Spring has Sprung!

Building Principles

by Rick Stryker

Depending on where you are and when this issue arrives at your desk,
the snow may be thinning or even gone altogether, and it's time
to get property back into shape for the coming season of guests. Before
you go through the same old routine though, maybe a different plan is
in order. This is really the last opportunity you'll
have to head off those recurring troubles that make for an exciting summer
(and not in a good way). This month, we'll look at a couple of
examples of how camp staff can begin to get ahead of the power curve.


Spring rains or snow melt over frozen ground usually combine to exacerbate
drainage issues. In addition, with no foliage or undergrowth to speak
of, you can actually see locations that are otherwise hidden during the
rest of the year. This is the ideal time to examine how surface water
moves through camp, where it stands, and how it makes its way from the
highest ground to the lowest. Begin at the lowest place on camp, and
work your way up hill. For example, culverts that carry drainage from
one side of the road to the other can overtop and make the road impassable.
This time of the year, the flow paths to, through, and over these critical
locations are very easy to map. So if there's a weak link in the
drainage chain here, this is the time to correct it. But don't
stop there! Consider what will happen when you replace a culvert with
a larger one or widen and straighten that ditch. Obviously, the water
that was held back will now make its way downstream faster and in greater
volume. The improved flow will most likely follow the same flow path
as before. Retrace the outlet path and ensure that the water won't
impact any of your buildings or other facilities. This includes allowing
water to flow under your buildings. Just because it's not washing
against the siding, doesn't mean it's ok. Yes. I know. Frank
Lloyd Wright did it. However, time has borne out the troubles with that
sort of feature, and most camps I know don't have the resources
to make those sorts of repairs. Do everything you can to safely drain
water away from the buildings.

Another drainage issue that's often overlooked is the fascia of
buildings. Often, spring melt and rains will graphically illustrate the
need for drip-edge, gutters, or other building amendments. Keeping the
exterior of your buildings as dry as possible will greatly increase the
life of the materials as well as decrease the frequency that they have
to be painted.

Finally, potholes in the roadway are often symptoms of trouble lurking
deeper below the surface. Sure, some are just the result of freezing
water standing in puddles. But if you're repairing the same location
every year, there's probably something more that you can do to
mend the area more completely. Again, use the digital camera to help
you remember where that repair is being made this year. If you're
repairing an area that you remember from the past years, it's time
to dig a little deeper. Literally! Chances are that the sub-base (the
roadway layer beneath the travel surface) has lost its internal strength,
and you're never going to be free from repeat repairs until you
dig that out and replace it with new material.

Generally speaking, this process is not unlike filling a cavity in a
tooth. (Sorry for the unpleasant analogy, but it works!) Whether the
surface is asphalt, dirt, soil, or gravel road, the procedure is the
same. Like the dentist must drill to clean and shape the cavity to receive
the filling, the damaged area must be cut out large enough to allow equipment
into the hole completely. Dig deep enough to uncover material that's
hard and not yielding, probably between 8" and 12". Place
and level replacement road bedding material in layers not more than half
the depth at a time, thoroughly compacting each layer (or lift). Normally,
the material going in should contain an even range of particle sizes
so that each compacted surface is without noticeable spaces between the
gravel particles. Where you find that there is ground water soaking into
the cut area, you may need to dig even deeper and place "washed
stone" and a drain to allow the groundwater an easy path of relief
(rather than collecting in your road). There are also other aids like
grids and fabrics that will help "bridge" over these sorts
of areas where things are so gooey that the compaction equipment just
can't get the job done. You may find that you need only one of
these techniques to repair your road, or perhaps you need the whole range
of solutions and then some! And while these cost more than just dumping
stone on the old
problem, the repairs (when done right) will pay for themselves in time
and materials in short order.

Tree Work

Many camps and conference centers enjoy heavily wooded sites with large
trees making for an inviting atmosphere. But winter weather can have a
horrible effect on dormant trees with snow, ice, and wind causing cracking
and weakening. Certain species of trees are more susceptible to this sort
of damage than others, and the symptoms of a pending failure can escape
all but a trained eye. The first stop is a call to the local agricultural
extension office. This is a government agency, normally at the county level,
which has a relationship with a state university, and it's typically
funded by the USDA. Many agricultural extension offices have a forester
on staff or have a working relationship with a consultant who can help
you assess the health and condition of trees in areas, but their work is
best done before the foliage emerges. Much of the "free work" is
done from the ground, and a visit from their office will help you get a
sense of whether there is trouble brewing in the treetops. And again, because
they have a wider area of observation than you, they'll have a much
better sense of regional trends. They will also help you become aware of
looming forest pest troubles, like gypsy moths or woolly adelgid (which
targets hemlock trees). These folks are the first step in a forest management
program that will help preserve your site, your facilities, and most importantly
protect your staff and guests. And if you need tree work, the agricultural
extension agent can help you select and manage a specialized, licensed,
and insured contractor.


While we're talking about looking up at the trees, perhaps you
ought to consider looking for the source of those pesky stinging insects
that nest in eaves and on tree branches. While the air is still cool
and before the sun wakes them, this is the time to remove their nests
and take some steps to prevent their return. Examine the eaves and vents
of all your buildings, removing nests of paper wasps and mud daubers.
Then install vented soffit in the eaves to cover the rafter tails, and
fiberglass screen over the roof vents to deny the insects a place to
nest. There's
little that you can do to prevent them from building nests in trees, but
you can remove last year's head start, to encourage them to start
fresh elsewhere.

You can also use this opportunity to look at (and photograph) the condition
of the roofs themselves. How are the shingles looking? Are they curling,
or coming apart? Is the roof ridge sagging or showing other signs of weakening?
The slow rate of snow melt on roofs will often exacerbate a minor leak
that may go unnoticed in the summer, and leave tell-tale stains inside.

There are many, many areas of camp that ought to get more than just
opened after a long winter of dormancy, and these are but a few. "Spring" is
the season for much more than love. This is the best opportunity you'll
have all year long to identify areas of concern and either take corrective
action or begin building a list of items that may be a growing trouble
spot. Take a lesson from the season, and start new and fresh! Get out of "react" mode
and into "pro-act" mode!

Rick Stryker is a professional engineer with Camp Facilities Consulting,
providing study, design, permitting, and construction consultation services
to the camp and conference center community. Camp personnel may contact
him at 570-296-2765 or by e-mail at rstryker@ptd.net.

Neal Levin has been working at summer camps in Michigan for
nearly thirty years. He currently works at Camp Walden where he publishes
a daily newspaper, The Walden Pond. In the off-season, Neal is a cartoonist
and freelance children's writer.

Originally published in the 2007 March/April
issue of Camping Magazine.