Entries For: July 2011
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Conference is over. Everyone has left Emory and Henry College. We've said goodbye and exchanged emails and said "See you in two years" at Western Carolina University.
But a committee has already been working for more than two years to plan the 39th Biennial Conference. We've learned a lot about running a conference from the hard-working folks in Southwest Virginia. We've gathered every form, every piece of paper and bit of advice that was offered to us.
And of course, we took all the signs.
This was not a trivial job. Carroll and Bruce took a truck and went back up to Emory and Henry College and loaded up all the signs and kiosks that were used at the conference. They drove back down to Asheville and placed them all in our garage. The signs will come in handy in two years and save us a lot of work and time.
A lot of you will be asked to volunteer to lead a hike or an excursion or help in other ways. See you in Cullowhee July 19 to 26, 2013.
But I hope to see you on the trail a lot sooner.
On my last day at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial meeting, I led a hike from Massie Gap to Elk Garden. It's a wilderness area so we couldn't have more than 10 people. We went southbound with 7 hardy, enthusiastic hikers. By the end of the week, only hikers are left.
I had scouted the hike a few weeks ago but I checked out the trailhead again on Tuesday. Because it was a key swap, we split the southbound and northbound groups about evenly. We drove out to the trailhead with a car from the other group. The idea was that we'll meet them on the trail and get our keys back and our car would be ready for us.
We passed some rock art but the group really wanted to see the ponies. And I now knew how the ponies got there. They're not really wild. After the area was logged, the balds were filling in. The US Forest Service wanted to keep the balds open for recreation. After all, we are in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. But they didn't want to burn it - it didn't look good.
So first they brought in sheep but there wasn't enough good grass for them. Then they tried cattle but the cattle ate poisonous plants and died. The third try was a charm - ponies. Now the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association takes care of the ponies. They check on them and supply some hay but the ponies are pretty much self-sufficient. Every fall, they have a pony roundup. Some of the ponies are auctioned off.
We climbed Mt. Rogers and the skies opened up. We had lunch at the wooded summit as rain poured into our packs and everything else. And who was Rogers? William Bartram Rogers (1804-1882) was considered the father of modern geology. He also helped to found MIT and became its first president.
The sun shone by the time we got to Elk Gardens to our cars.
If you're dayhiking a section of the A.T. in the woods, you really look. Then you find lots of interesting features that never make it into the trail guide.
We had 19 hikers, many who live outside the Southern Appalachians, so that added variety to the hike. I may be blaze about blooming Rosebay rhododendons but those from the Northeast really appreciated them. We saw one lonely Turks-cap lily and we discussed if they looked like the hats worn by Turkish people.
Lots of fungus as well.
The hemlocks had been attacked by the hemlock wooly adelgid which looks like white cotton. The adelgid has been working its way South for several decades. It has been in the Smokies for a few years now.
We went up to Hurricane Mountain Shelter for a snack. It was a modern shelter, which may not follow the standards of a rustic shelter but this is what the local A.T. club wanted to build. Did they have the freedom to build the kind of shelter they pictured?
The last highlight was Comers Creek Falls. By any standard, it was a small waterfall, hard to photograph in the noon day sun. We had a late lunch and many of us put or feet in the water.
Any section of the A.T. is fascinating if you really look. This may sound Pollyanish but I think it's true. The really iconic places are easy to get to - Clingmans Dome, Mount Washington ... It's the small waterfalls and fungus on the underside of rocks that make the trail the experience it is.
An Appalachian Trail Conservancy meeting has workshops, hikes and excursions. The last includes every type of outing, other than hikes. Some are cultural and special to the area.
Nothing is more indicative of the area than the Bristol Speedway. I joined a tour of the speedway, even though I'd never been to a race or watched one on TV. I just wanted an infusion of the Nascar culture without having to go to a race.
We drove to the racetrack and met a tour guide. First she took us to the drag strip, a quarter-mile of straight-away ending in a sand pit. The noise generated gives it its name Thunder Valley.
Then we went up to the upper floors to the owner's suite. Bruton Smith, a car dealer in Charlotte, owns the Bristol Speedway and several others.
I was amazed that the tour included the suite. There was a large room, consisting of a dining room, living room and kitchen. The men's toilet had a TV, placed in the correct position so that Smith doesn't miss a second of the race. This is where we got the best view of the 160,000 spectator coliseum, the largest coliseum in the world.
But there are only two Nascar weekends a year, one in March and one in August. The guide emphasized that they are an economic engine for an area 100 miles around. There are few other events at the main track but nothing as big as the Nascar races.
Surprise number 2. We were driven to the track itself. It's only a half-mile so we asked if we could speed-walk it. After all, we're hikers but the guide said "no". Cars can come out and not expect us.
They did let us climb the enbankment - a 36 deg. grade. We took pictures of each other at the top of the embankment and we climbed down on the diagonal.
We also could go into the stands and look out. This is truly the South- very casual and friendly. Any place else would cite security issues and just keep us on the bus.
