Trails Adventure Team Handbook

Table of Contents

1. License

(C) Copyright 2023 by David T. O'Toole.

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this document (the "Document"), to deal in the Document without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Document, and to permit persons to whom the Document is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Document.

The Document is provided "as is", without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to the warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose and noninfringement. In no event shall the authors or copyright holders be liable for any claim, damages or other liability, whether in an action of contract, tort or otherwise, arising from, out of or in connection with the Document or the use or other dealings in the Document.

2. About this document

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2.1. Colophon

This document was written using GNU Emacs with Orgmode. Various versions (HTML, EPUB, PDF, plain text) can be produced automatically from the original Orgmode markup file.

The hierarchical section navigation in HTML format is provided by org-info-js. It has been extended to include graphical navigation buttons, a dynamic sidebar, bookmarking, and more as part of Org-fleuron.

The typeface used for this document is IBM Plex, distributed under the terms of the Open Font License. The colors are selected from the Solarized palette.

The fancy capital letters are in the public domain and were created by the 19th century designer William Morris.

2.2. Disclaimer

The Trails Adventure Team Handbook is a work in progress. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, this document is for informational purposes only and may contain errors and omissions. Reading this document cannot substitute for due diligence with regard to potential trail hazards or with regard to current local, state, and federal laws governing trail conduct and PRS (Personal Radio Services). Readers are responsible for their own compliance and safety. This web page and the group are neither official activities of the Town of Northborough nor of the Northborough Trails Committee.

2.3. Acknowledgements

I'd like to thank the following people for their assistance:

  • Mike Leonard, co-founder of Trails Adventure Team
  • David Kane, MIS/GIS Director for the Town of Northborough
  • Chuck and Sandy O'Toole, my parents

3. Mission

The goal of Trails Adventure Team is to help keep the Town of Northborough's trails clean and safe while getting exercise, building friendships, and learning about the local environment. We enter trail systems with small groups of volunteers who use two-way radios to coordinate trash removal and report adverse trail conditions. We follow trail etiquette along with local, state, and federal regulations, putting the team's safety first at all times.

Trails Adventure Team's logo signifies our appreciation for the natural beauty of Northborough:


Because Northborough's trails close at dusk, the sunset is a reminder of trail safety; the blue pond represents the wetlands which are such a prominent feature of the town's trails.

Each mission into a trail system is led by an authorized Team Leader, who may designate Squad Leaders as appropriate. After arriving at the trail head, individual Squad Leaders may take their respective groups down different trails, agreeing beforehand on appropriate times and places to rendezvous. Upon completing the day's tasks the team should return to the trail head to sanitize their hands, put any trash bags into their vehicles, and check themselves for ticks. Safety is everyone's first priority!

4. Trail citizenship

Following local, state, and federal regulations is the foundation of everything we do. The following sections summarize (and link to) important rules and regulations applying to conduct on trails managed by different authorities, as well as FCC regulations that apply everywhere in the United States.

4.1. Follow Northborough trail etiquette

Our group must respect the town's established rules for proper use of the trails.

  • Plan hikes in accordance with team members' physical abilities and available resources. Don't go unprepared; you could get lost or injured.
  • Stay informed of weather and trail conditions. Check local weather forecasts before hiking and periodically monitor NOAA weather radio while on trails.
  • Protect yourself against mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects by choosing proper clothing and by using repellents such as DEET. Check for ticks after every hike.
  • Travel equipped with food, water, and clothing.
  • Bring trail maps.
  • Inform others of our itinerary and our expected return time.
  • Avoid hiking alone; when splitting up, every squad should have at least two people.
  • Leave no trash.
  • Avoid animals and report any dangerous sightings.
  • Avoid damaging flora or fauna.
  • Do not contribute to erosion.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • Minimize noise.
  • No smoking or vaping.
  • Hike in daylight only; trails/parks close at dusk.
  • Ensure cell phones are charged and working. Do not use radios for emergencies unless a cell phone is not available.
  • Any team members' dogs must be leashed. Each team member is responsible for removing his own animal's waste if any.

See the Town of Northborough's trail etiquette page for more details.

4.2. Follow Commonwealth hunting/hiking laws

Team members must respect hunters who pass through trails lawfully. Active hunting within 500 feet of any dwelling, road, or trail should be reported to Northborough Police.

