Friday, October 31, 2008

McCoy Hollow Trail Is Open!

Last week I was in Kentucky at Mammoth Cave National Park as part of a volunteer vacation coordinated by the American Hiking Society. It was a great trip! Twenty people from across the country signed up and worked hard all week to reroute the McCoy Hollow trail in the park. An old section of the trail went up a hill and was now eroded and dangerous in spots. We were responsible for creating a new trail that skirted the hill--a total distance of about 1.25 miles (although Larry the ranger originally claimed it to be around .75 miles). We dug the new trail, marked it, and installed water bars/steps on one steeper incline. Once our new section of trail was open, we "closed down" the older dangerous trail (removed trail markers & covered the trail with natural debris). Not bad for 4 days of work. Friday was a recreation day where we did a standard tour of Mammoth Cave in the morning and a special wild tour of the caves in the afternoon. The wild tour had us occasionally crawling into tiny holes and slithering through narrow cave passages on our knees and bellies! It was really cool. (Pictures are available at links below.)

The general flow of each day for me was...

6:30-8am: Wake up, grab coffee & breakfast, pack lunch for the day
8:15am: Meet ranger and head out to trails in vehicles
8:15-9am: Drive to site drop-off and hike through forest to actual trail
9am-2pm: Work on the trail with various tools (pulaski, hoe, pruners)
2-3pm: Hike back to road, drive back to main camp/lodging
3-4:30pm: Hit local trails for a hike or run
4:30-5:30pm: Shower and change clothes
5:30-6:30pm: Drink beer and socialize
6:30-8:30pm: Communal dinner and more beer
8:30pm: Try to sleep in dorm room with 7 other snoring guys!
Around 3am: Run across camp to restroom (or pee by dumpster)

The entire volunteer vacation was awesome. I met some great people from all around the country. I am still impressed with what all of us accomplished in 4 days. In addition to working with great volunteers, the local park ranger (Larry) was the perfect host and leader. Larry didn't just drop us off at the work site, he worked with us all day. Ron, our volunteer crew leader, was excellent as well. Our group was pretty darn big, but we managed to get ready and hit the trail on time every day. And we got along with each other fairly well too. Not bad for 20 tired, dirty, and very different individuals. I would definitely do another trip...and I encourage others to check out the options from both the American Hiking Society and Wilderness Volunteers.

Pictures from some of the participants are available here:


What did I learn from this trip? A pulaski is a great all-around tool. Can I get one at the local Ace Hardware store? I also learned that there are a lot of people that actually care about national parks, wilderness areas, and nature trails. I run with friends on local trails almost every weekend, but I forget that there are non-trail runners that value nature just as much (if not more) than us trail runners. That's a comforting feeling. Next time you come across a hiker, greet them with a smile. They care about our precious natural resources too.

What else did I learn? Never trust a park ranger that says "It's about 300 yards." Translation="It's a freaking long way!" Maybe even "miles and miles."

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