Sunday, August 4, 2013

“It looks like a hurricane ripped through here!”

Hard at work in the Seneca Creek Back Country.
This week wrapped up our last week of Mountain Trail Monitors, and students from Winfield, Petersburg, Morgantown and Canaan Valley joined us in clearing Horton and Spring Ridge trails, and blazing some tricky spots along Big Run in the Seneca Creek Back Country.
The kids were mostly strangers to each other, but as the group quickly piled into the van amid a typical afternoon rainstorm, whatever trepidation I had about working with a bunch of teenage boys for the week soon melted away. I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation about current events and political trivia (how many groups of boys will start to get to know each other by intelligently discussing the Zimmerman trial? My mind was blown). Upon arrival at camp, tents and tarps popped up like mushrooms as the guys showed off their various attempts at fisherman’s knots and truckers hitches, swapping brief stories about soccer, encampment, raising horses, and general ruckus. Although few had much experience backpacking, many came with some prior knowledge of hard skills, and those who were less experienced seemed eager to learn. Before we knew it, dinner was served, firewood was gathered, and it felt like the week was startin’ off right.
Monday morning dawned and with it the beginning of our work week. After a close look at our topo maps, we set off to conquer the Horton trail. The group worked in surprising silence for most of the morning, quietly waging war on intruding beech saplings. But the first GORP break broke down that barrier and laughter and curiosity came pouring out. Throughout the week, each student was so enthusiastic about learning about the plants and fungi around them, Mike and I could hardly keep up with the demand for cool facts. “Dude, smell this twig!” was a frequently heard statement as we worked our way through deciduous forest heavy with black birch, the wood of which offers a wintergreen-like scent. Flowers tucked into button holes and the headbands of our hardhats became a required fashion statement. Spruce tips and bee balm tea simmered by the campfire most nights as students speculated on making bowdrills while leading each other in ridiculous rounds of Mafia, a TMI campfire favorite.
The group’s curiosity and enthusiasm (not to mention a healthy level of West Virginia pride, a love of history and a serious collective work ethic) made a week of sweaty, manual labor an uplifting and joyous experience for all of us. Finishing our work a bit early, we were able to fit in both a trip through the Sinks of Gandy and a gorgeous hike up Spruce Knob Friday morning. By the end of the week, we could proudly say that the Mountain Trail Monitors program was able to cover all of the Seneca Creek Backcountry, as it lies in Randolph County, plus additional trails along the Greenbriar and Laurel Fork. Very exciting! So thanks, guys, for an excellent week of hard work, interesting conversation, zeal and mindfulness. Y’all make the future look good.
And to all those MTM participants out there, thank you: for your hard work, your reverence for the land, your time, and for your compassion. Please don’t be a stranger! Come on back and see us sometime. - Shannon Gaffey

Lopping is fun!

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