Be aware that hunting is allowed on parts of the Mt. Pisgah and Crane Swamp areas, and thus team members should wear orange caps or other orange clothing during hunting season when hiking there. See the town's page on hunting and hiking for more details.

4.3. Follow DCR and MassWildlife regulations

On lands controlled by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, we are subject to DCR regulations. Here is a partial overview/summary spreadsheet of the rules for conduct at all Massachusetts state parks.

Wildlife Management Area (MWA) regulations apply on all lands owned by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

4.4. Follow FCC radio regulations

Each squad must be equipped with one or more waterproof two-way radios. Team Leaders must be licensed GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) users. Each GMRS licensee is responsible for proper operation of his or her radio, and for following applicable regulations.

It is recommended that radio operators hold the PTT (Push To Talk) button for approximately one second before starting to speak, to give the other radios time to pick up the signal.

4.4.1. General FCC rules for Personal Radio Services

The following general rules apply to all Personal Radio Services, which include FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS:

  • Keep transmissions brief.
  • Do not use profane, indecent, or obscene language or meaning.
  • Do not sing, whistle, play music, or send coded messages. ("10-codes" are permissible.)
  • Do not interfere with the transmissions of other users.
  • Do not send false or deceptive messages, such as false distress signals.

The full FCC regulations surrounding GMRS are too complex to summarize here; for further information, please see the team's GMRS/FRS regulations matrix and the text of the FCC Part 95 rules.

4.4.2. Family Radio Service interoperability

Before starting a mission, Team Leaders must train any unlicensed FRS users in proper use of FRS handsets and in basic FCC rules.

A Squad Leader can be an unlicensed FRS user provided that the trail system in question has been confirmed by the team beforehand as being suitable for the reduced power and bandwidth of FRS.

4.4.3. Channel policy

The following table gives our channel and transmission settings policy with regard to GMRS and FRS:

Situation Channel Power Bandwidth
GMRS 4 5.0 watts wide
GMRS (alternate) 5 5.0 watts wide
GMRS + FRS 6 2.0 watts narrow
GMRS + FRS (alternate) 7 2.0 watts narrow No audible electronic tones

Any audible paging or acknowledgement tone (i.e. "Call" or "Roger beep") should be deactivated, as this may carry farther than voice and disturb others; see DCR regulation 302 CMR 12.04(28)(e). On some handsets these transmit much louder than the voice channel.

Some handsets beep when any key is pressed; this should be deactivated as well.

4.4.4. Team Leaders and Callsigns

The following people are FCC-licensed Team Leaders.

Name Unit number GMRS Callsign
David O'Toole 1 WRWQ303
Mike Leonard 2 WRWR359

5. Tasks

We accomplish various tasks to support the team's mission.

5.1. Remove trash

One team member on each squad should carry a trash bag and use latex gloves to remove items of (non-biological) trash. Anything too large to carry should be reported to town officials. We currently do not collect animal waste.

5.2. Remove debris

Any fallen branches that are small enough to move should be set aside the trail if they are in the way. Thorns and other vines that hang across the trail should be tucked aside.

5.3. Report trail conditions

The team should assess and report adverse conditions on trails such as mud, flooding, downed or hanging branches or trees, dangerous animals, dumping, damage to infrastructure or signage, or vandalism. Use GPS tagging to record the exact location if possible, and report problems to town officials.

5.4. Deposit trash in proper facility

After a mission, all trash bags should be tied securely and deposited in a proper facility, either at a member's home collection spot, or elsewhere as designated by town officials.

5.5. Measure and chart radio ranges

Team members should collaborate to measure and document point-to-point signal strength in different areas so that we can develop expectations about how radio operations are affected by different trail systems and thus plan accordingly. Tests should be done on both GMRS and FRS handsets so that a trail system's suitability for FRS (if it differs from GMRS) can be determined.

5.6. Learn about the environment

The Trails Committee provides supplementary historical and other enrichment materials relating to the geological and environmental concerns of Northborough. Becoming familiar with the features of the Edmund Hill Woods Interpretive Trail and the history of the trails system are useful ways to engage with environmental knowledge. Identifying local flora and fauna can be a frequent activity.

