Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Crafting Trail with the CMC

The view from Hornbuckle Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway
So I have been getting settled in well here in Asheville, enjoying some of the very things that make this city what it is: morning trail runs, afternoon trail runs, and mid-day hikes on the MST (this is easy considering one can access it rather easily from just about anywhere in the city), workshops on harvesting wild nuts and plant walks with some of my favorite herbal instructors, and breath-taking views at the most unexpected moments such as when driving down the highway when heading into work. I've also reveled in the non-nature related perks as well:  delicious vegetarian fare, quality coffee, local stouts and porters, yoga classes,  eclectic bookstores abounding with nature musings and eastern philosophy, and weekly costume parties (planned and impromptu) as well as lots and lots of laughter with friends. Ah...Asheville, thank you for welcoming me back into your mountains.

However, most recently, I had the opportunity to step into the Mountains with the Carolina Mountain Club. Although I have walked a lot of trail, I must admit, I have built next to none. This past Saturday I got to meet some of the folks that not only build and maintain approximately 100 miles of the MST , but also many miles of the AT and various smaller trails throughout the surrounding region. Walking the trail may require physical strength, commitment, and presence of mind, but building one requires all this and a hazel hoe!

Janet - a volunteer with the Carolina Mountain Club holding just a small handful of the foot-deep duff we encountered. She showed this trail building novice the ropes!
Les Love and Piet lead the regional crew and guide the Saturday outings with volunteers, making sure all feel welcome and are fitted with the proper tools and the instruction on how to use them. On this day, the last Saturday work day on the MST of the year until March, they led 19 of us up a steep, bushwhacked path, at times resembling that of a deer trail, to the work-in-progress path that will be the MST.

Standing on my 20 feet of trail that Janet and I hacked away at for 4 hours
Now I had it easy with just my hazel hoe and clippers, some of these folks were carrying far more gear such as buckets, rakes, and or even a chainsaw or two. We all chatted on the way up and I had the pleasure of talking for a good while with Bob. Bob is on the weekly Friday work crew and although twice my age kept a strong pace and by the looks of his of gear and dirt-coated backpack implied he was going to give that trail some real workin'. Bob is just one example of the many folks that dedicate significant chunks of their time to steadily building and maintaining the trail that brings so many of us so much joy.

Becky and Linda - these ladies made some awesome progress just above where Janet and I were working. Becky leads a wilderness trail crew that will be heading out again this Saturday.
Our job on this day was to continue cutting into the mountainside with sharp hazel hoes and scraping away the upper layer of duff. Duff is decaying vegetation, basically roots, leaves, and fallen trees that are slowly turning to dirt. Once this layer is removed, along with the rocks therein (small rocks are simply thrown off-trail, however large rocks are reserved to support the newly exposed soil), rich black soil is revealed. This will be the basis for a long-lasting trail, along with proper ditches made for draining and necessary stepping stones. We did a good deal of hard manual labor on this day but we shared a good deal of stories with one another and laughter as well.

Just one view from Waterrock Knob - elevation 5820 feet
 When finished, this trail will lead from the top of Waterrock Knob that sits at 5820 feet along the Blue Ridge Parkway down to Soco Gap. When I came through here on my last thru-hike I followed trail a ways pass Balsam Gap and then walked the parkway to its peak. It had been blustery and cold and spitting rain with fog so thick I could barely see the road before me...a long cry from the sunny, blue-skied day that I had encountered on this work day, so lovely that I actually felt nostalgic for that difficult day. Once at Waterrock Knob I had followed the Black Rock Trail down to my campsite within Pinnacle Park. This put me on course for the River Valley Route where I then picked up road walking until I hit the Smokies. However, this new trail has the potential to lead the hiker along the into the Smokies without having to road-walk.

I strongly encourage any of my fellow hikers to get out and volunteer with your local trail crews. If it weren't for these folks, the trail would quite literally not exist. If you can't get out to lend a literal hand, then thank these people as you pass them on trail. Trail building is slow and steady and their commitment to the larger vision and hard work is remarkable. If you'd like to get in contact with this Asheville crew, please drop me a line and I will pass along contact information to you. If you'd like to get in contact with this crew or any other crew along the MST or learn how you can help in other ways, visit the FMST webpage at

Larry, Rich, and Rob - hardworking trail guys!!
Thank you for the opportunity to give back, Les, Piet, and crew! All of you were so friendly and welcoming and it felt so good to get my hands in the dirt. I will certainly be joining you again!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Heather, Les and trail crew! Looking forward to hiking that section. I was at Falls Lake section 17 today and also thought about the crew that completed a campsite on Saturday, and how well the trail was maintained.