Youth Conservation Corps on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

By Ben Richardson

Developing a strong cadre of young trail stewards can be a challenge for many National Trails, and can be especially difficult for National Historic Trails. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT) discovered a way to combat this issue by enlisting the services of the Youth Conservation Corps.

Modeled after the historic Civilian Conservation Corps program, the YCC is a summer youth employment program that engages young people in meaningful work experiences on national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries while developing an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility. The OVNHT YCC program was eight weeks long and the members were from the local commuting area. The YCC members were paid for their 40-hour work weeks.

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Many YCC programs at parks and forests spend the entirety of their time solely at that location. For the OVNHT and by virtue of being a long-distance trail, the youth had opportunities to work in different counties, states and parks along the trail corridor. The youth were also exposed to many different agencies apart from the National Park Service. They were able to work alongside staff from National Forests, State Parks, and local recreation programs.

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The youth worked mostly on trail maintenance for existing trail, but they were also able to cut brand new trail right in their own community. Through a partnership with the local utility board, the NPS used the YCC crew to begin building a loop trail around a local reservoir that coincides with the OVNHT. The YCC members also installed new interpretive waysides and benches at an OVNHT-partner state park, constructed split-rail fencing around a historic graveyard, and assisted with greenway construction along the trail corridor.

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The YCC members also took field trips to the Cradle of Forestry in the Pisgah National Forest, a team-building trip to Winthrop University, and visited several of the surrounding National Parks in the area. Additionally, the crew joined with three other YCC groups and headed to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to help their trail crew with maintenance. All of these trips were intended to instill in the youth a sense of environmental stewardship and understanding of land management.

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Many of the YCC members had never been camping or traveled outside their hometown. Being able to travel with YCC and the NPS to visit many different parks and forests at both the federal and state level was life-changing for the members. And, the youth gained valuable skills in trail maintenance and civic responsibility that are sure to stay with them for years to come. For most of the students, working with the NPS through YCC was their first job. Surely, the skills gained from YCC will support them in their future careers!  

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Ben Richardson is the Chief of Planning and Partnerships, Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks for the National Park Service

From the Salon to Solo Hiker

By Sam Holcombe

In 2012, I had been working as a successful cosmetologist in a men's salon for six years. I was in demand, making good money, but something was missing.

I was 30 and was creating the life I saw in catalogs and fashion magazines, fully embracing and profiting from the “Metrosexual” movement that was in vogue at the time. I would get my hair colored each month. I received manicures and pedicures regularly. My eyebrows were perfectly shaped and tweezed. I was clean shaven. I bought a three-bedroom house, designer furniture to fill it, high-end equipment to outfit the kitchen, even though I rarely cooked. I purchased dress shirts in every color, suits for every occasion, and copious amounts of expensive clothing to fill my walk-in closet. I was doing hair for a good number of executives at the largest corporation in town, but still wasn't fulfilled. It didn't bring me joy. It was starting not to be fun.

I began thinking of escaping. To what? I daydreamed of the time I had spent outdoors in Boy Scouts or at wilderness survival camps as a youth. I started thinking about opportunities to go get wild again, to live in the woods, to be truly alone. Not long after realizing that a trail would be ideal, my brother turned me on to the most epic and underrated trail in my home state of North Carolina, the Mountains to Sea Trail. It seemed like an invitation; an obvious signal that this was a pretty good next step in my life.

Once I was in a position to do so, I quit the Salon and began training for my first solo thru-hike on the Mountains to Sea Trail. I did 20+ mile urban hikes with weighted packs on. After all those months of training and yearning to be out there, I started the hike on my 31st birthday. During that, my first solo thru-hike, I enjoyed many moments of bliss. I achieved deeper and more frequent feelings of emotional connectedness and happiness without seeking it. I started realizing that it was possible to feel fulfilled and happy without a lot of stuff, like that in my home, most of which, ironically, was designed to recreate those same feelings of happiness. The less I carried, the less I had to account for, the less I had reason to stress, the less cluttered my mind was, the more able my mind was to wander, the easier it was to naturally and automatically become “present in the moment”.

Two and half years later, I said goodbye to the town where I was born, the only one I had ever called home, and moved to Florida. I chose Florida for love; I had a relationship with a woman in Tampa, but also the lure of a long trail, one of the National Scenic Trails. What better way to get to know your new home than to walk across it?

During the 51 days of my thru-hike, the Florida Trail kept its promise. The promise of solitude. The promise of beauty and knowledge. The promise of better understanding the geography, the people, and myself. What especially struck me about the Florida Trail is the well-organized and available network of Trail Angels, and the enthusiasm of its hikers and neighbors. There are scores of volunteers, young and old. Fans of the trail have written detailed guides to help hikers. There is much passion for the FT, yet, in contrast, I met many folks who had never heard of it - even though it runs right in front of their houses; or worse, those who know about it, but don't care to see its value.

Sam Holcombe on the Florida National Scenic Trail

Sam Holcombe on the Florida National Scenic Trail

Values of the trail most obvious to me after hiking its 1101.7 miles are the exposure to natural and rural areas as well as hidden parts of towns and cities, the genuine people and happenings of the world you witness, the transformative beauty of the Florida Landscape and the adjacent natural areas that are now protected and respected because of their proximity to the trail.

Thru hiking, in general, changed my life; it helped me transition from being the type of person who obsessively collects things and compulsively grooms and primps, to becoming someone that obsessively combs through his life, looking for opportunities to purge and trim where ever he can and enjoy simple pleasures.