5.7. Plan and log missions with QGIS

The team should use QGIS, a Free Software program for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to plan future missions, log data points, and to review data points from previous missions. The Team Leader should print color maps of the trail system, and bring enough copies to distribute to each member.

5.7.1. Tips for QGIS and QField

  • Make sure to wait a few moments for GPS to sync before recording a data point. Turn on accuracy requirements and averaging in QField.
  • When creating a new layer in a QFieldCloud project in QGIS, make sure to save the new GeoPackage in the QFieldCloud staging directory for the project (along with the other GeoPackages), otherwise it will not sync properly in QFieldCloud.

5.8. Assign one task to each person

  • A team member who brings a dog should not also be a Team Leader or Squad Leader at the same time.
  • For sanitation reasons, a team member who is gathering trash (with or without gloves) should not also operate the radio on that mission.
  • If a Squad Leader is gathering trash, he should delegate an FRS radio to another member (or a GMRS radio if both are licensed) who will then be responsible for communications.

5.9. Observe old stone walls

When old stone walls are encountered, we should record a GPS point and take one or more photos. We should observe and note the condition and style of each wall.

5.10. Visit Massachusetts state parks

Because professionals with the Department of Conservation and Recreation already maintain our state parks, we do not need to remove trash when visiting. These can be considered purely recreational trips. The laws governing conduct, party size, etc. on state park land are different from those governing Town of Northborough trails; this section will need to be expanded to include a summary of the regulations.

Be sure to visit to check all regulations and restrictions relating to each park before visiting.

6. Supplies

Team Leaders should wear backpacks and make every effort to bring enough supplies for a mission:

  • Bottled water
  • Snacks
  • Rubber gloves
  • Trash bags
  • Insect repellent
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Orange visibility hats, depending on area and season
  • Shears for trimming tiny branches or thorn bush shoots

It's a good idea to keep a few extras of these items in your car, in case there aren't enough in the Team Leader's backpack.

7. Membership

Trails Adventure Team is open to area residents over the age of 18. Minors may travel along provided that a parent or guardian is present at all times.

A GMRS license (required to be a Team Leader or Squad Leader) requires no exam, covers your whole family, and costs just $35 for a ten year period (this fee is paid to the FCC, not to the Team.) A good waterproof GMRS handset with extra battery and accessories can be had for about $50 from manufacturers such as Baofeng, Midland, and Cobra.

If you aren't nearby, don't fret. You can start your own trails team in any town with a few friends, some two-way radios, and a backpack full of supplies.

8. Contact

Please contact David O'Toole for more information about Trails Adventure Team.

9. Events

9.1. Upcoming events

9.1.1. Upton State Forest, 4/16/2023

Rain date: 4/23/2023

Please visit the page on Upton State Forest for detailed information and a downloadable trail map. No grilling is allowed.

See also these links:

9.1.2. Mount Pisgah, 4/30/2023

Rain date: 5/7/2023

Let's climb Mount Pisgah! According to the official topographical map of Northborough, the peak of Mount Pisgah stands at 718 feet above sea level. However, the summit is only about 120 feet higher than the Smith Road parking lot we will be using, so the climb itself should not be terribly difficult. The total round-trip length of the planned route is 1.5 miles. Our view to the East from the summit should be dramatic; reportedly one can see the Hancock Tower in Boston on a clear day. We should be able to see the center of Northborough as well, since we'll be about 400 feet higher.

Things to remember:

  • Wear orange or other bright colors, as hunting is allowed on parts of the Mt. Pisgah area. (This should not occur within 500 feet of any trail, but be aware.)
  • Wear boots as there may be muddy and rocky areas.
  • DEET will be made available; if you want to use a different repellent, please bring some along. There will also be some bottled water to share in David's truck.
  • Parking is limited so we should attempt to carpool. I can provide transportation for 3 additional people.

Squad leaders will be David (Squad 1) and Mike (Squad 2)

Team gear:

  • We will bring two GMRS radios with handheld microphones and belt holsters, one radio for each squad; a third radio will be at home base with CDO for testing longer range transmissions from the peak of Mount Pisgah.
  • The team's GPS navigation tablet will be assigned to David on Squad 1.
  • A tactical compass and a digital weather / wind speed meter will be provided for Squad 2, to be assigned to individuals as Mike sees fit.

