By Emma Castleberry
Like so many nonprofits, Conserving Carolina relies heavily on volunteer efforts to complete its pivotal conservation work. In 2017, more than 450 volunteers donated 5,860 hours to Conserving Carolina’s work projects. The organization hosts three types of consistent volunteer workdays: the Rock Crushers, a trail maintenance group that meets on Wednesdays; the Kudzu Warriors, an invasive plant removal group that meets on Mondays; and a Friday workday that happens at various locations including Lewis Creek Bog in Flat Rock, Humphrey Farm in Mills River and Florence Nature Preserve in Gerton.
When Robert and Kim Carlson retired to Asheville, the mountains became a central part of their lives. “As Kim and I became avid hikers, we were naturally very conscious of trail conditions,” says Robert. “Clearing the trail of fallen limbs and carrying out others’ trash were automatic for us, but sometimes we encountered situations such as a fallen tree or serious erosion that called for more remediation than we could do on our own.” When the Carlsons reported these issues to Conserving Carolina, they were invited to get involved with the Rock Crushers trail crew. The Rock Crushers improve trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge by digging trail tread and surface, removing vegetation and moving rocks. They also build stairs, install grade reversals and trailhead kiosks and remove trash and illegal fire rings. The Rock Crushers donated nearly 2,000 hours to create the Weed Patch Mountain Trail, a new hiking and biking trail that opened in May of 2018. “Through presentations and hands-on training, we have learned effective trail building and maintenance techniques which we regularly apply,” says Robert. “Trails are an expensive investment which must be designed effectively and managed and maintained regularly. Without volunteers, that task could not be done.”
Greg Miner, who has been volunteering with Conserving Carolina since 2009, is the leader of the Kudzu Warriors. This group meets at Polk County’s Norman Wilder Forest, which was recently devastated by landslides, creating a swath of newly exposed ground—a unique challenge for the Warriors. “When I first moved here in 1995,” says Miner, “I looked at the 2-acre property I bought in Tryon and saw how kudzu was stunting the growth of my dogwoods, forming a thick web preventing upward growth.” He also noticed kudzu curtains on the hillside as high as 40 feet and saw the vine misshaping the trunks of trees or squeezing so tightly that it left its impression on the bark for years. “I found myself enjoying its eradication, because its rollback was accompanied by my land being more visually gratifying and healthy.”
Miner was introduced to Conserving Carolina after meeting a member in a seminar on invasive plants. “My growing knowledge of what was unhealthy to the land naturally lent itself to what was healthy, and I saw how the removal of my ivy allowed sweet shrub, Virginia creeper and mountain laurel to thrive,” he says. “I became enamored with the process of being outside, quietly and diligently resurrecting our native habitat, maybe accompanied by the nearby sounds of a stream or the wind through the trees.”
For more information about the Friday workdays, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Rock Crushers, email email@example.com. For more information about the Kudzu Warriors, email firstname.lastname@example.org.