Trail users put aside differences to clear path

Tannis and Tom Blackwell, with the volunteer group Team Conasauga clean out a water break on the Tearbritches trail in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

Here’s a very upbeat story to start the week…

Here’s the link and below is an excerpt.

Gary Monk, a retired pilot and Appalachian Trail enthusiast, was more than a bit surprised when the head of U.S. Forest Service in north Georgia asked him to join a panel with bikers, equestrians and off-roaders.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” Monk recalled. “I don’t like the horse people and they don’t like me. And no one likes the ATV people because they’re so loud.”

Monk was joking, or at least playing on the well-defined trail-users’ tribalism, where hikers grumble that horses tear up trails or horse riders complain that bikers frighten their animals or bikers grouse that hikers are fuddy-duddies trying to take over.

George Bain, then the supervisor of the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forest, wanted to pull together leaders of the various groups to pick their brains and urge their support to maintain their beloved trails. Trail use has consistently gone up through the years, but U.S. Forest Service budgets and manpower have shrunk. More unpaid enthusiasts with shovels was a must, he figured.

Bain’s brainstorm two years ago was to get the trail-using factions in one room, get them to know each other and then work in concert. The groups already did trail maintenance, but some cross-pollination between the groups might bring a massing of forces and extra volunteers, he figured. So far, it has worked and Bain, who recently was promoted to a job in Montana, was named the Forest Service’s Land Manager of the Year.

“Through this effort, the number of volunteers coming out has continued to really grow,” said Bain, who figures the number of volunteer hours is the equivalent of 21 full-time employees working the trails. That’s significant because it is far more manpower than the Forest Service has dedicated to that job.

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