By Dave Johnston
Here’s a quick update on current activities, plans, and things you can get involved in with the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards.
Trailhead Stewards: The Trailhead Stewards continue to meet visitors at trailheads and help them learn how to have a rewarding and low-impact experience of the wilderness. We are able to cover most of the major trailheads during a significant part of each weekend, but we can always use more volunteers.
Trailhead Stewards TRAINING: We will be offering another training for new Trailhead Stewards this summer on August 26 at the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center. This three-hour classroom training covers the fundamentals of wilderness, the history and major features of Dolly Sods, the most significant impacts affecting Dolly Sods and our key messages about them, and the techniques we use for constructively engaging visitors at the trailheads.
After the classroom training, new Stewards meet up with an experienced Steward at a trailhead at a time of their convenience. They have the opportunity to observe the Steward in action and then gain experience with their own engagement with visitors under the guidance of the veteran. You will come away with your own distinctive Wilderness Stewards green vest and a supply of resources to share with visitors, and the ability to schedule your trailhead time whenever it works for you.
Advanced Training while Hiking! We have implemented a new training opportunity just for Trailhead Stewards, combined with a fun hike! Current Stewards who are experienced with the Dolly Sods backcountry will lead short guided hikes to help those who are less familiar with Dolly Sods experience firsthand the things we talk about at the trailheads. Along the way, the guides point out examples of natural features, the ecological and human history of Dolly Sods. We also visit some examples of heavy impact on trails and campsites. With the added training and experience, Stewards can be more confident in sharing their knowledge and advice with visitors at the trailhead.
Solitude Monitoring: An “outstanding opportunity for solitude” is one of the key characteristics of wilderness called out by the Wilderness Act. Agencies that manage wilderness areas are tasked with monitoring the status of this opportunity on a regular basis. The Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards have been regularly monitoring solitude since 2021, and we provide the data to the Forest Service to use for management decisions. This year we will conduct a monitoring project in the fall, from mid-September through late October. Volunteers will hike a specified trail on randomly chosen dates for four hours. Along the way, they will note the number of groups, people, and dogs or horses they encounter and report the results. This has been one of our more popular projects, as you get to do a nice hike while compiling and reporting important information. We will hold a training for this online in late August or early September.
JOIN US: You can become a Trailhead Steward or participate in the solitude monitoring by signing up as a Steward and joining us for the training on August 26. Go to the Conservancy’s website (wvhighlands.org) and follow the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards links to read more about what we do and access the online signup form. Once you sign up, you will receive more information about the training opportunities.