The 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, according to David Johnston, a spokesman for the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards.
Volunteers have assisted visitors at wilderness trailheads for the past two years, providing advice and interpretation. However, the program is expanding to include projects to maintain and improve the trails.
The organization will form a crosscut sawyer team to remove fallen trees and brush and a maintenance team to rehabilitate poor trail conditions, such as eroded and poorly drained sections.
The primary purpose of the trail work is to maintain the natural environment and minimize user impact or safety issues. However, it may also make the trails more pleasant for hikers.
"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," Johnson said.
While the trails in Dolly Sods will always be primitive, he said 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.
Signups for both teams are ongoing. Training is scheduled for spring, and projects will be planned throughout the season.
Trail Maintainance Team
The forest service will provide tools and training. As mechanical equipment cannot be used in the wilderness, this must be done with hand-operated tools such as crosscut saws, loppers, and axes.
The ability to hike to the location and engage in physical labor will be necessary 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.
Crosscut Sawyer Team
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. The sawyer team provides an excellent opportunity to gain new skills and certifications that can be used in Dolly Sods and other locations.
The first sawyer training is scheduled for April 1-2, 2023. The number of participants is limited, but later training may be held.
Trailhead Stewards Team
Johnson said that visitors often arrive for a hike without familiarity with Dolly Sods or its wilderness character and have little idea of what to expect. Thus the organization now places stewards at popular trailheads during peak visitation, mainly on weekends, to engage in brief conversations 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 preparedness and available time, he said.
No special skills or background are required for volunteers, though familiarity with Dolly Sods and hiking experience is helpful. In-person training on practical messaging, key concepts, and safety considerations will be provided.
The training is completed by joining an experienced Trailhead Steward for a live practice session at a trailhead.
The first Trailhead Stewards training of the year is scheduled for May 20, 2023, followed by an all-stewards picnic.
Joining the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards
Volunteers are needed to fill a wide variety of roles within the program.
Members also carry out activities such as 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.
The Dolly Sods stewardship program is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. For more information or to sign up, visit WVHighlands.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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