Story by Randy Johnson
(originally published 4/29/2010)
May will offer High Country trail enthusiasts critical opportunities to help Blue Ridge Parkway paths reopen for the summer travel season after last winter’s damaging storms.
The Parkway is staging two late May volunteer days when local hikers can come out and help reopen the Tanawha Trail, still covered with storm debris and impassable in places from Grandfather Mountain to Price Park.
Saturday May 15 and May 22, the National Park Service will commit two chainsaw-certified employees each Saturday in hopes of having two brush-clearing crews working at a time. The Watauga Tourism Development Authority, organizers of the recently successful High Country Outdoor Summit, is supporting the effort and is asking volunteers to sign up in advance, preferably with an e-mail to WTDA planner Eric Woolridge (firstname.lastname@example.org, or 828-266-1345).
This Saturday and next (May 1st and 8th) the Parkway also needs volunteer trail help replacing and improving the entire boardwalk on the popular Rough Ridge part of the Tanawha Trail. The project, delayed from last fall, was planned to include volunteers but the change in dates eliminated the helpers.
Parkway workers are currently doing their best to to get the job done alone but Blowing Rock-based Parkway maintenance supervisor James Choate says they need help from people interested in carrying planks up to the crew working at the site.
Mr. Choate urges interested people to just show up and offer their help starting at 8:30 am both Saturdays at the Rough Ridge Parking Area, Milepost 302.8 (11 miles south of the US 321/ Parkway junction near Blowing Rock and 2.4 miles north of the US 221/Parkway junction near Linville).
Prospective volunteers should know that the construction site is only a few tenths mile from the parking area and the climb is not very steep. It’s not an easy trail, but a couple of friends carrying a few boards between them, with an occasional rest, shouldn’t find the task to be too taxing.
Volunteers to clear the Tanawha Trail on May 15th and 22nd have more time to plan to attend. “The Tanawha Trail is the trail in our area that needs a tremendous amount of work,” says Roy Jones, facilities manager for the High Country part of the Parkway. “Right now we just need to get it open.”
“Getting it open” means clearing the trail of blown down branches from last winter’s ice storms. The day’s work will include dragging smaller branches and debris off of the trail, and then dragging larger tree pieces off the trail as the chainsaw operators saw it up into manageable size.
Helpers carrying planks at Rough Ridge and helping clear brush on the Tanahwa Trail should bring work gloves. Brush clearers should also try to have safety glasses or sunglasses. Volunteers should also bring plenty of water, a snack or lunch, wear solid shoes or boots, and perhaps bring an older rain jacket that might get dirty.
A meeting time and staging area for the May 15th and 22nd Tanawha work days will be announced later, along with further details, by the WTDA.
“The May 22nd trail volunteer day coincides with the end of National Tourism Week,” says Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga Tourism Development Authority. “Coming out to help clear the Tanawha Trail is a great way to support the Blue Ridge Parkway’s effort to open our trails as well as celebrate the local economic importance of tourism.”
Tilley says, “The importance of the Parkway’s 75th anniversary makes it critical that as many of the Parkway’s amenities as possible are open. We need all the help we can get clearing the trails on those weekends.” One of the Watauga Tourism Development Authority’s missions is to “enhance outdoor recreation in the area and the Parkway is a key resource.”
At Rough Ridge, the next few weekends are important because the Park Service wants to complete the boardwalk project by May 8th. “The plan,” Jones says, “was for the work to take three weekends. We could need to rethink that but hopefully, if we can get some volunteer help, it should go well.”
Jones said he was at the site last weekend, and “a neat thing happened. A hiking group from Catawba County came by and they spent an hour carrying lumber for us.”
The real “news” about the Rough Ridge Project is that not only will the entire decking be replaced, but a new side platform will be built out onto a large flat rock. The new boardwalk viewpoint is being built because the big crag already entices some hikers to climb over the railing. When that happens, people invariably step onto the fragile plants. The boardwalk was built in the first place to keep foot traffic away from a variety of endangered plant species that grow on Rough Ridge.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Rough Ridge “donor board” is still located at the trailhead and Foundation director Houck Medford is encouraging people to continue donating to the Rough Ridge boardwalk fund. The deck project will be complete soon, “but there are further needs at Rough Ridge that the Foundation and the National Park Service hope to address in the future.” Visit www.brpfoundation.org.
If the Tanawha Trail volunteer days in late May work well, Jones says he’d like to engage area volunteers in future trail efforts. A long-range plan will soon be devised to install steps and water breaks to improve the deteriorating condition of the popular trail. That trail work will be the real deal—digging in the soil, moving rocks, and building steps. The current projects on Rough Ridge and Tanawha Trail are much less intensive, so you don’t need to be used to working in the woods to come out and help.
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