The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Dolly Sods project is getting close to the point where we can begin calling for volunteers for the first phase of activity, which will be educating visitors at trailheads about wilderness principles and Leave No Trace practices. Look for an announcement and details about signing up in early to mid May.
The Dolly Sods project grew out of discussions in the Public Lands Committee about the need for West Virginia Highlands Conservancy to respond to the increased visitation and consequent greater impact on the Dolly Sods Wilderness and surrounding areas. The growing popularity of Dolly Sods is a long term trend, but has increased dramatically during the pandemic, as has been noted at many parks and outdoor locations throughout the country. WVHC was instrumental in the creation of the Dolly Sods Wilderness and has a special sense of stewardship for the area.
The Public Lands Committee has worked with the Forest Service to identify areas where volunteers would be most needed and effective. The result is a plan to provide volunteer opportunities in several different ways:
- Helping construct, maintain and replenish voluntary hiker sign-in boxes at trailheads;
- Monitoring and documenting parking pressures and roadside camping along forest roads;
- Assist with periodic backcountry campsite inventory and condition assessment;
- Develop a program of “Wilderness Stewards” to educate visitors at trailheads and the backcountry about what makes Dolly Sods special, Leave No Trace and wilderness ethics, and do minor trail and campsite housekeeping; and
- Sponsor crews for trail rehabilitation and maintenance projects directed by the Forest Service.
In addition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy will provide the materials for the hiker registration boxes to be placed by the Forest Service at each trailhead. A placard inside the box will acknowledge WVHC’s contribution and include the logo, and encourage Leave No Trace practices.
WVHC and the Forest Service have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to reflect these plans and executed an agreement to cover our mutual interests and potential cost sharing. Once these documents have cleared federal processing we will be able to start gearing up to put the plans in action.
The first phase to be implemented is the Wilderness Stewards aspect. Initial plans call for volunteers to be stationed at the most popular trailheads on Friday evenings and Saturdays, and greet visitors with information about Dolly Sods and the principles of its wilderness designation. WVHC and the Forest Service will be developing “key messages” to reflect the most important points to get across during a brief encounter.
No special skills or educational background will be needed to participate as a Wilderness Steward. This is an opportunity for those who are passionate about wilderness, and Dolly Sods in particular, to support the wilderness and help other people learn how to appreciate and preserve it. Volunteers should be comfortable approaching strangers and engaging in low-key, non-confrontational conversation.
Volunteers will be asked to take two short self-guided online courses: one on the principles of designated wilderness areas, and the Leave No Trace Awareness course. Certificates are provided for completion of each course. The Forest Service will then hold an online class on the history and unique characteristics of Dolly Sods in particular, and on the details of this outreach program.
Scheduling will be arranged based on the availability of volunteers. We hope to provide a free WVHC T-shirt or other means of identifying Wilderness Stewards to each volunteer.
Currently we expect to start offering an opportunity to sign up by the middle of May, with a goal having volunteers at trailheads by mid to late June. Watch for further announcements in The Highlands Voice, WVHC’s Facebook page, and other social media. To be put on a list of potential volunteers, or for any other questions, feel free to email Dave Johnston at dsjohnstonWV@gmail.com.