August 18, 2015
by Peyton C. Proffitt
“The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us, and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time in the morning atmosphere.” Henry David Thoreau
In the early fog of a rainy Wednesday morning, the Trails Forever crew can be found at the Alum Cave trailhead sharing laughs, snacks, and socks (if you’re forgetful) with a giddy group of volunteers. Here, I joined fellow park-lovers in excitement for a day spent preserving the unique natural legacy of our area. Alum Cave, which is deeply loved by locals and visitors alike, has become one of the most iconic trails in all of the Smoky Mountains. From Arch Rock, to Inspiration Point and the Bluffs, and upward to the peak of Mt. Le Conte, the Alum Cave trail provides visitors with beloved Great Smoky Mountains National Park scenery.
This year, the Friends of the Smokies Trails Forever Crew (assisted by seasonal interns from the American Conservation Experience) began work on restoring the trail. This highly specialized team is focused on rebuilding the Arch Rock staircase and conserving the trail surface, and improvements made so far will last more than seventy-five years. To complete this massive project, the team works with volunteers in the park (VIPs) throughout the duration of the restoration efforts. Volunteers on the Alum Cave trail typically work alongside the crew removing large rocks, roots, and drains; however, as any VIP will tell you, volunteering in the park is about so much more than cutting back rhododendron.
As an Environmental Studies major and a student deeply passionate about conservation, the park’s volunteer program has given me an opportunity to engage in an experiential learning environment and connect with others whose hearts and minds are as beautiful as the mountains we call home. Throughout my day as a VIP, I was able to have transformative conversations with people who have dedicated their lives to caring for our mountain heritage. The surrounding beauty of the park in which we were so lucky to spend the entire day, amplified our connection and led us to embrace the hard work that goes into maintaining trails. After a few hours of lifting and trimming, the group was given the opportunity to hike and see the progress being made at the more difficult work sites like Arch Rock. On this walk, I began seeing all of the intricate and moving pieces that go into preservation, and it added depth to my already immense appreciation of the park.
At the end of the afternoon, I found myself discussing the beauty of the day with my fellow VIPs. There was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude in everyone who had participated, and despite soreness or tired eyes, we all agreed this work was truly and deeply fulfilling.
Peyton Proffitt is a rising senior at Wofford College majoring in Environmental Studies. She was born and raised in Sevier County and has an immense love for the Great Smoky Mountains. Peyton spent the spring of 2015 researching climate change and food, water, and energy policy in California, Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia. During her free time, she enjoys hiking GSMNP, watching sunsets at Clingman’s Dome, and identifying salamanders!