View Full Version : Cumberland Trail: Volunteers build trails and bridges

09-13-2008, 07:53
From Chattanooga Times Free Press
by Pam Sohn

Deep in the Big Possum Gorge of Walden’s Ridge near Sale Creek, the sound of a chainsaw competes with the roar of a rushing creek.

The crew wielding the chainsaw isn’t cutting trees. The workers are building a pedestrian bridge over a raging creek in the middle of nowhere to connect some important pieces of real estate — the newest sections of the Cumberland Trail, a 300-mile path that forms Tennessee’s newest state park.

To reach this point of construction, T.C. Varner, Tony Hook and a handful of hard-working volunteers have packed about 4,000 pounds of concrete and more than 500 pounds of lumber and hand tools into this steep wilderness. The only muscle they had other than their own came from all-terrain vehicles, ropes, pulleys and slings.

To help:

See attached PDF listing volunteer opportunities.

Contact the Cumberland Trail Conference at (931) 456-6259 or www.cumberlandtrail.org.

After about 12 more days of hard labor stretched over coming weeks, the workers in this Cumberland Trail Conference team will complete the new creek span.

“This is our first bridge,” said Mr. Hook, general manager of the Cumberland Trail Conference. “So it has been quite a learning curve.”

In coming weeks, Mr. Hook and crew members hope to build two more bridges, some kiosks and several sets of wooden trail steps. The volunteers also will repair miles of trail in other local areas of the park, which stretches all the way into Kentucky.

Although the trail and the park belong to the state, the conference and its volunteers do all of the trail building. A little more than 168 miles of the trail are built to date, and construction includes everything from cutting the trail to setting wooden or rock steps, bridge building and painting the white trail markers on trees.

It is a passion to volunteers such as Fred Doss and Jan Agee.

“I love the Cumberland Trail. All I want to do when I retire is do trail maintaining and build bridges and work on it,” Ms. Agee said. “As long as I’m outside, I’m happy.”

Mr. Doss said he and his wife also love the trail for hiking and outdoor recreation, and they are thrilled to live so near what eventually will be part of the Great Eastern Trail — a long-distance trail intended to be an alternative to the Appalachian Trail. Plans are for the Cumberland Trail eventually to become part of the Great Eastern Trail.

“We think it’s great to have this resource so close to where we live,” he said. “We’re concerned that more young people don’t volunteer to help build it. I think it will be a great thing to tell my grandchildren — that I helped build part of the Great Eastern Trail.”

Paying to play

This year, the Cumberland Trail Conference received a federal Recreational Trails Program grant of $120,000, administered by the state, to purchase the three bridge packages — pre-designed bridges that trail and bridge builders will bolt into place once the footings and prep work are complete.

“Putting the bridges together will be the easy part,” Mr. Hook said. “We’ll just look at the specs, and they should just bolt up. The hard part is getting the materials in there and doing the prep work.”

But with state budget shortfalls and layoffs of state employees, the conference next summer faces the prospect of losing its $166,341 of yearly funding. A new hardship could arise next summer when the conference’s board must decide whether to keep the four coordinating staff members or close its doors.

But the conference is in the last fiscal year of a five-year grant contract from the state, which ends in June 2009, said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conversation, which oversees the park.

“After June 30, 2009, the CTC will have to raise the needed funds for operations or I suppose go out of business,” Mr. Hook said. “This is unfortunate because our partnership with the state has been a ‘win-win’ for everyone. The CTC organizes, feeds and houses the volunteers, builds and maintains the trail all at very low cost to the state.”

Since 2004, a yearly state grant of $166,341 has paid up to four conference staff members to coordinate volunteers and operate a Crossville office. Enough has been left over to pay for about 9 percent of trail development, Mr. Hook said.

While the state loaned the conference an ATV for the bridge project, he said, the rest of the trail development money has been raised through fundraising and grants such as the $120,000 for the bridge packages.