Bobcat Perspectives: Outdoor Recreation Management trail building class puts their skills to the test with an immersive weekend-long trip

This past November, Adjunct Instructor of Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) AJ Czarnecki-Atwell took his Trail Building course (ORM 250) on perhaps the most applicable and relevant experiential learning trip possible. The class set off on an excursion to G5 Trail Collective in Old Fort, North Carolina for a weekend-long intensive building outdoor recreation trails in the real world.

At the G5 Trail Collective, the students worked alongside professional trail coordinators from the organization to clear and build outdoor recreation trails throughout the Collective’s campus. The weekend was immeasurably valuable to ORM students who have goals of working in the professional world of outdoor recreation. Not only was this a great opportunity for them to become better acquainted with the real-world skills covered in the classroom but working alongside professional trail coordinators also gave students the opportunity to connect and network with people who are already well-established in their desired field.

Aspiring to a career in Outdoor Recreation Management himself, sophomore ORM major Grant East was excited to make the most out of this experiential learning adventure. Read his reflection on the weekend of fun, friendship, and hard work out on the trails of Old Fort.

On Friday, Nov. 18 we loaded up the van and headed to Old Fort, North Carolina, where we would be camping out for the weekend at Camp Grier and volunteering on the trails for the G5 Trail Collective. Upon arriving, we set up camp and met Mike, a trail coordinator for G5 and Camp Grier. The group went to an outdoor shelter and we began cooking tacos, which everyone seemed to really enjoy. Friday evening was pretty laid back, and not much went on besides settling into camp.

Saturday morning came, and everyone got up and got some food. We headed to the meetup site which is where we met Dakota. Dakota attended Lees-McRae and was running a coffee shop out of his camper. He was a really cool guy and offered the crew coffee to get us warmed up and ready to dig. We split into groups for different projects, and Mike and AJ led the Lees-McRae crew. Dakota also joined us, and we began building a new climbing trail. I’ve built and worked on plenty of mountain bike specific trails in the past but working with Mike was a really good opportunity for me because of how much knowledge he has regarding trails. He brought up many things I had never previously thought to do, such as renaturalization and building bumps that help with drainage. Everyone took turns using different tools and learning each of their specific uses while we worked on the trail, so as much as we were putting in work and helping with the project, we were all learning and becoming a lot more knowledgeable about trail construction. We finished digging new trails for the day and took a walk down to the pump track, where we packed and shaped some of the features to make them run smoother. As a reward we got to ride the pump track for a few hours. Everyone enjoyed taking turns riding the BMX bikes that Mike let us use and having the opportunity to ride showed everyone how important our work was. Everyone was able to appreciate what we did and see firsthand how much trail maintenance can improve the riding.

Saturday afternoon was spent resting up from our long morning of digging and getting in a few hours of riding. We took it easy for a while before heading to dinner, which was provided by G5. The dinner was really good and enjoyed by all. Halfway through eating, Mike took the stage to talk about what has already happened for the community in Old Fort through recent trail construction, what’s happening next, and how it’s going to get done. As someone who lives in a small town in the mountains of Virginia, I know how important it can be to bring in people from other areas to explore and spend money in your community, and that’s exactly what G5 is doing for Old Fort. Over the past few years, they’ve constructed many new trails, which has done so much for Old Fort and western North Carolina in general. They also gave away some awesome prizes to donors and volunteers. After dinner, many of the volunteers gathered around the bonfire where we talked and hung out. I met a lot of really cool people and was more inspired than ever to continue pursuing my goals of becoming a professional trail builder.

Sunday morning came and once again we visited Dakota at his mobile shop, where he dialed us in with the brews. This day, the Lees-McRae group split up and worked on a few different projects: clearing drains, fixing rails, adding drainage, and other stuff to just make the trails run smoother and hold up better. I went and helped the USFS add drainage to a paved path to the river, where people that have limited mobility can go and enjoy the water and do some fishing. The drainage we added helped keep water off the path, so wheelchairs have an easier time getting to the pier. It was really cool because as I was learning a lot about trail drainage and the best way to do it, I was also helping some people who don’t get to be outside as much have access to a really cool area by the river.

Overall, this weekend was a really good experience for me. I met a lot of people that may be able to help me get the job I want someday and had a lot of fun. I’m super happy that I was able to go down there and see for myself what G5 has been doing in Old Fort and have the opportunity to be a part of it. I’ve heard so much about what they’ve done, so getting to meet the people who made that happen was really inspiring to me. This weekend showed me that no matter where you are, if you have a group of people who are willing and able to take on this kind of project and get it done, then it’s possible and people will come. Until recently, Old Fort was just a town that people passed on I-40 headed to Asheville, but now it attracts mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts from all over the region to explore and spend their time in the town. I look forward to heading down there again to help dig and make even more connections. G5 has made Old Fort a really cool place to ride bikes and spend time, so I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to be a part of that for a whole weekend and see what that community is all about. I learned a lot that I will apply to future trail building projects and will always be grateful for the memories and connections I made in Old Fort. I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for that town, and even more so to spending time there once again.

By Maya JarrellJanuary 06, 2023