By Dave Johnston
As reported in last month’s Highlands Voice, the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards is taking big steps to expand the activity and reach of the program. We will continue with our tried-and-true Trailhead Stewards and hope to be able to provide more training for new Stewards through the year. We will do at least one solitude monitoring survey this year on the way to establishing a rotation of doing a different season every year. We expect to complete any remaining campsite surveys needed and may work with the Forest Service to close and restore some problematic campsites to a natural condition.
But the big news is the addition of two new teams that will allow us to assist the Forest Service in supporting the natural environment in Dolly Sods. The Trail Maintenance Team will make trails more compatible with the surrounding area and minimize their impact. The Crosscut Sawyer Team will use traditional tools to clear trees and brush that create safety issues, or which cause hikers to go off trail.
Dates for the trainings for two of the new teams have been set, as has the date for the first training of the year for new Trailhead Stewards.
Trail Maintenance Team
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. While this trail work may also make the trails more pleasant for hikers, its primary purpose is to maintain the natural environment and minimize user impact or safety issues.
Under the direction of Monongahela National Forest trail specialists, volunteers assist with trail maintenance, rehabilitation or rerouting. Tools and training are 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. This part of the project is planned for implementation during 2023. Training and work project schedules as well as job options will be provided when it is ready to be implemented.
The first Trail Maintenance training is scheduled for April 29-30, 2023. See below to sign up.
Crosscut Sawyer Team
Trees fall across trails in Dolly Sods all the time, 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 Wilderness Stewards is forming a Crosscut Sawyer Team to work with Forest Service experts to maintain safe trail passage in Dolly Sods.
Volunteers 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 is 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. See below to sign up.
Wilderness Trailhead Stewards
Volunteers 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.
A “script” outlining the key messages provides a basis for the conversation, but volunteers will typically use their own words and adjust to the needs of the visitor. The script is keyed for an engagement of 30 to 60 seconds, but visitors frequently ask questions about trail conditions, route and camping suggestions, and weather, which provides an opportunity to work in other messages. The Conservancy has prepared a trail map of Dolly Sods with wilderness and Leave No Trace messages on the back, which we frequently hand out to hikers.
No special skills or background are required for volunteers, though familiarity with Dolly Sods and hiking experience will be helpful. Before starting at trailheads, volunteers are encouraged to complete two free, self-guided online courses, and we will provide an in-person training on effective messaging, key concepts and safety considerations. 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. See below to sign up.
How to get involved
As these projects evolve, we will send out more information and specific arrangements to all who have signed up to be a Dolly Sods Wilderness Steward. To ensure that you get information on the team or training you are interested in, first become a Wilderness Steward and indicate your projects of interest on the signup form.
Simply go to the Conservancy website (wvhighlands.org) and look for the link on the home page to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards. From there you can go to the online signup form. If you have any other questions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be in touch if more information is needed and with information about training, scheduling, etc.