Volunteers Spend Vacation Improving Nature Trail at Mt. Mitchell

While some folks spend their vacations on cruises or at luxury resorts, five hardy volunteers from the American Hiking Society recently spent their time off lugging big timbers and building steps on the Balsam Nature Trail at Mt. Mitchell State Park.

“I like to hike, so being able to give back to this trail is nice,” said Brandy Dillingham, 37, who traveled to Mt. Mitchell from her home in the Washington, D.C. area, where she works in Government Relations for a non-profit.

The week of work was sponsored by Mt. Mitchell State Park and Yancey’s NC High Peaks Trail Association, which is also the official Friends of Mt. Mitchell State Park organization. High Peaks volunteers joined the AHS crew, along with a paid trail crew, in working on the project.

“This was a win-win for us,” said High Peaks President John Whitehouse. “We are always looking for opportunities to introduce hikers to our area and to get some badly-needed work done on our trails.”

The trip to Mt. Mitchell was one of many offered this summer by the American Hiking Society, a national non-profit devoted to hiking, trail work and outdoor recreation. The group has organized the working vacations for years, and gets a steady stream of people willing to spend their vacations doing trail work. The volunteers even pay $300 each for the privilege of doing so, a fee that covers food, administrative and organizational costs.

“This is my fifth trip doing this,” said Veru Devisetty, 40, an Information Technology professional who originally hails from India but now lives in Jacksonville, FL.  “I’ve been to Alaska twice.”

It was his first trip to Mt. Mitchell, and he was impressed by the beauty of the tallest mountain in the Eastern U.S.

“I never expected North Carolina to be so beautiful,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting so much wilderness.”

The other members of the volunteer crew were Isaiah Bischoff, 18, a student from Minnesota about to start college at Warren Wilson; Eric Bisnow, 68, a retired municipal employee from South Florida; and Brenden West, 49, a software engineer from Champagne, IL.

The crew members camped in tents at the park, cooked their own meals and put up with rainy weather that didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm. They spent their daylight hours rebuilding the park’s nature trail, installing heavy timber steps in an effort to stem erosion sparked by the steady stream of visitors that use the trail.

“We are very happy to host these volunteers,” said Park Superintendent Rob McGraw. “The Balsam Nature Trail is one of our shorter, easier hikes, and the interpretive signs offer education about the plants and animals that make up our unique eco-system. It’s a big boost to have these volunteers help improve that trail.”

The volunteers were joined in the work by paid AmeriCorps workers contracted by High Peaks through the American Conservation Experience, a trail-work company with an office in Asheville. High Peaks and ACE have been partnering for several years to rebuild the Mt. Mitchell Trail, another eroded, high-use track that runs from the Mt. Mitchell summit to the Black Mountain Campground.

“ACE has been a huge help,” Whitehouse said. “Our volunteers can only do so much, and many of us are retirees, so being able to hire a crew of hard-working young people allows us to accomplish a lot more.”

Photo info: Volunteer Brandy Dillingham works on a step on the Balsam Nature Trail at Mt. Mitchell State Park.


Volunteer Brenden West hauls a timber for trail work on the Balsam Nature Trail at Mt. Mitchell State Park.