NHC working to get trails in usable shape; volunteers needed

Volunteers with the Nantahala Hiking Club restore an eroded section of the Appalachian Trail about two miles south of the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Volunteers are greatly needed to assist in the cleanup of sections of the AT due to wind and rain storms that occurred during the shutdown period.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

provided a recent update on the club’s future plans. The NHC maintains approximately 90 miles of trails in Macon County on U.S. Forest Service land. Because the trails have been neglected due to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions requiring hiking trail closures, volunteers are needed for cleanup and maintenance – especially on the Appalachian Trail.

“Work is done under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service,” explained Stone. “Because of the COVID-19 situation, workers have not been allowed on the trail since mid-March. We have experienced a lot of storms, with heavy rain and high wind, in the last two months, so there is much clearing to be done.”

She encourages anyone to volunteer who wishes to be outdoors and assist one time, or regularly. Stone indicated that a single day’s activity might involve clearing brush and blow downs along the trail, cleaning water bars, repairing tread to improve walked down sections of the trail, improving water control along the trail, and more.

NHC volunteers gather at its clubhouse, located at 173 Carl Slagle Rd, on the west side of Franklin, every Wednesday from 8:30-8:45 a.m. At 8:45, a plan for the day is reviewed and shared, there is a safety briefing, tools are collected, and then volunteers carpool to a particular work site.

“We usually try to return by 5 p.m., sometimes earlier, sometimes later, depending on the work site location and work to be done,” said Stone.

She informed that NHC provides all tools for trail work. In addition to personal work gloves, most maintainers have their own safety glasses and ear protection to be used when power equipment is in use; however, NHC will provide those as well, if needed.

Specifically, NHC maintains just under 60 miles of the AT from the Georgia/North Carolina state line to the Nantahala Outdoor Center at Wesser, N.C., plus about 30 miles of side/connecting trails. About 18 miles of the NHC section of the AT is in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and no power equipment can be used. Crosscut saws and hand tools only are allowed. Plus, NHC maintains 10 shelters with privies in this section.

Stone added, “New volunteers are paired with an experienced maintainer for the day’s work. The maintainers know a lot about the trails and the vegetation and are experienced hikers. I will say that working with the maintainer group has often been the highlight of my week. It is so rewarding to be out on the trail, doing productive work with fine people who care about our forest. And, meeting hikers on the trail is a treat; they are so appreciative of our work.”

For more information, visit nantahalahikingclub.org.