On patrol on the MST
Beavers can be quick to judge.
I realized this Sunday at Falls Lake as I crossed a lengthy boardwalk leading to the footbridge over Little Lick Creek. Normally, Lick Creek is maybe 12 to 15 feet across. But after a good rain, like we’d had the past two days, the surrounding wetlands are flooded. Hence, the lead-up boardwalk on this section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Durham County.
I heard a spectacular splash and looked up to see a radiating circle of disturbed water about 25 yards north of the bridge. At the base of the bridge, on a spit of land that wasn’t submerged, stood a man holding loppers who also was checking out the splash. Moments later the beaver slapped again.
“She’s mad at me,” offered Gregory Scott. Undeservedly so.
Scott is one of the hundreds of volunteers responsible for blazing and maintaining the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the 950-mile work-in-progress that will one day link Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line with Jockey’s Ridge
on the Atlantic. About 550 miles of the MST have been completed, including the 60-mile stretch along Falls Lake. Scott is responsible for maintaining the 4.7-mile stretch, known as Section 15, between the Little Lick Creek bridge and Cheek Road. Sunday morning, he was busy returning sticks to a beaver lodge below the bridge, sticks that had been relocated to high ground near the bridge, apparently to make a campfire. The mama beaver seemed to misunderstand Scott’s intentions.
Ideally, section heads such as Scott are asked to walk their stretch once a month, clearing the trail of downed limbs and branches and picking up trash. They generally take loppers to trim back growth. If they find something big, like a downed tree, they call for backup (volunteers certified to chainsaw).
Scott told me he’s out patrolling his stretch of trail about every weekend. He’s been volunteering with the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for longer than he can remember. Longer, in fact, than he’d even known there was a Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
If I was surprised to encounter a volunteer on the trail, I shouldn’t have been. A couple hours later, on Section 16, I encountered another lopper-bearing vol, Benjamin Trotter, and less than an hour after that, Jon Cochran, newly appointed leader for Section 17. Actually, the odds of running into an MST volunteer are pretty good. Last year, 851 volunteers donated a total of 18,500 hours to trail development and maintenance. Of those 851 volunteers, 37 gave 75 hours
or more to the trail.
What do they get in return?
“I see individuals, couples, dog walkers, groups — hiking groups,” says Scott, who is on a first-name basis with some. “Sometimes I hear coyotes, a whole group of them, yapping away.”
He pauses to take in the expansive view, a rarity on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, especially in the Piedmont.
“I love this section.”
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Want to the feel the love that Gregory Scott feels? The Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is holding a volunteer workday on Saturday, March 16, on Section 15 of the trail. Main item of business: building a 24-foot bridge over a small creek. For more information, check the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail Web site, or call 919-698-9024.
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