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1 Man, 1 Park, 280 Miles of Trails and 45 Years of Work

After someone spends 45 years caring for the trails inside Mount Rainier National Park, what do you give the guy when he finally retires?

In the case of Carl Fabiani, who on Friday (Oct. 29) is hanging up his shovel after 45 years of tending Rainier's 280-mile trail system, parting gifts presented at his farewell party included framed images of the 14,411-foot mountain, a congressman's letter of commendation and a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Carl Fabiani and Mt. RainierThe best gift of all? Not a gold watch. Instead, the more than 100 friends and coworkers gathered to salute Fabiani cheered when he was presented with an engraved, chrome-plated Pulaski, one of the cleverest tools (half axe, half hoe) ever created for trail workers.

It's an instrument Fabiani has swung countless times during his almost half-century of service to Rainier's trails. "It has long been one of my favorite tools," said Fabiani, 63. "It's highly appreciated."

So is all of Fabiani's work, which began in 1965 when Fabiani was just 18. He grew in Wilkeson, a small community near the park's northwest corner, and spent his first days working on trail eradication, of all things. "Now we call it meadow rehabilitation," Fabiani says. "A lot of social trails criss-crossed meadows, so the goal was get people to use just one."

Fabiani began studying forestry in college but found trail work in Rainier appealed to him more.

"I enjoy the mountain and its surroundings, and I'm a hands-on person," he says. "I like swinging a Pulaski or a shovel or using a chainsaw. You get a real feeling of accomplishment, whether you're building or clearing a trail. It's very satisfying work, and people are usually pretty appreciative of it. It's not uncommon when we're on the trail for people to tell us, 'We're glad you guys are out here.' "

Rainier trail carved into a hillsideFabiani worked on seasonal trail crews through 1983, when his job finally became a permanent park position. In 1995, he was elevated to trail foreman and has served in that role since.

Duties include budgeting, filing funding requests, hiring and supervising trail crews (typically five 5-person crews each summer), and coordinating volunteer trail workers (which annually provide thousands of hours of trail work). Has he found time to still swing a Pulaski? "Not very often," Fabiani concedes. "I've really missed it, too. The occasional opportunity I get is great. But it hasn't happened very often."

Carl Fabiani (left) discusses trail bridge constructionOne of Fabiani's biggest challenges was restoring Rainier's trail system to health after a flood-inducing storm in November 2006 washed out numerous bridges and trail sections.

"I was thinking about retiring in 2006," he says, "but after the floods I thought I didn't want to leave the trails in a mess, and I knew there would be some really interesting challenges to put trails back in where they had been washed away."

Replacing a modest 300-foot section of the famed Wonderland Trail in the Stevens Canyon section of the park required weeks of difficult labor.

"Because the terrain was so steep and was made up of all glacial deposits, we had people working in harnesses and ropes on the hillside. Once we got a trail established we've been able to keep it in. It sloughs away quite a bit, so we have to keep working at it."

Such is life for a trail worker in Rainier. "Rainier is a very dynamic piece of country," Fabiani says. "Between the snow and windstorms and floods, we lose things every year. So you're often building the same bridge over and over and over again."

Fabiani spent many hours working on the Wonderland TrailAdding to Fabiani's challenge is the fact that nearly half of Rainier's trail system, including much of the Wonderland Trail (which measures 90 miles, according to his latest trail inventory), is designated as a National Historic Landmark, as is much of the park.

"The trails are supposed to be maintained to the same standard to which they were originally built," Fabiani says, "so we try the best we can to do that. When they were rebuilt by the CCC in the 1930s, they were built to a very high standard—typically wide and well-graded, with nice, uniform switchbacks. Lots of bridges—they were into building bridges—with culverts. It's a lot of work to keep them up to that high standard."

Rainier's weather-making topography is indifferent to Fabiani's plight. "We have several glacier stream crossings that are regular washouts, even during the summer," he says. "The Carbon River has 2 crossings on it, then the North Mowich and the South Mowich, the west fork of the White River—they're all crossings that go out almost every winter and oftentimes during the summer as well.

"The South Mowich is sort of legendary with us. There have been times we've had to replace that crossing 6, maybe as many as 10 times in a summer," he says. "It's just this broad, flat, braided gravel pit. When you get a really hot day, all the rocks start moving down that braided stream. We've had days when we go out and put in a bridge and we get a call the next day: 'Your bridge is out.' We just put it in yesterday. 'Umm, well, it's out.' So we go back down and find now the river is over here instead of where it was the day before."

Frustrating? Not to Fabiani. "That sort of thing has never bothered me," he says. "It's just the way this place is. If we're going to keep a trail system here, we have to work with that. If you have to do a job over and over again, there's no better place to do it."

Trail toolsNow that work on the replacement and reconstruction of a 3-mile section of the flood-demolished Glacier Basin Trail on Rainier's east side is nearly complete, Fabiani plans to travel with his wife and finish a new log home the 2 of them are building in Fabiani's childhood town of Wilkeson, where they currently reside. Still a big fan of the park (he has summited Rainier dozens of times), he looks forward to coming full circle and returning to his roots as a hands-on trail worker, only this time in the role of a volunteer.

"Parts of this job are more bureaucratic, so I've been feeling a little more out of touch with the field side, and I miss that," Fabiani said. "But I'm not tired of trail work by any means. Now I can go out and do the fun part."

As a volunteer? "I'm sure I will," he says. "I know I'll be back out on the trails. After 45 years, it's just a part of me now. It'll almost be hard not to. Next spring, when the snow starts melting, I'll be wanting to get out."


Posted on at 5:59 PM

Tagged: Carl Fabiani, Hiking, Mount Rainier National Park, Pulaski, national parks, trail supervisor and trails

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We need all the people like him doing things to make our treks more fulfilling (and easier for us to do without falling off the trail or making a big mess. THANKS!

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