The Virtues of Trail Maintenance — A Slacker’s New Appreciation

Contributed by Ms. Briana Taylor

I have to admit I went grudgingly into this hike (the dutiful fiancé supporting her first trail maintenance hike out of a sense of loyalty to her better half (hey—I thought this was a hiking club!).

Thinking I was in for a long day of a slow-poking our way up the mountain (interspersed only with periods of acquiring splinters and inhaling paint fumes)…

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Albemarle High School and saw that, in addition to hike leader (and excellent guilt-trip-layer) Andy Willgruber, three other ladies had arrived for a day of trail work. And they seemed excited to boot! Hike regular CJ Woodburn and PATC members Séverine Fremy and Emerald Young were anticipating a day of perfect 70-degree spring weather, an opportunity to give back for the trails they enjoy, and a chance to also do a moderately paced 5-mile hike with excellent views of both valleys.

When we arrived at the trailhead, the sharp breeze and cool weather had us adding a few more layers initially, but as we began the work of sanding, dusting, and painting the first post, we quickly warmed up and the work went surprisingly fast. Our tasks consisted of painting the new posts that mark the AT relocation (the original trail had become badly eroded in places), refreshing AT blazes that had faded, and trimming thorny bushes and branches that were encroaching on the paths.

In addition to laughter and conversation, the “thank yous for what you do” from the occasional through hiker made the work not only enjoyable but a reminder of just what PATC really does. A few times I imagined how comforting that white blaze must be when in a particularly long and wooded stretch. And the posts, freshly painted, seemed to be subtle but encouraging sentries of civilization to fellow nature enthusiasts—welcoming hikers on to the next stage of their journey.

As promised in the hike description, “many hands made light work,” and before we knew it, we were cresting the hill and looking at our last two posts—and a little disappointed that we didn’t have more to paint! After stopping to enjoy the view of both valleys (Shenandoah Valley to the west; Rockfish Valley to the east), we determined it was too early for lunch and continued on for the rest of our hike. We posted our final “wet paint” sign, stashed our painting supplies out of the way, and headed further along the trail, snipping and clearing a few prickly vines and low-hanging branches as we went.

It wasn’t long before we spotted one of our first exciting wildflower finds of the day. Hidden below its unassuming umbrella foliage was a deep purple wild ginger flower—a buried gem among the decaying leaves. It wasn’t long before Showy Orchis, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and May-apples were added to the list.

Finally, we headed back down to Beagle Gap. Everyone agreed for various reasons that adding the extra two miles to Bear Den and back was really unnecessary.

At the end, cold Bold Rock ciders were offered to the hard-working crew. Folks then headed back to C-ville with plenty of a beautiful spring day left for other pursuits.