The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards are already hitting the trails this year, working to support the natural qualities and wilderness character of Dolly Sods Wilderness. After successful trainings during April, the new Crosscut Sawyer and Trail Maintenance teams have been clearing storm-damaged trees and have begun improving drainage and tread quality on the wilderness trails.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards will hold the first Trailhead Stewards training of the year on May 20 at Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. A picnic for all Wilderness Stewards will follow the training. New volunteers are invited to join the training and participate in the picnic.
The Trailhead Stewards have been the core of Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards since its inception in 2021. Trailhead Stewards meet visitors to Dolly Sods at the trailheads and help them prepare for a safe and satisfying visit. The Stewards pass on suggestions for a route fitting the hikers’ time and experience, ensure they understand the unique characteristics (and challenges) of a wilderness, and answer many questions.
Trailhead Stewards use the “authority of the resource” technique to reinforce observance of Leave No Trace principles. This approach leverages the inherent good will of most people toward natural areas and gives them reasons and methods for practicing low-impact hiking and camping. Trainers for the Forest Service and the Conservancy teach how to apply this technique, as well as the history of Dolly Sods, the issues it is facing, and the key messages visitors need to know to enjoy the wilderness safely and sustainably.
After the classroom session new Trailhead Stewards arrange to meet with an experienced Steward at a trailhead on a weekend for practice in the field. Volunteers receive a distinctive Wilderness Stewards embroidered green vest at the trailhead, and a supply of the materials they will need. Trailhead Stewards can then post to the trailheads, alone or with other Stewards, at their convenience.
There is no minimum time commitment, and those who live far away or can only occasionally volunteer their time are welcome. The Conservancy provides a convenient means for volunteers to schedule themselves online for trailheads and shifts that work for their schedules. Stewards can join a private Facebook page and occasional gatherings for Stewards to share experiences and learning are planned.
One of the first Congressionally-designated wilderness areas in the eastern United States, Dolly Sods is a unique high-elevation plateau containing habitat similar to areas of Canada. Its scenic qualities and rugged beauty have attracted a steadily increasing number of visitors since its designation in 1974, and like many natural areas has seen a large influx of visitors during the pandemic. As a result, there has been an increasing impact on its natural qualities and wilderness character.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards was formed in 2021 to leverage volunteer action to assist the Monongahela National Forest with managing and protecting the wilderness character of Dolly Sods. By educating visitors about the values of wilderness and low-impact practices the Stewards hope to preserve the wilderness for the enjoyment of future generations and avoid the need for restrictions on visitor access that have been implemented in other popular natural areas.
Volunteers are also invited to join in the other Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards activities, including the Crosscut and Trail Maintenance teams, solitude monitoring, and campsite restoration.
The USDA Forest Service Monongahela National Forest manages eight designated Wildernesses. This partnership with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is aimed at jointly implementing stewardship programs and projects to preserve Wilderness character within these special areas. For more information about Monongahela National Forest visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/mnf.