Dryfork, W.Va. For two years volunteers with the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards have been assisting visitors at the trailheads of Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest. The Trailhead Stewards serve as a resource for visitors, helping them have a safe and enjoyable wilderness experience while working to preserve Dolly Sods for future visitors.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Building on the early success of the volunteer-led initiative, the Wilderness Stewards program is expanding this year to include projects to maintain and improve the trails in Dolly Sods. Two new teams are forming: a Trail Maintenance Team to perform general rehabilitation of poor trail conditions such as eroded and poorly drained sections, and a Crosscut Sawyer Team to take on fallen trees and brush.
Signups for both teams are going on now, trainings are scheduled for this spring, and projects will be planned throughout the season. To sign up, go to wvhighlands.org and follow the links for Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards.
Dolly Sods is a uniquely wet and rocky area, interspersed with wetlands and areas of shallow soil over impermeable bedrock. This makes trails vulnerable to poor drainage, erosion and uneven tread.
While the trails in Dolly Sods will always be primitive, the Wilderness Stewards work with the Forest Service to address the worst problem areas, particularly where hikers are tempted to bypass the trail to avoid difficult sections. The primary purpose of the trail work is to maintain the natural environment and minimize user impact or safety issues although it may also make the trails more pleasant for hikers.
Under the direction of Monongahela National Forest trail specialists, volunteers on the Trail Maintenance Team will assist with trail hardening, rehabilitation or rerouting.
Tools and training will be provided by the Forest Service. The ability to hike to the location and engage in physical labor will be important for most jobs, but lighter roles may be available to support and supply the crew.
The first Trail Maintenance Team training is scheduled for April 29-30, 2023.
As many frequent Dolly Sods hikers can attest, trees often fall across trails, and other wood and brush clearing is often needed. Because mechanized equipment cannot be used in wilderness, this must be done with hand operated tools such as crosscut saws, loppers and axes.
The Crosscut Sawyer Team will work with Forest Service experts to maintain safe trail passage in Dolly Sods.
Volunteers interested in joining the Crosscut Sawyer team will be trained and certified at the A Sawyer level, for bucking in non-complex situations under the supervision of a higher-level Sawyer. Training in wilderness first aid and CPR is also required for certification. This team provides a great opportunity to gain new skills and certification that can be used in Dolly Sods and other locations.
The first Crosscut Sawyer training is scheduled for April 1-2, 2023. The number of participants is limited, but later trainings may be held.
Another critical component of the Wilderness Stewards program is the Trailhead Stewards. Visitors often arrive for a hike without familiarity with Dolly Sods, its wilderness character or what to expect.
Trailhead Stewards are stationed at popular trailheads during times of peak visitation, mainly on weekends, and engage in brief conversation with visitors about what makes Dolly Sods unique, the values of wilderness, and Leave No Trace practices. Trailhead Stewards often assist new visitors in planning a route or location that provides a “Dolly Sods experience” and works for their level of preparedness and available time.
No special skills or background are required for volunteers, though familiarity with Dolly Sods and hiking experience is helpful. An in-person training on effective messaging, key concepts and safety considerations will be provided. The training is completed by joining an experienced Trailhead Steward at a trailhead for a live practice session.
The first Trailhead Stewards training of the year is scheduled for May 20, 2023, to be followed by an all-Stewards picnic.
Volunteers are needed to fill a wide variety of roles within the program.
Wilderness Stewards also carry out activities like solitude monitoring, where the number of encounters on wilderness trails is surveyed; an inventory of campsite locations and conditions in Dolly Sods; and collection of trailhead registration sheets and maintenance of the boxes.
For more information or to sign up, visit www.wvhighlands.org or email email@example.com.
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