On the trail, the repetition and simplicity of setting up and breaking down my campsite became a Zen meditation: lay ground cloth down, unroll sleeping pad on top; exhale nine deep breaths to inflate it, release four buckles on the compression sac, remove sleeping bag, shake to promote lofting, lay bag on sleeping pad, remove cooking set up from backpack, pour water into pot, light stove, boil water, change clothes, add hot water to food, eat, sleep....and repeat. I streamlined my routine and therefore, my life. I narrowed my focus on the same goal everyday: moving forward.

I certainly feel more comfortable in my own skin. Confident that I am being true and real to others and myself. I am, for the most part, stress free. I am more accepting of and able to deal with extraordinary situations, whatever they may be.

The Florida Trail itself changed my perception of what a thru hike can be. It provides a unique experience for first time hikers and big mile veterans alike, showcasing varied landscapes, terrain, and wildlife, allowing frequent ease of access to the trail and resupply points, and boasting a unique group of devoted Trail Angels and outdoor enthusiasts. The Florida Trail is only one of eleven National Scenic Trails, but it is most certainly Florida's greatest treasure.

 

Finding Her Trail

When I moved to Maryland last year to take an internship with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, I was eager to delve into my love of public lands. I knew  it was nearing the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System, and I was determined to do something I’d never done before: backpacking.

On the way to the Devil's Racecourse

On the way to the Devil's Racecourse

I bought a tent. I went car-camping throughout Maryland’s state and national parks. I bought a backpack, a sleeping pad, stove,  boots, waterproof matches, and a trowel for heeding the call of nature in nature.

I made plans with my roommate. Deciding that you can’t go wrong with the iconic Appalachian National Scenic Trail for your first backpacking trip, we plotted our course on the Appalachian Trail through the Maryland section and discussed how much food we should bring.

“According to these three websites, we should bring upwards of 2500 calories per day. For our 3-day trip, that’s over 7,000 calories each,” I said. With precision that would make any through-hiker proud, we laid out all our food on the table and counted precious calories for 5 ready-boil bags of rice, summer sausage, cheese, crackers, tuna, nearly 2 pounds of tortillas, granola bars, and coffee.

A study in tortilla-heating methodology

A study in tortilla-heating methodology

“This isn’t enough food!” I said, the image of me stumbling over rocks, starving to death was fixed in my mind, even though we would be on a trail that crosses half the major highways in Maryland.  I convinced her to bring peanut butter, ready-make chili, a dehydrated dinner, and candy bars as well.

When it’s your first time backpacking, you don’t know how much it hurts to carry food that you know you won’t eat, on shoulders that vocalize their thoughts on your poor food choices and extravagant meal-planning. But once we were on the trail near Harpers Ferry, adrenaline kicked in, and despite my roommate’s early-onset blisters, we looked forward to the the next day which would be our first full day of hiking.

In the morning we made coffee and started to pack up when the first few drops of a deluge started to fall.  We finished packing and fled the campsite. I ate my granola bar as the rain dissolved it in my hand. The rain lasted all morning, and though I should have been miserable, I was buoyant instead.

There was something magical about the forest.  Rain drops fell through the trees, running off my fingertips, and the mists that passed through the trees made me feel like I was in a land removed from time, instead of a rookie backpacker tromping through forest an hour away from Washington D.C.

Mist in the mornings made it all worth it.

Mist in the mornings made it all worth it.

Backpacking does take its toll, however. I exited the trail two days later walking like a drunken sailor, nursing blisters and limping.  I had had enough of a constant runny nose (and precious few tissues),  sore feet, and the part of the AT called “devil’s racecourse” that threw out my hip on the last day. At that point, I couldn’t wait to get off the trail and back into society.

But over the next few days, as my blisters healed and my muscles stopped aching, I realized I’d changed out on the trail (though the change was not a caloric deficit; the two milkshakes on the way home neutralized any danger of that).

I remembered the mist in the mornings, and the nighttime fire blazing hot and bright after I’d willed it into existence through 30 minutes of fanning air into it. I remembered the conversations with other through-hikers, who allayed my embarrassment of bringing almost two pounds of tortillas with their own stories of being rookie backpackers (Bananas, apparently, were not a good trail snack).

I realized I wanted to go back.

I wanted to find a new trail to explore, and carry my pack scrambling over more rocks, experience new views. I realized that there is something out on the trail that is difficult to attain here in everyday life.
 

Dig down! Grow deep! Invest in the earth beneath your feet!

Dig down! Grow deep! Invest in the earth beneath your feet!

As we search for legitimacy in a world where we put a shiny veneer on everything we do, it’s a relief to go out in nature.

In nature, a tree is just a tree. A rhododendron is just as concerned with “how it looks” this season as a fox is concerned with the differential equations in effect as it pounces on a rabbit. On the trail, you can let your hair down, your guard down a little, and yes, you smell a little more frowsty than is usually acceptable.

This year, I found my trail, but more importantly, I found my love of all trails was real and substantial.

The reason why the National Trails System is encouraging people to “Find your Trail” is because you often find part of yourself along the way, also.

Since then I have done another trip, this time along the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The PHT as we fondly call it, provides increasing continuity to a network of trails and partners along the Potomac River and supporting watersheds.

As we move into 2018, I encourage you: find your trail! You don’t have to be a seasoned hiker or outdoorswoman to enjoy the outdoors. If you’re wondering where you should start, check out the American Hiking Society’s “10 Essentials of Hiking.”

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Monica Larcom is the Digital Media and Project Coordinator for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the C&O Canal National Historic Park

Welcome to the Trails 50 blog

Welcome to the Trails 50 blog! This blog will highlight the many exciting events and opportunities happening  along the National Trails System (NTS), and we’ll share information about each of the four components of the NTS: National Scenic Trails, National Historic Trails, National Recreation Trails, and Rail Trails. 

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