Following on the enthusiastic response to its first season in 2021, the Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards is looking for volunteers to greet and assist visitors at the trailheads of Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest, WV. The “Trailhead Stewards” serve as resource for visitors, helping them have a safe and enjoyable wilderness experience while working to preserve Dolly Sods for future visitors. Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
The Trailhead Stewards help people entering the backcountry understand the unique nature of the wilderness, what to expect and how to prepare for the experience of a primitive area. They explain the rules and regulations for the wilderness and the principles of Leave No Trace practices. Trailhead Stewards often assist new visitors in planning a route or location that provides a “Dolly Sods experience” and works for their level of preparedness and available time. Stewards are stationed at the busiest trailheads during the busiest times on weekends and holidays.
Being a Trailhead Steward requires no specific background, skills or expertise, other than a desire to support Dolly Sods. New Stewards receive training from staff of Monongahela National Forest and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and work with an experienced Trailhead Steward for practice. There is no minimum time commitment, and those who live far away or who can only occasionally volunteer their time are welcome. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy provides a convenient means for volunteers to schedule themselves online for trailheads and shifts that work for their schedules. Stewards can join a private Facebook page and occasional gatherings for Stewards to share experiences and learning are planned.
One of the first Congressionally designated wilderness areas in the eastern United States, Dolly Sods is a unique high elevation plateau containing habitat similar to areas of Canada. Its scenic qualities and rugged beauty have attracted a steadily increasing number of visitors since its designation in 1974, and like many natural areas has seen a large influx of visitors during the pandemic. As a result, there has been increasing impact on its natural qualities and wilderness character.
Dolly Sods Wilderness Stewards was formed in 2021 to leverage volunteer action to assist the Monongahela National Forest with managing and protecting the wilderness character of Dolly Sods. By educating visitors about the values of wilderness and low impact practices the Stewards hope to preserve the wilderness for the enjoyment of future generations and avoid the need for restrictions on visitor access that have been implemented in other popular natural areas.
The Wilderness Stewards program also needs volunteers for other activities, such as maintaining trailhead registration boxes; monitoring encounters and opportunities for solitude on backcountry trails; taking a detailed inventory of campsites; and maintaining trails under the direction of Forest Service staff. Teams will be forming for some of these projects in early summer.
The next training for Trailhead Stewards is tentatively planned for late May. For more information or to sign up, go to www.wvhighlands.org or https://bit.ly/3pBjiyV.