Dedicated volunteers are essential to keeping the trails at Red River Gorge safe and accessible. Kentucky Life talks with members of the Red River Gorge Trail Crew about how and why they do what they do.
It takes a lot of work to maintain the Red River Gorge’s 60 miles of trails. Once a month, volunteers meet at designated locations around the Gorge to ensure the trails are safe and accessible.
Individual volunteers have been helping out around the Gorge for decades, and in 1998, some of those volunteers decided to make their work more official by incorporating into the Red River Gorge Trail Crew. Charlie Rowe, a ranger and founder of the group, says that anyone can come out on a work day to lend a hand, no experience necessary.
“Our mission is to provide safe access to the forest,” says Rowe. “This is public land, and to be able to enjoy it and not destroy it there needs to be a good trail system to get people out to the sites they want to see. Our mission is to keep the trails in good shape, proper grade, cleaned up and clear so people don’t have to make routes through the woods to get to where they want to go.”
Volunteers on foot with hand tools can access sections of the trails that heavy equipment can’t reach, so a lot of the work is clearing downed branches and trees. Volunteer Kelly Quade explains that the volunteers don’t try to haul logs out of the forest, instead moving them off the trail and allowing nature to take its course.
“Most of the time it’s left to biodegrade on its own,” Quade says of the natural debris the volunteers clear. “If we see things like plastic, we will pick that up. We always take bags with us, put the trash in there and haul that out. [But] anything that can degrade is typically left to degrade.”
Quade explains that there is room for all types of volunteers at the Gorge.
“It’s as hard as you want or as easy as you want,” she says. “I have found times that some of us will just be sitting, chitty-chatting on the trail. Other times we’re hauling big logs. There are folks from all walks of life, all ages, with different backgrounds, different experiences. But [we have] a common love of the outdoors and wanting to give back.”
After each work day, the volunteers head back to a volunteers-only campground for a potluck and fireside social. Some will camp out overnight.
Anyone can join the Red River Gorge Trail Crew. All you have to do is show up. To find out when and where the crew is meeting next, visit rrgtc.com
This video is part of Kentucky Life episode #1917, which originally aired on April 19, 2014. View the full episode here.