Last Labor Day, while hiking section 4 of the Ozark Highlands trail, I encountered trail conditions that I hope to never see again. A three mile stretch of trail that took over six hours to hike. That was the day that I realized that the maintainers needed help. Sure, I always try to do some light cleanup every time I hike, but not like the maintainers do. The OHTA maintains over 200 miles of trail, on extremely rugged ground. Steep grades, lush vegetation, rocky soil, and an overall erosive environment make it so. By erosive environment, I'm referring to the Ozark Mountains(also called the Ozark Plateau). Limestone and sandstone make up the bulk of the bedrock. Water strips away anything not held firmly by tree roots. Trees that are being plagued by bugs and disease. Add our unique weather patterns to the mix and you see high heat and humidity doing their part to rot standing trees away. Our winter doesn't provide the glorious snowstorms of the Rockies either. Instead, we may get ice storms that can decimate acres upon acres of backcountry timber. Don't forget about spring, when we get severe thunderstorms as do all locales within "Tornado Alley".
The trail begins at the western end of the Ozark National Forest, and ends over 200 miles away, within the same national forest system. With exception of the dozen miles or so within the Buffalo National River area, it is rarely maintained by any other group. So volunteers before us have built and maintained this wonderful trail. With success, I might add. It is well blazed(perhaps too well for my desires), and easy to follow. The battle to establish the corridor has been done. The bright plans of (eventually) linking to the Ozark Trail in Missouri are being worked on. And I have done no more than push a log out of the way, pick up trash, and enjoy the work of others. I've taken, without giving in return. Well, I've given complaints, but not all were constructive. So what does that make me? The kind of man I want to be? Not even close.
My first act of the new year was to join the OHTA, and recruit my brother as well. I went to a meeting and spoke with the maintenance director, Roy Senyard about when I could help out. Oddly, I felt guilty about explaining that I would not work on Saturdays. Taking a Saturday off of work would only be for hiking weekends. That's when most of Americans are available to participate in this type of activity. He said there were others who worked on Sundays. Wade Colwell volunteered me for chainsaw duties. I protested, but instantly knew he was right. With my Dad and brothers, I've wielded a saw for over 20 years. Not often in the past several years, but lets just say we've cut literally thousands of truckloads of firewood. Using a saw is really a pain in the neck. Heavy, awkward, and dangerous. But a requirement for any serious trail work.
I have not yet begun to actually DO the heavy lifting, but feel involved with making my playground a better, safer experience for others. I will adopt a section of trail to be my own. Three different sections come to mind. One is the section that required my early exit last year. But that's a team job. It's too much to do alone in my limited time. If I am able to assemble the team, I'll snatch up the opportunity for the difficult one. If not, it'll be the easy, ugly section available. Or maybe snag a section from a guy with more than one section already, closer to home.
My reason for posting this is to encourage the rest of the hiking community to get involved. Everyone has too many things going on in their lives. We're all busy. But that doesn't stop us from contributing to this cause. If a person wants to do something, they have to MAKE it happen. Proactively, that is. Join your local trail organization. Get on the mailing list. If you can't do that, look into donating money to help pay for their equipment. Volunteer your Boy Scout troop or other youth organization to give service hours. You'll help other people, and rest easier at night. Especially on nights when you camp along the trail.
Here's a link to the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA)
Here's a link to the Friends of the Ouachita Trail (FoOT)Please feel free to link to other trail maintenance groups in the comments. I'll likely add them to this post or create a page for them. Thank you!