Volunteer Vacations team member enjoys the views at Grayson Highlands State Park
In May, twelve strangers from as far away as Nebraska, Connecticut and Florida converged on Grayson Highlands State Park in an effort to give something back. Volunteer Vacations is a program run by the American Hiking Society that pairs volunteers with willing hands and strong backs with park trails in need of some TLC. Participants can range from avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to people just getting into hiking. Crew Leader Mike Pittsley said “Generally, crews work at cleaning water bars and trimming along trails, but this trip was special. We got to change the MAP!”
Working on the trail re-routing project at Grayson Highlands.
The main project at Grayson Highlands was to re-route a section of Rhododendron Trail, undeniably the most heavily used trail in the park. The trail provides access to the most popular attractions in the park, the highland views, the wild ponies, the wild huckleberries (blueberries) and the Appalachian Trail. The previous route was badly eroded and park staff decided to close part of the old trail and adjust the route to limit the effects of run-off. The new section of Rhododendron Trail meanders through stands of red spruce and hawthorn trees, crosses a small spring and passes by many huckleberry bushes.
In addition to the work on the Rhododendron Trail, the crew worked on the connector trail from the Overnight Backpackers Lot to Massie Gap, Big Pinnacle Trail and they paired up with local ATC crew members for a day’s work on the section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the park.
Signage along the Big Pinnacle Trail at Grayson Highlands State Park
The crew members had to adjust to the unique conditions at Grayson Highlands, namely the elevation, the weather and the rocky ground. Most of the crew live below 1000 feet above sea level, so working at an elevation of 4400’ was a challenge. The weather didn’t cooperate either, with high temperatures only in the upper 40’s for part of the week and fog and rain most of the days. However, the weather finally broke just in time for their “rest day” hike to Mt. Rogers, a nine mile excursion and they were able to enjoy the views and the wild ponies that make Grayson Highlands such a special place to visit.
What is next for the park? The Youth Conservation Corp will be working at Grayson Highlands State Park in July and August. The team is made up of 10 youth between the ages of 14-17 and 3 supervisors. They will spend three weeks living and working in the park. Some of their projects include reworking a walkway to the Country Store and some trail work.
The staff at Grayson Highlands State Park sincerely thanks everyone for all their hard work, awesome attitude and willingness to make an effort to improve their world.
Grayson Highlands State Park is located at 829 Grayson Highland Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363. For general park information, on line.