’s cut. When he gets all the branches off and the tree is a long tall trunk the method becomes very technical. A rope is wrapped around the section that will be cut and two men on the ground pull tension on the other end of the rope by using pulleys and other trees to direct the cut section to fall a certain way. You can see the strain it causes on the tree and the lumberjacks.   Each move is practiced and almost artful. It’s such a huge process, looking at the whole tree you would think it’s impossible to get it down, but if you look at each branch as one step it suddenly becomes manageable. That’s the way he gets the tree down, one practiced step at a time, each small step skillfully executed and in no time the tree is down, the branches are chipped and it’s taken away.

It got me thinking about running a camp and how we get camp set up. Looking at the list of things we need to do is like looking at the big Basswood tree this morning- overwhelming! We have to rake and pick up the leaves on 430 acres, mow the grass, clean 75 buildings, set up every activity area, wash, clean and get boats in the water, set up the waterfront, get a commercial kitchen up and running, and most importantly train 140 staff members. Over the past three decades that my family has run Birch Trail we have developed our own branch-by-branch technique for setting up camp. Each step in the list has it’s time and place and reason for why it gets done in that order. Raking and leaves are like our little branches on the Linden tree- they get done first in order to make way for everything else. Then we move onto cleaning every building in camp, these are our small branches. The activity areas are our larger branches and take a little more care. This is when the ski boats go in the water and the climbing wall gets set up.

Next comes our tree trunk, staff training, which is the biggest part of the process. For years I listened to my parents say that staff training was their busiest 8 days of the year. This was their time to train the staff that would be taking care of their campers for the summer. My parents always treated the campers as their children and I have done the same. When your children are at camp, we care for them in the same way that we care for our own children. We view staff training as our chance to instill every piece of knowledge, advice and skill into our staff to help them become the best possible caregivers for our campers. Just like every other step in the process, staff training is carefully planned and designed to accomplish this very important task.

When you put all the steps together camp goes from an empty piece of property to a fully functioning summer camp. Our set up process may not be as artful to watch as Brett cutting down a tree, but I like to think that we have more fun. It’s really an amazing thing to watch and I’m excited to be at the beginning of another summer.


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