by Marlene Berlin
If you haven’t walked the Soapstone Valley Trail for a couple of weeks, you’ll notice some changes on your next visit. The Rock Creek Crew of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club was out working on trail improvements on November 15th.
Alex Sanders heads the crew, and he said in an email that volunteers took on two main projects that day: “Enhancing the primary entrance down into Soapstone Valley near the west end of Audubon Terrace, and re-routing a short stretch of Soapstone Valley Trail away from the crumbling streambank.”
The first project addressed the problem of water runoff from a storm a few weeks ago that eroded a steep downhill entrance to the trail. The volunteers filled in the eroded section, and redug the trenches and replaced the waterbar (a wooden beam) with a longer one to direct water away from trail. They hope this will cut down on erosion from downpours.
Sanders says the second project was necessary due to steady erosion of Soapstone Creek’s streambanks.
“As the banks erode, there’s less space between the trail and the bank, and park users are one or two steps from taking a tumble,” Sanders said. “We re-routed a short section of the trail to go away from the bank. This involved cutting a downed tree and moving it aside, removing dozens of invasive shrubs, and shifting around dirt and rocks to provide users with a smoother surface.”
“This trail’s days are numbered”
It would seem, though, that this work is merely buying time for the trail and its users. In the years that Sanders has been the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s district manager in DC, he has watched Soapstone Creek’s streambanks erode and lose sediment.
“The stream is becoming wider, shallower and less healthy. And the trail is clearly imperiled in several locations,” he said.
“I don’t know when it will happen, but at some point, we will no longer be able to keep the Soapstone Valley Trail open as it falls into the stream. We will have nowhere else to put it. Without determined action from the property owners in the Soapstone Valley watershed, this trail’s days are numbered.”
Another problem is a fallen tree that is blocking the streambed closer to Broad Branch Road.
Sanders and I have been talking with the National Park Service about removing it, and NPS has assured me it will. Over the months the tree has been down, Sanders says it has significantly changed the stream bed with sediment building up behind it.
“Much of the water is flowing around the tree on the north side where it will erode the little spit of the land and the trail. I also wonder what will happen in the next rainstorm. Will the tree block debris and make it impossible for users to cross the stream? PATC will continue to request that the blowdown be cut into pieces so the stream flows in the middle rather than scour out the banks.”
All warnings aside, the Rock Creek Crew of the PATC has not given up on our little oasis. Volunteers plan to return in the spring to repair the stream crossings. The Forest Hills community thanks Sanders and his crew for maintaining our trails so all can enjoy the beauty of this area.