Aristotle said that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” How often do we validate this observation in our everyday Scouting activities? This summer, Troop 317 from Stafford, Virginia partnered with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) while working on the National Outdoor Achievement Award – Conservation. It was an ideal collaboration, like peanut butter and chocolate. As the Founder of Scouting, Lord Baden-Powell liked to say: “Cooperation is the only way if we mean to win success.”
According to their website, “The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) is a 100% Volunteer-Supported 501c3 non-profit formed in 1927 for the purpose of building and maintaining the Appalachian Trail (AT), a 2190-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia, the longest hiking-only trail in the world. We were the 1st club of the now 31 clubs who preserve the AT & its side-trails from Maine to Georgia. We are the Trail Guardians for over 1000 miles of trails in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia & Virginia, including 240 miles of AT. Our territory begins in Central Pennsylvania at Pine Grove Furnace, continues thru Maryland & West Virginia to Harpers Ferry and extends into the mid-point of Virginia, including the Shenandoah National Park. In addition, we maintain other regional trails, for a total of over 1,000 miles of trails, thousands of acres of land and more than 80 shelters and cabins.”
The Scouts were excited to work alongside PATC volunteers and the National Park Service. Additionally, the Scouts wanted to, “Demonstrate the safe use of five of the following conservation tools: pick or pickax; shovel or spade; ax; bow saw; crosscut saw; pry bar; sledgehammer; loppers or shears; fire rake or McLeod; and/or Pulaski. Discuss the ethical use of the tools you chose.” Their secondary goal was to begin accumulating some of the required 25 hours of conservation service. As Baden-Powell said: “Service is not for spare time only. Service should be an attitude of life which will find outlets for its practical expression at all times.”
Upon arrival at Dundo Group Campground in Shenandoah National Park, they were met by National Park Service Ranger Rebecca Unruh and Intern Mary Kay(“MK”) Thornburg, who gave a presentation on the Park and its origins, the Appalachian Trail, trail maintenance safety procedures, COVID-19 precautions and concluded with a demonstration of various trail maintenance hand tools and their uses.
On Saturday morning, they were met by Dave Bowen, AT District Manager for the South Shenandoah National Park District along with Park Service Interns MK Thornburg and Allyson Butler. There was an ideal 2 mile stretch of the AT for them to work on. The section had been without a maintainer this year and was in dire need of weeding, vegetation clipping (especially mountain laurel), water bar cleaning and refurbishing and also had a number of hazardous “blow-downs” (trees that had fallen across the trail).
Safety first! Once equipped with masks, tools, hardhats, safety glasses and leather gloves from the Park staff, the Scouts and their leaders started out. As Aquia Scouter Dick Haas (aka: The Ancient One) likes to say: “KISMIF!” which means “Keep It Safe, Make it Fun!” This is the key to successful Scout programs.
The work was divided into weeding teams, clipping teams, and water bar teams. Halfway through the work, the teams switched tools so they could experience using at least 5 different hand tools. The water bar team spent time cleaning existing water bars and digging out new water bars in a stretch of the trail that had water running down it the previous Monday, while the Park Service staff and Scout leaders directed the weeding and clipping teams.
When the teams met up, they all headed back down to Ivy Creek to attack the four blowdowns just beyond the Creek. These required tools carried by the Troop leaders; large carona saws, rockbars, and wedges. The blowdowns were dangerous, resulting from rotted trees that had fallen over the trail from uphill, and one was dug into the trail. With some judicious sawing, the Troop leaders were able to clear two of the blowdowns while the Scouts watched, then worked on the third blowdown so that each of the Scouts could take a turn at sawing with the Carona saw. With that completed, all adjourned to the Creek for lunch. Only one Scout fell into the Creek!
After lunch, the Troop decided to push on in an attempt to get two days’ worth of work done in one. With one group pushing the 1.5 miles beyond the Creek to the Ivy Creek Overlook parking area while doing a lot of uphill weeding and clipping, a second group headed back to the starting point, completing any missed clipping and weeding on the way back. A third group stayed to finish work on the 4th blowdown. The groups linked up shortly thereafter and everyone returned to the Ivy Creek Overlook parking area for a debrief, group pictures, and awards. All in all, over 85 hours of work was performed in about five hours, the Scouts all got to experience the use of multiple tools, some of which they had never seen before, and a 2-mile section of the AT is now in pristine shape.
All agreed it was hard work, but time very well spent! The Scouts remarked that they appreciated the thanks received from several hikers they encountered during the day. One of those hikers was so inspired by the work, he has not only become a PATC member, he took on the responsibility of becoming the Trail Overseer for that section of the AT. So, beyond getting the two miles of trail back into great shape, there is now a designated caretaker to ensure it doesn’t become overgrown and neglected in the future. One couple even stopped the Troop in the parking lot to express their appreciation for the trail maintenance work we were doing. Those interactions with adults and others who see value in what they are doing give the Scouts so much pride and satisfaction knowing their good turns are valued by others.