Where would we be without our volunteers and amazing AmeriCorps Project Conserve members? Our “Raft Out the Trash” event earlier this year reflects a stellar example of how these team members’ incredible initiative, drive and dedication help us achieve conservation success.
Since protecting the Lost Cove tract in 2012, we at SAHC have heard over and over how much this special place resonates with people. Unfortunately, however, years of illegal use had marred the beauty of the cove – and left literally tons of trash strewn about. When our AmeriCorps Outreach & PR Associate, Anna Zanetti, first scouted a hike into Lost Cove, she was appalled by what she found and commenced to plan an ambitious volunteer excursion to take care of it. The resulting “Raft Out the Trash” event was part of our celebration of Earth Month 2014, and this is Anna’s account of the day:
“The arrival of summer entices us to bask in the beauty of our mountains and rivers. Unfortunately, a recent volunteer experience with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) reminded me not to take our natural spaces for granted. I led a group of volunteers into the Nolichucky Gorge to “Raft Out The Trash” from a secluded, protected tract near the NC/TN border; and what we found there could be a poster lesson for “Leave No Trace.”
I recruited 24 volunteers to clean up scars of vandalism and debris in Lost Cove, a historic ghost town surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest. USA Raft generously offered their services in partnership for the volunteer day, replacing a strenuous trek out of the gorge with an adventurous rafting trip after a long and rewarding day of service.
On the morning of the event, we met a group of cheerful volunteers at USA Raft’s outpost in Erwin Tennessee and proceeded to the trail head. After soaking in the sun and views from the meadow above the gorge, we began a three-mile descent to the Lost Cove settlement, surveyed the damage, and divided into two groups to conquer the trash.
It was seriously sad. One group picked up beer cans, glass containers, and even clothing littered around the site. The other intrepid half of our party forayed into the more-than-knee-deep pit of garbage filling one of the remaining historic outbuildings, probably once used as an agricultural store house. They gathered up a hefty load of bottles, cans, shards of glass, scraps of plastic, aluminum foil, even pots and pans — the remnants of camps where people had come down to enjoy the cove and left much more than just a trace.
Despite the dirty work, we were still pretty fresh after filling our bags with garbage. But that’s when the real challenge hit us: How were we going to carry the bags (each containing around 100 lbs. of trash) down about a mile of the steepest, rockiest terrain to the meeting point with USA Raft? In cases like this, a little ingenuity goes a long way.
Henry, one of our volunteers, suggested we tie the bags of trash onto sturdy branches to help displace the weight on our shoulders. Working in pairs, and stopping along the way to take breaks and check out some of the blooming wildflowers, our crew finally reached the river. We rested underneath the shady trees to rejuvenate and ate lunch atop a rock bluff overlooking the Nolichucky River. Struggling with fatigue in the last portion of our trek, our group certainly gained a greater appreciation for the folks who had once inhabited the Lost Cove settlement and hiked goods and supplies up that steep trail!
After lunch the raft guides arrived. They pulled up to the beach with five rafts and ten guides, each a rollicking river character. With professional ease and an entertaining air, the guides ushered our group into four of the rafts and helped load the 23 bags of trash onto the last one — and off we went down the class three rapids!
When the passenger rafts paused for a break, we looked around and wondered, where is all the trash? Then, we turned to see one heroic guide managing double oars and keeping the Raft o’Trash afloat. Major kudos to him for navigating the class 3 rapids with all that unwieldy weight! And a huge ‘Thank You’ to USA Raft for safely transporting the trash and volunteers three miles down-river where food, music and fellowship awaited us at the Pickin’ and Paddlin’ event. We had an amazing time on the river and loved the character and camaraderie of the USA Raft staff.
After months of preparation and coordination among staff members and USA Raft, the Lost Cove “Raft Out The Trash” event was here and gone. The event was truly a bonding experience for all of us, but it has brought me the greatest happiness to provide this outing for SAHC and all of our volunteers. The experience also deeply underscored the need to remind all who use our beautiful outdoor spaces to strive to Leave No Trace, “to leave only footprints and take only memories.” As you hike, camp and enjoy the breathtaking mountains around us this summer, please remember to pack out what you bring in – and leave it for others to enjoy in the future, too!