I was by my car and the night turned black. I began to feel uneasy. It was my first time camping in the mountains and I felt anxious that I had no cell reception. The thought of not having a connection to the rest of the world frightened me. I stood there in the dark, feeling restless without the comfort of being at home and having light. Several participants and I came to Pisgah National Forest for a week to train at the Wilderness Skills Institute. I was accepted into the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) program under The Wilderness Society (TWS) as a crew member. The SAWS is a program of TWS, the leading American conservation organization dedicated to protecting our nation’s shared public lands. The SAWS was implemented to provide stewardship to land designated and wilderness areas in the National Forests of the Southern Appalachian region. Four other members and I worked closely together under this organization during the summer of 2014 to help maintain and rebuild popular trails such as the Appalachian Trail.
As a crew member, my main responsibilities included completing trail projects for each assigned wilderness area, residing with a team in a remote and primitive setting for nine days at a time, and practicing good wilderness character, safe workplace conduct and “leave no trace” guidelines. I learned how to properly use, handle and maintain trail tools, such as
the axe and crosscut saw. Moreover, I obtained crosscut saw training and wilderness first aid certifications. Furthermore, I learned how to correctly maintain trails and build new trail and trail steps.
All of these acquired skills were utilized to improve our trails. These trails will experience occasional damaged structures, erosion, improper water drainage, highly used pathways and/or misuse by people. Therefore, it is necessary to properly maintain them if we want to continue to have accessible, safe and enjoyable trails. Examples of trail projects that we completed included brushing and logging, clearing and maintaining, constructing a bridge and steps, making new trail and addressing water drainage issues.
Residing in the mountains was at times very challenging. We lived in the forest with no proper lighting, bed or shower. We lived off of the bare necessities, only packing what we absolutely needed and what we could manage to carry. Our typical pack included food, clothes, a tent, sleeping bag, and toiletries that together weighed anywhere between 50 to 70 pounds. We carried this weight
to our campsites at each wilderness area during the summer. The hikes were long and tiring and usually lasted for half of a day.
Although working as a trail crew member was arduous at times, the hardship became worthy since I was able to experience beautiful, breathtaking views that I’ve never seen in person before. Being able to wake up in the Southern Appalachian forests and mountains everyday was something I was tremendously grateful for. Even after I endured a whole workday of freezing cold and rain, as soon as I woke the next morning, looked out into the horizon, and viewed the majestic mountains, my annoyance was forgotten.
Being able to work as a crew member for The Wilderness Society was overall amazing. In the future, I’d like to continue to keep close ties with this organization for other potential outdoor career opportunities. Until then, I’d like to gain more experience and narrow my career options down to what I enjoy the most. Nevertheless, being able to work outside in beautiful and natural environments is hopefully the type of work environment I can continue to experience in the future. Having a career with SAWS or The Wilderness Society could definitely for me achieve that goal.