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  1. #1
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    Volunteers needed: PNF trails inventory

    As many of you know, Wild South provided volunteers recently to the USFS for trails assessment. The project has been extended, and they are looking for more volunteers. Info below for those of you who are interested; note that the work pretty structured, as Erik Crews with the USFS has built a "vocabulary" into the hand-held GPS systems that are being used.

    *****************
    Hello there,

    My name is Ben Prater and I am the Associate Director of Wild South based in Asheville, NC. Wild South is a conservation organization dedicated to inspiring people to appreciate, protect, and enjoy the wild character and the natural legacy of the South. We have been involved in active stewardship of National Forests across the Southeast for over a decade.

    With the generous support of the National Forest Foundation we are pleased to announce that we will continue working with the National Forests in North Carolina to inventory system trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The purpose of this inventory is to gather baseline data on the condition of trails in our National Forests for development of a Trails Strategy. This "strategy" will be the foundation for an ongoing collaborative effort to maintain a sustainable trail system that satisfies users while protecting the integrity of forest resources.

    As someone who is interested in recreation and trails on our National Forests we wanted to reach out to you in our effort to recruit volunteers for this one of a kind project. We need volunteers who can committ to hiking and recording data on trails across the Pisgah National Forest. Because this project will involve training we need to have folks who can help for an extended period of time and we'd like to begin right away.

    All volunteers will be paired up, trained by the Forest Service, and provided equipment including: advanced handheld GPS computers, clinometers, first aid kits, daypacks, maps, and other necessary items. All you will need you to provide are your hiking boots, a fresh pair of legs, your time and enthusiam.

    This is an exciting opportunity to be involved in the future of recreation on our National Forests and the beloved Pisgah. Please contact me at 828.258.2667 ext. 2, or reply to this message today to get involved. If you have questions please do not hesitate to call and if you know of other people who would be interested in this project please help spread the word.

    Once folks have expressed an interest I will set up a time and date for a conference call to discuss the project in more detail.

    We look forward to working with you.

    For the forests,
    Ben Prater
    Wild South

  2. #2
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    I attended the conference call on Tuesday hosted by Wild South -- this is a great opportunity to enjoy some Pisgah trails while contributing to the project. Basically, teams of two head out into the woods and catalog trail issues on a hand-held GPS unit. Each GPS unit has a "library" of trail issues that can be identified -- entrenchment, standing water, trail braiding, etc.

    This is Phase II of the project, and will last until next April. The training sessions have yet to be scheduled, but will be coming up fairly soon -- PM me if you'd like more info.

  3. #3
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    Is this a good thing? Genuinely curious. I don't know much about this group.

  4. #4
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    They do sound a bit like the Sierra Club.

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    I think in this case the work being done is more important than which group is doing it. Aside, perhaps, from prioritization of which trails to survey, it should be fairly objective. The GPS data is collected automatically, and the data dictionary should be fairly limited to issues observable by anyone using the trail.

    That's not to say people couldn't get creative with ways to game the system, but on the whole, I don't think politics will play into it much.

    Personally, I think Wild South is a great organization and I have no problems with them heading this up.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbmb65 View Post
    Is this a good thing? Genuinely curious. I don't know much about this group.
    Thanks for the question. I am reserving judgement until I see it a bit more in person, but for the moment my answer is this: It's all we've got.

    By that, I mean that Wild South is the administrator of a grant that allows them to put feet on the trails to assess the trails per USFS guidelines. They are opening the volunteering to all user groups, which is good, and have worked with the USFS to develop an "objective" trail assessment process, as mtbwnc pointed out. This is the most in-depth assessment going on, and should inform the trails collaborative process, and maintenance needs going forward.

    From what I've learned, it does not seem that user politics is playing a role. And though someone could game the system toward their particular use, my hope is that the training and the limited "vocabulary" of the GPS unit obviate any of that sort of problem. Further, the trails that have been identified for assessment are a broad spectrum, ostensibly with the intent to hit them all.

    On the other hand, the majority of the volunteers on the call were hikers. Even well trained, there is still a possibility of interpretation -- a hiker sees things differently than a mountain biker, different from an equestrian. That's why I'm reserving judgement until I can get trained and see for myself what we're supposed to be identifying on the trail.

    Now, no matter how objective the process, it needs to be pointed out that it is using USFS guidelines. Through the trails collaborative process, we're making a case that user input -- "upward feedback" if you will -- should ultimately have a place when determining TMOs for a particular trail.

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    I was on this conference call as well, and one thing of note that I heard expressed by Wild South, is that they would like to encourage for the teams to be made up of diverse users rather than a team consisting of single use folks. That being said, it seems that CMC & High Country Hikers had the most members involved in the call.

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    I plan on helping! I hadn't thought of the political flavor it might have, but what better way to have your views represented than to respectfully represent them yourself?

  9. #9
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    The groups involvement with pushing Wilderness designations makes me nervous.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbmb65 View Post
    The groups involvement with pushing Wilderness designations makes me nervous.
    Then get involved, that is the best way to understand and influence the process.


    IMHO, Ben is a great guy, I have a lot of respect for him. Wild South is not a rabid anti mountain bike group, he in fact wants to see more recreation on NF lands as he knows that will help people to become passionate about saving them.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodman View Post
    Then get involved, that is the best way to understand and influence the process.


    IMHO, Ben is a great guy, I have a lot of respect for him. Wild South is not a rabid anti mountain bike group, he in fact wants to see more recreation on NF lands as he knows that will help people to become passionate about saving them.
    Yeah, thanks.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbmb65 View Post
    The groups involvement with pushing Wilderness designations makes me nervous.
    Fair enough, which is why I'm getting involved -- I want to know how objective this really is.

