Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Crawdads, Berries, and Trail Work on the East Fork Trail


The sky was clear across the meadows spanning in front of the office as Braja and I waited patiently at the Earth Shelter Office for our week’s trail workers to make their way up the mountain.

We were expecting a diverse group and were excited to see how kids can learn a lot just from being around one another. Throughout the week, it was great to see barriers going down as kids from Buckhannon got to hang out with kids from Ethiopia, a meeting of two worlds that may have never happened otherwise. The students arrived with their hands shoved deep in their pockets, but we noticed some hidden smiles and casual conversation and knew our group would get along just fine.

After we got everything we needed to survive in the field for four days into our backpacks, we played a few games before shoving off in our vans to our destination. The initial silence of the ride was punctuated by the sound of kids sharing stories and the cool mountain wind blowing in from the windows. By the time we made it to the campsite, the students were acting like they had known each other for years.

Our first campsite was at the Island Campground, near the East Fork of the Greenbrier River. Some students built a fire while others hunted crawdads underneath the river stones lining the Greenbrier. By the time bedtime rolled around, everyone seemed excited about the week and were ready to get some work done on the trail.

This trip was many of the students’ first time backpacking, making the six mile hike to camp a real challenge. We all made it with our heads held high and the sense of achievement that washed over the students as they neared camp was nearly tangible. The sweat and sore shoulders were soon forgotten as we set up camp for the night at Abe’s Run.

The next morning, we split into two work groups and immediately set out to clear the rest of the trail leading up to Abe’s Run. A few hours later, we met in the middle after completing our work on either end and had enough time to head to a swimming hole we found along the trail.

That night we discussed the history of the Monongahela National Forest and the CCC while sitting around a campfire. As the fire burned into coals and the conversation neared a natural end, we noticed some of the kids resting their heads heavily on their hands. After another day of hard work they were definitely tired, but we never heard one complaint.

The next morning, after we split into work groups, I could hardly walk fast enough to keep up with the students, the same students that struggled with hiking a few days earlier. Their positive discourse and broad smiles made it clear that they weren't walking fast just because they wanted to be done with the trail but were enjoying themselves. We cleared the trail to Pig's Ear, our designated stopping point, by three that afternoon, far ahead schedule. 
We had free time, so we did solo hikes to the swimming hole. Solo hikes give the students alone time to reflect on the significance of their accomplishment. I walked ahead and was lucky enough to see the tranquility and sense of achievement on their faces as they met up to go swimming. Our group had achieved their goal of finishing a day early because of their hard work, a feat unprecedented so far in the Mountain Trail Monitors program.

Since we finished a day early, we were able to go caving at the Sinks of Gandy and hike to the top of Spruce Knob. Many of the students had never been caving and had a great time exploring the limestone caverns that make this region so unique and beautiful. At the top of Spruce Knob, we spent a few hours hanging out on top, overlooking the Monongahela National Forest. By this point, the students seemed more like family than strangers, and it was apparent that they had fostered a deeper appreciation for nature as well as one another during the short time they were together.


The Mountain Trail Monitors program is an excellent opportunity for students to get their hands dirty in a productive way. Unlike other summer experiences, they are actually doing some pretty tough work, but I am always surprised by how much the kids learn about themselves, one another, and nature in such a short amount of time. I think it is unique in the sense that is free for the students, opening the door wide for a diverse group of students, and that it encourages productive work and new experiences for kids who may have never camped in their life. So far so good, and I am looking forward to see how the program continues throughout the summer.

Post by Dylan Harris

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