Local Crews Building Trails at Our Community Farm

GO Labor Team commences trail building on the SAHC Community Farm.

GO Labor Team commences trail building on the SAHC Community Farm.

It was hot – probably the first really hot day since an early summer monsoon season drenched Western North Carolina, and the ticks were already out in full force. But that didn’t stop the work crew from Green Opportunities (GO) as they rigorously tackled trail building at the SAHC Community Farm.

As part of our multi-faceted Farm and Food Project, the completed trail will eventually loop approximately 1.5 – 2 miles across the 100-acre farm property. Our interpretive signs will educate visitors about the farm and our short leaf pine and stream restoration projects. We have partnered with GO to continue the trail building project begun by AmeriCorps volunteers in March.

Grant funds awarded for our Community Farm and Food Project enable us to employ a team of six GO Labor Crew members on the trail. The GO Labor Crew is an as-you-need it labor service aimed at providing local contractors with dependable, short-term labor, while offering paid work experience to participants of GO’s green collar job training programs.  They are equipped to provide work in construction, agriculture, landscaping, weatherization, solar installation, waste management, and general labor.

After a brief review in trail work from SAHC Conservation Planning and Stewardship Director Hanni Muerdter, the work crew from GO dug into the ground, giving definition to the trail.

GO Project Manager Anthony Ray begins installing a water bar to prevent erosion problems in the new trail.

GO Project Manager Anthony Ray begins installing a water bar to prevent erosion problems in the new trail.

Work progressed by outsloping – creating the trail at a slight slope away from the hillside, rather than at a 90-degree angle, in order to disperse rainfall in sheets, as quickly as possible, and prevent erosion in deep struts. Thinking ahead to proper trail design and planning, GO project crew manager Anthony Ray also began installing water bars in the first section of the trail.

Crew members used pruning shears to remove thicker stalks and woody plants.

Crew members used pruning shears to remove thicker stalks and woody plants.

The crew used Pulaski axes to dig deep into the soil to remove roots of grassy undergrowth. Hanni explained that the best way to construct a trail is to dig down to the mineral layer, removing all the growth and roots in the top layer of soil, using tools called Mcleods to rake away the removed plants and firmly tamp down the disturbed soil.
“If you don’t remove the roots,” cautioned Hanni, “the undergrowth will bounce back just as lush and verdant as before, and we’ll be back out there doing the same work again.”

Some crew members used a weed eater to remove grassy growth along the course of the trail.

Some crew members used a weed eater to remove grassy growth along the course of the trail.

Other crew members used a weed eater to remove grassy growth along the course of the trail, pruning shears to remove thicker stalks and woody plants, and a tiller to more effectively break up the soil over a long stretch. It was a beautiful, clear day with the sun brightly bearing down as the crew advanced through thorny blackberry thickets and stinging insects, slipping at times on slick red clay still wet from days of rain underneath the underbrush.

Over the course of five work days, the GO crew advanced trail building a quarter of a mile. Image courtesy of Ken Abbott Photography.

Over the course of five work days, the GO crew advanced trail building a quarter of a mile. This image and panoramic photo courtesy of Ken Abbott Photography.

Anthony Ray, crew manager from GO, and Allison Kiehl, SAHC Farmland Stewardship and Sustainability Director, are serving as project managers for the trail team. In June the GO crew performed five trail work days, advancing trail construction about a quarter mile, and will return again in the fall.

SAHC received a grant from Conservation Trust for North Carolina & Z. Smith Reynolds for the Community Farm and Food project at our farm in Alexander, NC. Funds from that grant are being used to employ local Asheville residents to sculpt the trail from the dense shrubby growth spreading across much of the farm. In an example of partnership for economic development and enhancing healthy communities, SAHC has partnered with Green Opportunities to contract temporary labor for trail construction. To learn more about GO, visit http://www.greenopportunities.org.  Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) funds were used for the interpretive trail as an educational component of the farm.

Jerry Pearcy, GO crew member, cutting the trail.

Jerry Pearcy, GO crew member, cutting the trail.

Personal Profile: Living in Transformation

Meditating on his life in Miami, Jerry Pearcy felt a pull to return home to the mountains of Western North Carolina. “Something was just telling me that I needed to go home, and that everything would work out if I did,” he said. A native of Leicester who attended Erwin High School, Jerry was already familiar with Green Opportunities. He followed an uncle’s advice to apply as soon as he returned, and he was accepted into the training program.

The GO Training Team is a paid training and placement “pre-apprenticeship” program designed to prepare low-income, unemployed young adults (ages 18-24) for living wage jobs. They use a hands-on curriculum which combines service projects, life skills training, case management, and on-the-job experience in promising fields like green construction, clean energy, recycling, ecological landscaping and restoration, and sustainable agriculture.

“GO promotes unity,” said Jerry, “It promotes bringing community together and opening up people’s minds to recognize that we all need each other.” Jerry was on the GO Training Team for four months before he started working on outside projects. He learned skills used on SAHC’s trail building project from his time with the training program.

About the trail building project, Jerry said, “I loved it – loved being outside, putting my hands in the dirt, and being in nature.”

“Being part of something that is bigger than just one person – that’s what drives me,” he continued. “Knowing what the trail would be used for in the future, that I’ll be able to come back here and say ‘I had a hand in creating this.’  It’s good for the soul.”

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