Friday, July 29, 2016

Learning from the Pros: Konnarock Trail Crew

This post comes to us from Jeremiah “Jay” Roy, a member of ATC's inaugural Conservation Leadership Corps (CLC). The CLC provides valuable training and work experience to 18- to 25-year-olds who are new to the outdoors by offering professional development in the fields of natural resource and trail management. These young and diverse conservation leaders had never stepped foot on the A.T. before joining us this summer!

Konnarock: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s oldest and best-known trail crew. Where do I even start to describe our experience with this historic band of Trail maintainers? After orientation and training at Wilderness Skills Institute, Konnarock was the CLC’s first real chance to put our new skills to the test. For me, Konnarock was a mixture of pleasant camping and intense work. Our crew was given the task of beginning a large relocation project to move the Appalachian Trail away from private land susceptible to development on Seng Ridge, along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

After what would become our morning ritual for the next few days, a one-mile uphill hike to our work site, we spent the first day mapping out and walking the route of our relocated trail, an estimated mile or so to help redirect the A.T. and create a less steep and erosion-prone section. The hike to map out the relocation wasn’t easy, as we walked through thorny vines that grabbed our ankles with every step. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?!

Thorny vines aside, I enjoyed working with Jerry and Brian, our crew leaders for the week. Jerry was an outstanding leader, whose high expectations we managed to surpass. We built 1440 feet of new sidehill tread with the help of some extremely experienced volunteers from the Carolina Mountain Club, and cleared over 1700 feet of corridor.

As a thank you from CMC, the whole crew got to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You know I was more than happy after a week of hard work and camp food! We also got to go on a mini hike to Black Top Rock to watch the sunset, which was truly amazing. On our last day, after we packed up the campsite, we went to see the Appalachian Caverns, an amazing system of caves running underneath northern Tennessee, and I had one of the best burgers of my LIFE at the famous Burger Bar in Bristol - delicious is not a word genuine enough to describe the taste of that sandwich!

Thinking about volunteering with Konnarock? You should know that you’re going to get dirty and work hard. You’ll wear kneepads, a hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, and look fly while you do it. You’ll build up your body to build some Trail. And you’ll make memories that you’ll never forget. Shout out to all the Konnarock crew leaders - Justin, Jerry, Brian and Dave - you guys were the coolest!

Jeremiah “Jay” Roy
Conservation Leadership Corps 2016

Hails from: New Orleans, LA
Studies at: University of New Orleans
Intended major: Business Administration
Dream job: CEO of Groundwork USA

Favorite CLC moment: Climbing to the top of the peaks of mountains that the AT runs through and having that sense that anything is possible through endurance and proper motivation. I loved meeting everyone and having such a wonderful experience. My favorite moment was a series of moments during Wilderness Skills Institute. The energy was ecstatic and opening. A life experience that has changed me completely and I will never forget.

Week 6: June 9-13, 2016

(Crew 2 gets a turn at top billing on the blog this week, scroll down for the Crew 1 report.)

Crew 2: Standing Indian Mountain Rehab

working with Nantahala Hiking Club in North Carolina near the Georgia border

 Click here for the full photo album.

For the third and final week of this project, Crew 2 was again at Standing Indian Mountain in North Carolina, just outside of Franklin. We had a strong variety of volunteers this week: some rookies, several alumni, and even one volunteer, Billy Williams, who now has over 1000 volunteer hours with Konnarock! Billy contributed these hours over a 20-year span with Konnarock, and was specially recognized for his accomplishments at the end-of-week t-shirt ceremony. 

 With this grand cast of characters, we started work by finishing projects previously begun the past two weeks by other volunteers. There was still much rehabilitation to be done in certain gullied-out sections of the trail as well, and with a little sweat and muscle, the crew was able to fix these problems with the use of steps and check steps. We had help from several Nantahala Hiking Club volunteers along the way as well, even to help carry the tools down, much to their chagrin.

After a long, hot week at 5000+ feet of elevation, and after a long, hot three mile walk with tools in hand, the Nantahala Hiking Club treated the crew to the best Thai food in Franklin, Thai Paradise. The crew really enjoyed this special treat, especially one volunteer who had never tried Thai food before! After our tummies were filled to the brim, we managed to find even more room for ice cream. Needless to say, the crew had a good night’s sleep that night.

