Volunteers are building a trail to the summit of Elk Knob State Park-and you can help finish it during summer 2011. Call the park to volunteer at 828-297-7261. Be among the High Country locals and visitors who are stepping up to ensure the world-class character of outdoor recreation in the Boone Area. Story by Corinne Saunders
The clunk of metal on rock and animated voices resonate in the otherwise-silent, dense woods of Elk Knob State Park.
It's a Saturday morning trail workday and the volunteers-some regulars and some first-timers-have shown up to leave their mark here, building a summit trail up Elk Knob.
The trail is the vision of Park Superintendent Larry Trivette, who spent hours measuring and planning the route to the summit. Larry is no rookie when it comes to trail building. It's his fourth year as superintendent here, but before Elk Knob, he worked for 22 years at Stone Mountain Park and was a park ranger at Morrow Mountain State Park prior to that.
Since the trail plan's initial approval by a state park system trail specialist from Raleigh, the dedicated Elk Knob staff and volunteers have been pouring their energies into implementing Larry's vision.
"Without people like this, we wouldn't be this far," said park ranger Kelly Safley, indicating the eight volunteers that turned out one day.
"You get dirty doing this, but it's fun," she added. Some volunteers use a Pulaski-a firefighting tool that is a combination axe and mattock-for digging out the trail, removing smaller rocks and grass and cutting through roots when necessary. For larger rocks, they must position a rock bar underneath and then apply pressure to budge them. The rocks wrested from the ground are incorporated into a rock wall that lines the downhill side of the trail.
Everyone is encouraged to help solve that puzzle by contributing ideas for how to build a wall that's both decorative and functional. Teamwork is essential, and the staff and volunteers often discuss the best ways to fit the rocks together as they construct the wall. As long as the wall is sturdily built, there is no right or wrong way to do it, Kelly said.
The new trail provides a less strenuous route to Elk Knob's summit-an alternative to the steep, rocky old road that climbs the 1,300-foot elevation in a little over a mile. The new trail will be slightly more than two miles when completed in summer 2011. "We try to keep it an 8 to 10 percent grade. The old road trail is 30 percent grade in some places," he said.
As of 2010, thousands of hours of volunteer and staff time have gone into the trail work. Larry's coworkers, park rangers Andy Sicard (now at nearby Grandfather Mountain State Park) and Kelly and maintenance mechanic Ray Black, share his motivation and vision for the trail work.
The four-person park staff began the trail construction in January 2006, and volunteer workdays started in summer 2007. The park staff works on the trail every Tuesday with the help of seasonal park employees and on Saturdays with a fluctuating crew of volunteers. The volunteer workdays begin at 9:00 a.m., but the commitment is not necessarily for the whole day. "Folks come and go as they please," Larry said.
Many volunteers return again and again. Volunteers of all ages pitch in, ranging from individuals 12 to more than 70 years old and including various church groups, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, university clubs and organizations, as well as high school clubs that come for service projects.
"It's not restricted to strong, muscular young men," Larry said. The trail building effectively knocks down gender and age barriers, and lasting friendships have formed among the park staff and volunteers. "Some volunteers have met and now go hiking together," Kelly said.
Two regular volunteers, Susan Hazlewood and Jennifer Dotson, have done just that. Jennifer thinks the hardest part for would-be volunteers is setting aside the time to come out-"getting over the hurdle of the first day." She believes if more people would do that, they would realize how fulfilling the trail building is and want to continue.
One day, Larry assigned Susan and Jennifer the task of creating a bench seat and bridge combination because he knew they enjoyed that type of work, Jennifer said. They worked on the project for about three hours and wouldn't let him leave until they were finished. "We were determined to get it done that day," Jennifer said.
Jennifer, Susan and countless other volunteers will have the opportunity to keep improving their trail-building expertise as they work their way up Elk Knob.
Editor's note: Once the summit trail is completed, it's possible that volunteers may help with trail maintenance. And as the park acquires more land in the future, other trails will be planned and implemented. That leaves plenty of trail work left to be done! Please call the park and volunteer!