Workin’ The Laurel Fork Trail This Summer
Highland County, VA – Highland county resident Todd Frye is spending this summer in the Laurel Fork section of the George Washington National Forest. But it isn’t an extended summer vacation by any means. He’s part of a trail restoration crew funded by the federal government’s Recovery Act. Several crews are working in western Virginia this summer.
Todd is an avid hiker and woodsman, so he knows how important trail work is in the national forest. Crews now working throughout the eastern United States met in Augusta Springs in late May for training. Todd talks about this preparation for the summer’s trail work.
“Learned a lot of things about timber cutting, we used cross cut saws” says Frye. “I’d never used the old methods of cutting logs. It was just a great experience all the way around.”
Todd says they usually start off by clearing corridors for the trails by cutting paths ten feet high and eight feet wide. It’s a little more than required for a hiking trail, but it does help with future maintenance. They also do restoration work on existing trails. They use mostly hand tools carried in by the crews, but are allowed to chainsaws too.
The Laurel Fork crew currently has 5 members who work four 10 hour days and then have 3 days off each week. The crew camps in Laurel Fork, but may come out for breaks on their days off.
“Our crew is from all over the United States; we have two from California, and one from Pennsylvania, and another from Alabama – I was the local” says Frye. “Everyone has a good work ethic, and really enjoyed this crew, everyone gets along, we put out a lot of work and have a good time.”
He says the food, tents and other equipment are all provided and the pay is good. Todd has learned much more than just how to build a trail.
“Camping out’s been great – I thought it would give me a new perspective on living and it has” says Frye.
He says they started out camping near the Locust Springs picnic area and could bring in whatever food they wanted to eat. But that changed as the crew moved farther into the forest.
“Now we’re camped three miles in and it makes things a little more difficult” says Frye “we’re eating a lot of dehydrated food. Just add water – having Beef Stroganoff in the middle of nowhere is alright. Now we’re camped right next to Laurel Fork and have access to water, that’s made a big difference.”
These crews were organized for the US Forest Service by the Student Conservation Association, a group based in Charlestown, New Hampshire. The Student Conservation Association, founded by Elizabeth Putnam, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007 and has won numerous awards for conservation work, including a national award from President Reagan. The group puts thousands of young people into the parks and national forests around the country each year doing work that our underfunded national park and forest service staff cannot afford to do. For Highland County this has been a great opportunity.
The Laurel Fork crew will be working through September 20th and hopes to improve many miles of trails for Highland county residents and tourists alike who come from miles around for a dose of the restorative power only a place like Laurel Fork can provide.