I am swinging a pulaski deep into the ground, hoping to chip off a nice large chunk of soil. I am on Sampson Mountain on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 1986, doing trail maintenance in this magnificent wilderness. It is a gorgeous October day and I am working together with six volunteers, all of us swinging pulaskis and hoes, eager to repair the tread on this trail so that others can venture up here and enjoy the stunning view.
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 1986 designated five areas in the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness, including the spot I am standing on, and I cannot think of anything I would rather be doing right now than working on this mountain side with a group of strangers who are as passionate about wilderness as I am, and as willing to spend a Saturday maintaining a trail.
This trail is rarely used because it has not been maintained for a period of time and erosion has obscured or entirely eliminated the trail at certain stretches. What a shame, since the views from up here are spectacular! During the summer, a trail maintenance crew with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards worked on an earlier part of the trail that had been blocked by fallen trees after a tornado ripped through the area. With crosscut saws, the sawyers removed the massive logs, cleared the debris, and once again made it passable. We are following up on their work by digging a wider tread, so that the trail will be visible and passage will be safe during all seasons.
Digging trail is hard work, but it is also fun, and through the sweat and toil, we are talking, laughing, and making sure that everyone stays hydrated. The camaraderie is almost instant when you hike two steep miles up a mountain with heavy tools in order to dig trail tread for several hours.
We get a good stretch of the trail done, and our crew leader is impressed with the progress that we have made. While there is still much work to do to get this trail restoration completed (by future volunteer trail crews), the six of us feel pretty good about our contribution to restoring this trail to a top condition for the hikers that will follow.
As we decend through the stunning fall foliage of the hardwoods and the beautiful gorges filled with rhododendron, I am grateful that this landscape is protected, and that its beauty, solitude and uniqueness will be enjoyed by hikers for generations to come. As for me, I feel rejuvenated and relaxed. I will soon be back in the smog of Washington, D.C., but for now I am breathing fresh air and taking in the amazing nature that surrounds me, already planning my next trip to the Tennessee wilderness. Maybe next time I come down, I will get to visit a brand new wilderness in the state, one of the 19,556 acres of land that would be designated as wilderness if the Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011 passes in Congress.
See you on a Tennessee wilderness trail!
To find out how you can volunteer with a trail maintenance crew in the wilderness of Tennessee, contact Bill Hodge of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-617-4804.