Thursday, September 10, 2015

Caring for the Wilderness

I have just completed my third season as the ridgerunner for Shenandoah National Park. Inevitably I
encounter hikers who ask me then – what is a ridgerunner?

Basically I hike the Appalachian Trail within the park boundary (some 100 miles worth), greeting hikers (I greeted over 500 thru hikers – those hiking the entire AT in one year – this season), serving as a roving information board, checking trail conditions and inspecting the huts (or shelters) where hikers stay. As this is my third year in the park and I have done all the trails within the park on the off season, I am fairly well able to handle the different questions hikers have, which are many. It’s my job to try and know all I can.

The role of a ridgerunner is also important to both the trail maintainers and the National Park Service. I serve as their eyes and ears. I work closely with each agency partner. I let them know when there are issues that need to be dealt with.

For instance, I let them know about garbage issues in the park that can lead to wildlife encounters.

This garbage was left in the same area where the bear attacked. PACK IT OUT

 I tell maintainers about unsightly graffiti inside huts or other things that need taken care of.

Graffiti of any kind in a shelter is not only unsightly but also criminal

And I let maintainers know where the big blowdowns are on the trail.

This season was not without incident for me, however. While camped at Pass Mountain Hut a few short weeks ago, a young bear inexplicably attacked my completely empty tent. The bear broke a pole and did some other damage. 

The park then came to inspect and try to ensnare the bear. Earlier that day I had found half eaten food inside the privy area. Adequate food storage and carrying out ALL trash (including not leaving any trash in the fire pit) helps alleviate a bear’s interest in humans and food. As well as chasing away any bears that are spotted near these structures or places where hikers are camping. My role in being an educator in Leave No Trace principles helps protect both the hiker and the park.

Of course I also enjoyed a nice view. 

Who can’t help but enjoy a place of immense beauty and natural wonder? I help the hiker have an enjoyable time outdoors while helping maintain and protect a park busy with the many visitors that come seeking fellowship with the wilderness that Shenandoah provides.  

No comments: