Grant will provide outdoor learning for students

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Diane Peltz Contributing Writer

Jennifer Love, Macon County Schools STEM Coordinator, along with Brent Martin, director of the Bartram Trail Society, have again secured funding for Macon schools, this time to assist students in Macon County through outdoor learning experiences. 

The Georgia/North Carolina Bartram Trail Society, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, will be hiring a youth trail work crew for six weeks during the summer of 2021.  This is the result of a $10,000 grant from one of the Society members and volunteers, and committed funding from the United States Forest Service (USFS).  The GA/NC Bartram Trail Society is solely responsible for the maintenance of the 110-mile trail, and they are working to build a youth component into their organization, as well as provide local jobs for young people – jobs that they hope will translate into long term interest in a career in natural resource management or outdoor recreation.  

Martin explains. 

“We have also received funding from the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance to repair trail tread on the trail starting at Wallace Branch near Franklin and on to Wayah Bald.  We are working to create volunteer days for this section this fall for Franklin High School students who are interested in learning trail skills that will build their abilities to work on a crew next summer.” 

Jennifer Love adds, “As Macon County continues to focus on developing its outdoor economy, local organizations are working together to prepare and provide the best outdoor experiences for our community and our visitors. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have certainly seen an increase in usage on our trails and waterways.  Thankfully, stewardship of our natural resources is a vocational calling for many of our youth and a civic calling for our dedicated volunteers.  

“The GA-NC Bartram Trail Society and local partners have been working to create a program that will engage more youth on the trails while also showing that there are career opportunities for those with a passion for the outdoors.  Thanks to the grant, the BTS will be partnering with the Macon County Schools STEM Program to create a Macon Youth Trail Corp.” 

The purpose of the Macon Youth Trail Corp is to provide an opportunity for local students to learn from and work alongside professionals, educators, retirees, and others who have a passion for the outdoors and who are building up their community by volunteering on the trail. The goals of the program are not only to provide career development but to:

• Engage and expose students to the skills needed to safely enjoy hiking and conduct trail maintenance;

• Expose student to educational and employment opportunities in outdoor leadership, outdoor recreation, natural resources, and cultural history;

• Foster an appreciation, a “sense of place,” and investment in the conservation of trails and naturals resources in our southern Appalachian Mountains;

• Appreciate how hiking and other outdoor recreation opportunities are inexpensive options for exercise and to understand how time spent outside and unplugged is necessary for good mental health, stress reduction, and a necessary part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

Starting this Fall 2020, students may register to participate in trail workdays on the Wallace Branch section of trail near downtown Franklin.  Funds will go towards equipment/tools and lunch for participants.  Four workdays are scheduled this Fall – Oct. 23, Nov. 6, 14, and Dec. 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Students will learn about the history of the trail, how to build and maintain tread, install water bars and address other issues with erosion, learn about trail etiquette, and help repair signs and blazes along this section.  Adult volunteers are also encouraged to participate.  In Spring 2021, the goal is to schedule additional workdays and continue to build on skills.  

These day-trip workdays are just the beginning and will serve as an opportunity for students to learn some of the skills needed that will help them determine if they enjoy this type of work.  For those that want to learn more, the Youth Conservation Corps has committed to running six weeks of summer trail crews on local trails and hiring local youth for paid internships.  Students ages 15-18 can apply and preference will be given to students who have participated in one or more of the Fall/Spring day trip workdays.  

“We hope that the Macon Youth Trail Corp will continue to grow and with it, a commitment to stewardship of our beautiful home,” said Love.  “If anyone would like to support this project, donations will be directed to expanding the workday program and summer internships into the future.”  

If you would like to volunteer or get involved, contact Brent Martin at info@ncbartramtrail.org, or visit the website at https://ncbartramtrail.org/

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