Saturday, June 8, 2013

Is this a rose?

Our first log cut!
On June 5th, we finished our first week of Mountain Trail Monitors, our summer trail maintenance program. We had spent four nights in the Seneca Creek Backcountry, with two groups of high-schoolers from Morgantown. After full days lopping, building rock bridges, and removing downed trees, we covered seven trails and over 15 miles of work. The going was tough and the weather was rainy, but we still had time to spend our evenings doing wilderness skills such as camp craft, survival, fire building and map and compass reading, as well as fun campfire activities.

On our last night, Michael Escol, my co-instructor, and I led our group through a traditional Mountain Institute closing activity: “Rose, bud and thorn”. Each member of the group shared their "rose," a moment that they found beautiful or inspiring, their "thorn," a moment that was tough or challenging, and a "bud," or moment which sparked their curiosity in a new subject. Our group mentioned a number of thorns – the rain, the manual labor, and wet feet - but also many roses – the night sky, a tough log they’d cut through with a little tenacity, and a stream crossing they’d enjoyed. Their buds included a desire to learn more about forest ecology and history, stream biology, and the other tiny details of the outside world that they had previously overlooked.

We all went to bed with high spirits, but the next morning brought a torrential downpour which made packing up our campsite and putting on our backpacks more of a trial than a tribulation. After a breakfast of soggy oatmeal, we headed up a steep section of trail before reaching the last 1.6 miles of trail we were meant to clear before we headed out of the woods and back to the yurts of the Spruce Knob Mountain Center. The students looked resigned as we descended the muddy trail, but they mustered enough strength to lop branches and clear logs covering the trail. The rain made us quiet, but after four days we didn’t have to say much to know what to do. We worked with familiar ease and moved quickly.
We spent one night sleeping under the stars.

A break in the tree line told us that we were near the trailhead, and our pace quickened. We set down our packs by the van, pulled out what we needed for lunch and paused. We were by a bridge overlooking a wide stretch of Gandy Run, with a perfect swimming hole at our disposal. It might have been raining, but it would have been a shame to pass up a shining opportunity for our only swim after four days of trail work. Some of the students pulled off just their rain gear, while others got down to their boxer shorts. In a moment, the joyous sound of kids jumping into icy water and whooping with delight filled the air. As we swam and explored the smooth rocks of the stream bed in the rain, one of the students looked up. “Is this a rose?” he asked with a broad smile on his face. I think it was.

Over the Gandy Run swimming hole.

Thanks to all who came out for first week of trail crew! We still have spaces available for the weeks of July 7th, and July 21st. If you want to explore some wilderness, give back while you get your hands dirty, and do some summer swimming contact Melinda Brooks at 304-567-2632 or More details at -Braja Smith

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