It’s not uncommon to be passionate about one’s hometown. If you call Western North Carolina home, however, you know it’s not quite the same. It’s difficult to put into words, but can absolutely be felt. There’s just something special about WNC locals’ devotion to the area in which they live.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that a group of North Carolina locals have banded together to keep their beloved hiking trails in good shape. A volunteer group called Conserving Carolina works to maintain 30 miles of trail in the Hickory Nut Gorge area 15 miles south of Asheville, North Carolina.
Next time you’re hiking in the Hickory Nut Gorge area, take a closer look at those steps when the grade gets too steep. There are no gravel trucks up on those trails! You can thank the Rock Crushers for helping you climb. https://t.co/lzGjj8N0dH pic.twitter.com/VlPs0XjFLi— Meghan Danahey (@MeghanDanahey) March 20, 2022
All hikers are familiar with the man-made natural steps made of logs and stone that guide travelers up the steepest areas of a trail. Well, those don’t simply appear where they’re needed. They’re placed there by State Park workers and volunteers, such as those of Conserving Carolina.
Placing these steps is harder than it looks, as each one must be stabilized with rebar on each end and rock in between. But how do workers get rocks small enough to place in the steps? Driving a gravel truck up the trail would be impossible, so Rock Crushers take on the task.
Rock Crushers Tackle Tough Job on North Carolina Trails
Every Wednesday, a group of volunteers meet at a pre-determined location on the trails with a packed lunch, a hammer, and a bucket. The group then climbs up to the unfinished staircases and gets to work. Using their hammers and native rock from the trail, they create golf ball-sized pieces to fill in the steps from bottom to top.
Greg Brant, a rock-crushing first-timer, says that the group’s hard work is a great way to keep his favorite trails maintained. “I’m a big hiker,” said Brant. “I love hiking Pisgah and around Bent Creek so I figured this is a good way to give back.”
Hickory Nut Gorge NC, USA pic.twitter.com/hepqcgHoRg— Bellz Webster (@BellzWebster) July 14, 2019
Rock crushing veteran Steff Israel has worked on the North Carolina trails for more than five years. He says that the work is not only great for the natural spaces of WNC but for his social life as well. “It’s also a real family-like atmosphere,” Israel said. “It’s very good to come and see new people and the same people month to year and week after week.”
As the trail and land management coordinator for Conserving Carolina, Max Howes couldn’t be prouder of the group and the goals they set out to achieve each week. “This group – the Rock Crushers – means a great deal for our organization,” Howes said. “It’s a little mini family! They are really proud of the trails that they have helped build and maintain.”