Mission plan:

  • Arrive at the parking lot at 23 Smith Road in Northborough. (Find on Google Maps)
  • Both squads should follow Mentzer Trail eastward to the intersection with Sparrow Trail.
  • Squad 1, led by David: Continue straight on Mentzer Trail until the intersection with Berlin Road Trail. Perform a radio range test, then turn right onto Berlin Road Trail and go south until reaching Summit Trail. Turn left onto Summit Trail and head eastward to the peak of Mount Pisgah. This path is about 0.6 miles.
  • Squad 2, led by Mike: From the intersection, turn right on Sparrow Trail and follow to Berlin Road Trail, then turn left and head north on Berlin Road Trail until reaching Summit Trail. Turn right onto Summit Trail and follow it eastward to the peak of Mount Pisgah. This path is about 0.9 miles.
  • Conduct longer-range radio test transmissions from peak to approximate center of Northborough (about 2.6 miles as the crow flies.)
  • Take a wind speed / direction measurement at the peak.
  • Have a snack and rehydrate.
  • All squads return to Smith Road along their respective routes. The two squads can swap routes on the return trip, so that everyone gets to see both paths.

Mission map:

The routes described above are shown on the map below. Click the image to zoom in. David will also provide printed copies, or you can view it on your mobile phone.


9.1.3. Royalston Lakeside, 5/14/2023

Mission plan:

We will visit a forest on 80 acres of private property (with the owner's permission, of course) in Royalston, Massachusetts. The land is bordered on the east and north by approximately 4,000 feet of old stone walls; on the west side is a small lake. I would like us to map the entirety of the wall with GPS, starting with the angled section to the northwest of the house and then proceeding to the northeast corner of the property. Then we can continue south along the wall until it ends, and continue walking the perimeter of the property until we are heading back north along the edge of the lake.

We will also have the opportunity to investigate and identify a raised, round feature in the LIDAR which might very well turn out to be a Relict Charcoal Hearth from the late 19th century.

Once we have returned to the house area, we can take a snack break and then venture south into the forest to look for points of interest.

WARNING: It is bear season and Royalston is on the border of Vermont. We should take all necessary precautions and be on the lookout for animal activity. Do not split up the group.


  • bear spray
  • DEET
  • First aid kit
  • bottled waters
  • protein bars
  • spade for light digging to identify RCH

9.2. Past events

9.2.1. Edmund Hill Woods, 4/2/2023

Mission plan:

  • Don't split up, no need for radios
  • Test precision of new GPS unit
  • Use GPS to record intersection points of new trail
  • Walk along new trail to gather GPS track data
  • Check GPS points against parcel lines
  • Sync with QGIS Desktop and annotate

Mission report:

A good hike all around! We traveled up by the summit and down Summit Trail to the Northborough Senior Center, then returned along Goldfinch and Proctor trails. The total distance was about 1.7 miles. The large stone wall (see map below) was very intriguing, and needs further investigation. Here are our points of interest:


9.2.2. Edmund Hill Woods, 3/26/2023

Mission plan:

  • Check QGIS and capture data points at trail intersections.
  • Arrive at Rice Avenue parking lot.
  • Hike to the summit (approx. 0.5 miles long and approx. 140 ft. climb)
  • Return to the intersection of Edmund Hill Trail and Summit Trail.
  • Split up along the two branches of Edmund Hill Trail moving southward.
  • Conduct radio tests, including when one member reaches the intersection with Goldfinch Trail (approx 0.125 miles from halfway through the other leg of Edmund Hill Trail).
  • Rendezvous at the trail head and return home.

Post-mission report:

The DCR map is very out of date, a new trail is missing and Edmund Hill Trail has since been rerouted to the West around properties at the summit of Edmund Hill. We split up at Proctor Trail on our return trip in order to test the radios. Took several data points too, but had problems with positions being wrong when synced to QGIS Desktop. Will follow up with tech support.

9.3. Postponed events

9.3.1. Yellick Conservation Area, 4/9/2023

Mission plan:

  • Units 1 and 2: Arrive at Boundary Street parking lot.
  • Unit 1 drives Unit 2 to Hudson Street Parking lot.
  • All units hike together along Coyote Trail, Birdsong Trail, and Old Farm Trail until we reach the Boundary Street Parking Lot again. This is approximately 2 miles.
  • Unit 2 drives Unit 1 back to Hudson Street parking lot.