The crew this week was able to accomplish the mission set out by the club and crew leaders several weeks prior. Several steps were put in, including one rock step that weighed about 500 pounds! The work they did will last for decades to come, and that’s exactly the work Konnarock likes to do. Thank you Crew 2! OWWWWWW!

Crew 1: Seng Ridge Relocation

working with the Carolina Mountain Club

Click here for the full photo album.

Week Six for Crew One marked the beginning of a relocation project on Seng Ridge in North Carolina, near Camp Creek Bald. This 5,000-foot relocation will bring the trail off of a private property boundary deeper into the National Forest, creating a wide bend in the Trail. Since the Forest Service tried for 30 years to purchase this tract of private land with no luck, this relocation will help to better protect the trail from potential development.

Incidentally, it will also bring the trail up to a gentler grade. Crew One will be on this project for three cumulative weeks this season.After the drive down, the crew faced one of their first challenges of the week - the 0.3 mile walk in to the campsite. That may not sound like much, but proved to be quite difficult with heavy camping equipment such as the full Yeti cooler! After camp was established, the crew had enough time to carry the tools in and walk the length of the relocation to get an idea of what they would be in for the next few days.

The following day, the Carolina Mountain Club joined forces with the crew. It was inspiring to see the club’s high turn out which helped progress tremendously. The club took on the responsibility of all of the chainsaw work required in clearing the corridor for new trail construction,while others followed behind pulling the stumps with a Griphoist and pulaskis. The club did an excellent job in teaching Konnarock volunteers basic Griphoist skills, and volunteers were able to swap tasks regularly to give most of the crew a chance to operate the machine.

Other than clearing the corridor, most of the work involved on this week’s stretch consisted mostly of traditional sidehill digging in average mineral soil with relatively few rocks. In addition, several grade dips were installed as needed for drainage in the steeper sections. In one particular segment where the trail traversed a flat area, no digging was even required! All that was needed was to clear the brush from the corridor with a swing blade. Hiker traffic will take care of the rest once the new trail is open.

Apart from the work, the crew was able to enjoy a few fun diversions. At the end of day two, the crew took a short walk out to nearby Blackstack Cliffs to watch the sunset. One crew member even went as far as to say it was the most beautiful sunset he’d ever seen! 

At the end of day three, the crew was treated to dinner at Ryan’s buffet in Greeneville compliments of the Carolina Mountain Club. By this time the crew had worked up a healthy appetite and had no problem putting away multiple plates of dinner and desert. A huge thanks goes out to CMC for their generosity.

Speaking of food, one night’s camp dinner was made particularly special by Clark’s renowned hors d’oeuvres – sliced fruit, pickled jalepenos, homemade bread, kielbasa with pineapple, crackers, and an assortment of cheeses. Crew One has never been known to skimp on food, but this gourmet appetizer was something for the books. Thanks, Clark!

The crew took another fun excursion on the way back to Base Camp, stopping at Appalachian Caverns outside of Bristol, TN for a guided tour of the cave. Not only was it an interesting and informative tour, but it was also a respite from the mid-afternoon heat.

Half of this week’s crew consisted of members of the Conservation Leadership Corps (CLC), a summer program that provides young adults the opportunity to learn skills and gain knowledge for outdoor and conservation based careers. Their youthful energy and enthusiasm combined with the wisdom and experience of the more seasoned volunteers made for a diverse crew. Everyone had something different to contribute.

 A few other special guests also made an appearance this week. Representatives from the CAN’d Aid Foundation, a charitable organization of Oskar Blues Brewery and a major sponsor of the CLC, came all the way from Colorado to meet and work with the CLC for a day. Several staff members from the Southern Regional Office of the ATC also came out to dig trail in support of the cause.
 All in all, it was a fun-filled yet highly productive week for Crew One. At the end of the week, a whopping 1453 feet of new trail was completed! Thanks to Crew One and all who came out to help make a significant dent in this relocation.