It doesn't make me want to go to a race but I got a better appreciation of what Nascar is all about. The best $4 I've spent in a long time.
Tomorrow, back to hiking.
An Appalachian Trail Conference meeting depends on volunteers. This time, we have 930 people at the conference and over 300 volunteers. Some do as little as four hours at a desk while others have volunteered countless hours for the last two years.
The next Biennial meeting will be in 2013 and Carolina Mountain Club will be one of the five clubs responsible for the meeting. So we're learning what works and what doesn't from this meeting.
I checked out the camping facilities here. See above. The camping chairs had commandeered the Emory and Henry College soccer fields. They drew lines and created camping spots of equal size and numbered them. Quite a lot of work.
I went to a workshop and also gave a workshop entitled A Hike through the Cultural History of the Carolina Mountains. I had over 50 people at the workshop, all "working".
We went to a volunteer reception where we were thanked for our service. Here I am with Andrew Downs of the Southern Regional ATC office. He just towers over me.
Four CMC members volunteered for various jobs and I got them together for a photo.
Then we had a raffle with great door prizes. I had donated my trail guide Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage.
Unfortunately I didn't win anything but it was fun and congenial. An ATC conference is about friendships as much as hiking.
My first hike at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Conference in Southwest Virginia.
The hike was advertised as a loop hike on the A.T. and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Virginia Creeper, that's all I had to hear. I signed up for an 11 mile hike which turned out to be over 13 miles.
But that was OK. The leaders, Gary and Laurie, were great and there was only one other hiker, Shirley. The four of us really moved.
We started from the Bear Tree Lake parking area in the Jefferson National Forest and quickly got on the A.T.
The trail was in the woods and frankly, I was looking forward to the Virginia Creeper. I had heard so much of this trail (33.4 miles) as a famous bicycle trail but it's really multi-use - hiking, biking and horses.
We reached the Creeper trail about 11:30 at The Creeper Cafe, with all the amenities including air-conditioning. We ate an early lunch and got some great ice cream. Then we got on the VA Creeper proper. By then, hordes of bikers were coming the other way. We were going up but it was a very gentle up.
This was the site of a logging railroad opened before 1900 from Abington to Damascus. It was then extended to the Virginia/North Carolina border. The last train ran in 1977. It has lots of trestles and bridges and had a serious wash-out in the tornado that they had in April.
The path follows Laurel Creek and passes the waterfall at the top. Our hike took us back to the A.T. and to Bear Tree Trail to close the loop. For me the highlight was definitely the Creeper Trail. A great hike.
I went to two workshops today at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Meeting.
Nature Writing was run by Jim Harrison, head of the Outdoor Leadership Program at Emery and Henry College. The college has a program called Semester on the Trail where students hike the A.T. for 12 credits. Well, it's not as easy as that. They have to journal and process the experience.
Then Johnny Molloy talked about his career as a writer of outdoor guides. He spends over 186 days a year sleeping outdoors.
He was a backpacking bum who started writing a hiking guide and now he's got over 40 books. He said that there's no such thing as writer's block. That just means you don't feel like writing.
The second workshop was about the A.T.'s unique role in Climate Change Research.
Think about it. The A.T. by going from Georgia to Maine can show the upward migration of animals, and sometimes, plants. Lenny talked about climate modeling. Though he didn't want to use the word, predict, the models showed that the A.T. will have a 3 to 6 deg. F in the summer in the 2041 to 2060 time frame. The odds are I won't be alive to feel that. Worse, there will be less rain on the Southern Appalachians and water sources will dry up.
Elizabeth Crisfield, a Ph.D. Student, talked about nature's adaptation to this change. I really perked up when she pointed out that higher carbon dioxide levels will help poison ivy and make the toxins more potent. The picture above is of Elizabeth and Lenny at their talk.
I walked around the exhibit halls and the campus. It's a beautiful leafy campus with old solid buildings. Emery and Henry is celebrating its 175th anniversary.
The 38th Biennial Conference of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy opened last evening. It's being held at Emery and Henry College in Southwest Virginia north of Abington.The opening meeting was a festive affair.
We registered at the exhibit hall and that's where we met the Who's Who of the hiking world.
Johnny Molloy, author of countless hiking guides had a table.
So did Leonard Adkins, probably the best guidebook writer in my estimation. He wrote Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway, the best book on all the trails off the Parkway.
Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail had a booth. John J. was staffing the booth when I got thereAnd of course, Carolina Mountain Club
had a nice exhibit of our hikes and maintenance work. This is where the work gets done and the connections get made and renewed - at informal gatherings.
The kick-off meeting was a grand affair. Those who volunteered for 25 and 50 years got awards. Think about it - 50 years of volunteering for the A.T. They must have started when they were 20. All those who think that volunteering and hiking starts when folks retire should rethink their assumptions.
It is not that difficult to make hiking a priority, even when you're punching a clock. If all goes well, we'll get our 25 year pin in 2013.