In addition to the normal physical demands of any backpacking trip in the steep, mountainous terrain of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Boy Scout Troop 518 from Michigan added the extra burden of spending a day doing trail work as part of the park’s “Trails Forever” volunteer program.
The group worked with Christine Hoyer, the Smokies’ trails and facilities volunteer coordinator, to clean out and improve drainage on a section of the Rich Mountain Loop and Crooked Arm Ridge Trails located in Cades Cove. These scouts came prepared, they worked hard, and along the way they learned some key trail maintenance techniques.
“It was pretty extraordinary to see a group take the time to volunteer in the middle of a backpacking trip,” said Hoyer. “Their service to the park did not end there as they wanted to contribute even more. They offered to inspect the three backcountry campsites they would be camping at through the remainder of their trip. But first they needed a bit of education about what to look for.”
Scouts were instructed to report on the condition of the bear-resistant food storage cables, signs of bear activity, trash at the campsite – all little things that go a long way to help manage impact on the backcountry. After working on the trail for seven hours – swinging tools, moving rock and dirt – the troop headed into the backcountry to continue on their way.
“With all the talk lately of engaging youth in the parks and the backcountry, I was inspired by this group of scouts as they seemed to be an example of just that – youth fully engaged in the Smokies,” said Hoyer.
Trails Forever is a long-term initiative being funded by the Friends of the Smokies, which has raised over $3 million towards a target of $4 million to create an endowment for the improvement of the park’s 800 mile trail system. Trails Forever projects will be accomplished using a combination of paid trail workers, SCA intern crews, VIP’s, and Appalachian Trail Conservancy crews, depending upon the scope and complexity of each project.