    FWIW, the Wilderness discussion is happening at a regional and national level -- SORBA regional is working here with Wilderness advocates as is IMBA nationally to explore alternative designations and other solutions that won't cut us out.

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    Email from Ben

    Ben just sent this email to participants on the call as follow-up, and included information for a second informational call:

    ***************************
    Hello everyone,

    Thanks to all of you who were able to join us on the Conference Call last week and for participating with such enthusiasm. I am so pleased at how many of you are interested in this important project and delighted at the willingness to jump right in. In fact, I have been contacted by several folks since our call who are hearing about the project and are also interested in being involved. To accommodate these folks and give those of you who could not make last week's call another chance I am scheduling another introductory conference call.

    The next call is scheduled for this Thursday 5/10 at 1pm. The call-in info is the same:
    Call in #: 1 (218) 862-6420
    Pin: 807484#

    Here are the notes from our call on 5/1. Please let me know if you have any questions.

    Pisgah Trail Inventory Call Notes 5/1:

    Welcome and introductions were given with at least 12 participants representing a diverse cross section of trail user groups and interests were in attendance.

    An overall introduction to the project and its objectives were given. The goal of the project is to provide objective baseline data to the Forest Service to be integrated in the development and implementation of the Trail Strategy currently being developed by a collaborative process.

    Objectives of the project include: 1) conduct systematic surveys using GPS-enabled handheld computers to assess trail conditions across the Pisgah and Grandfather Ranger Districts; 2) work with a diverse groups of partners; 3) work with the Forest Service and the Trails Strategy collaborative to focus on priority trails.

    This survey is in its second year and will focus on Pisgah District because of the abundance of trails found there and on the Grandfather District because all volunteer hours spent there will contribute to federal matching funds for restoration activities.

    It was stressed that all of the data being collected is objective and focuses on trail features and conditions such as: entrenched tread, steep grades, water damage, etc. No data is being collected on trail use or being influenced by opinions of data collectors.

    We discussed that volunteers will be trained on how to use the GPS equipment and will go through a mandatory safety training provided by the Forest Service. All volunteers will need to sign a volunteer agreement for this project to have their hours counted and to help track progress. At least two training sessions will be provided.

    Wild South will provide daypacks, water bottles, first aid kits, and some provisions to support volunteers in the field.

    We discussed that not all volunteers will need to be proficient in the use of the GPS computer as long as at least one or two "crew leaders" will be present to operate the unit. Furthermore, we acknowledged that groups are more than welcome to participate in trail surveys and at least two trained people must be on each survey.

    It was discussed that some trail groups may be able to integrate these surveys into their scheduled events such as hikes and work days. This was encouraged recognizing that for groups who wish to move quickly on hikes, for example, may need to be ready to slow their pace.

    We discusses that the pace of the inventory varies greatly between trails and usually depends on how many features need to be recorded. In other words, trails in a "poor" condition will likely take much longer than well maintained trails.

    We discussed scheduling and that because there will only be one unit available for each district that communications and scheduling outings ahead of time will be key. Wild South will take responsibility for coordinating this schedule and will likely develop a shared calendar that volunteers can access through the Wild South website.

    Finally we discussed next steps: 1) Wild South will schedule the training sessions with the Forest Service 2) volunteers will be sent notes from the call, 3) volunteers will recieve notice within the next two weeks about when trainings are scheduled.

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    Update, June 11

    Thanks to the folks who PMed or contacted me off-line about this volunteer opportunity; I just received an email from Ben Prater at Wild South.

    At this time, it sounds like things haven't quite gotten moving in the Pisgah Ranger District, so he and Tom Thomas of Backcountry Horsemen (who is also the Volunteer Coordinator for the PRD) are working to get a training day off the ground. I'll post when I hear more.

    In the meantime, Ben invited anyone interested to attend the training day in the Grandfather District:

    For those of you who wish to work in the Grandfather District and would like to get out on the ground there I would like you to join me on June 25th for a hands-on training session. The location is TBD but please mark your calendars for Monday 6/25/12 from 10am to 3pm. If you are interested in attending this training please email me directly.

    And please feel free to email me with questions.
    Thanks,
    Ben
    ben@wildsouth.org

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    Update, June 12

    Ben has again sent out an email:

    Anyone who is available during the day on Monday, June 18th from 9am to 3pm I will lead us on a hands-on training doing the Case Camp Ridge Trail # 119. Please reply to ben@wildsouth.org to let me know if you are interested in joining me. We will meet at the Pisgah Ranger Station.

    Note that he is working to schedule additional days; I'll post when I know more. Remember, for those of you who wish to work in the Grandfather District and would like to get out on the ground there Ben would like you to join him on June 25th for a hands-on training session. The location is TBD but please mark your calendars for Monday 6/25/12 from 10am to 3pm. If you are interested in attending this training please email Ben directly.

  16. #16
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    IMPORTANT!

    The training for Monday, June 18, has been postponed. The training for 6/25 in the Grandfather District is still scheduled. Please contact Ben if you have any questions.

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    Update, August 17

    Update from Ben Prater; contact him if you're interested at ben@wildsouth.org:

    At long last we have a volunteer agreement in hand and are able to start hitting the trail. I would lie all of you who are interested and able to join me on Tuesday September 4th for a trail inventory training. We will meet at the Pisgah Ranger Station at 10am. And spend the day going over all of the finer points of trail inventory. We should be able to wrap up by 3pm. If you can make it please reply to this thread and I will send out more details as the date nears. Thank you all so much for your patience and your dedication to the Pisgah.

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