Start walking down the trails at Kennesaw Mountain National Park, and before long the sounds of the human world fade away until eventually, you hear nothing but the birds and insects.
But ironically, maintaining the trails’ natural tranquility requires a good deal of manpower, which is where the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club comes in. The volunteer group meets on the second Saturday of every month to make sure hikers, runners and equestrians can focus on the scenery rather than litter or difficult trails.
This weekend, 82 Navy JROTC cadets from Hillgrove, Allatoona and Kennesaw Mountain high schools showed up to keep the Kolb Farm West Trail in shipshape.
A group of young men and women from Kennesaw Mountain were posted on a hillside, where they dug out water bars along the trail. Water bars are shallow ditches that lead rainwater off trails to prevent erosion.
Leading the operation was senior Jamal Dean, who took a break from digging to talk to the MDJ.
“We’ve been doing this for years now,” he said. “We clean up trails, do whatever they need us to do. We make paths for when it rains because erosion starts to mess up trails so people can’t run or walk, so we make trails better and we make it where rain can’t get down and erode the trails.”
Dean said the students first come up with a plan, then strike into the earth with shovels and pickaxes. They pile up the dirt and clay alongside the trench, careful to make the groove on the trail shallow enough not to trip up pedestrians. After that comes the fun part. As Dean spoke with the MDJ, his fellow cadets laughed as they hopped and stomped on the dirt to pack it down. Some incorporated dance moves into their dirt-packing procedures.
“I love everything about this,” Dean said. “It’s hard work, it gets you active and you get to have fun while you’re doing it.”
Kennesaw Mountain sophomore Leilani Lopez agreed. She said Georgia clay is tougher to dig than she expected, but she is happy to wake up early on weekends to help out on the trail
“It’s just kind of fun to do something to get out of the house, help out,” she said. “I just like helping the community out, and it’s kind of fun when you do it with friends. You get to see your progress, what you’ve done, and you say ‘Wow, we did this, we did this as a group.’ It’s pretty amazing.”
The Kennesaw Mountain group was scheduled to complete one water bar Saturday, but they finished with so much time to spare that trail club leaders showed them other spots where erosion could be a problem. In four hours, the group finished three water bars.
Further down the trail, cadets from Hillgrove and Allatoona were at work with shovels and rakes. Their job was to take crushed gravel dumped by other Trail Club members in trucks and spread it along a causeway on the trail.
Each time a pedestrian came near, one of the students would shout “hiker!” and they all would stand aside to let the pedestrian pass.
Allatoona sophomore Duncan Carter said the monthly excursions are a chance to put the Navy’s value of honor, courage and commitment into practice. They’re also a chance to spend quality time with fellow cadets.
“It’s a good bonding experience for them, it’s really great, especially for our new cadets in the program, it lets them see new faces and meet everyone that comes out here,” he said.
The club’s trail director, Bruce Rugg, said without volunteers like these students, nobody would be able to get out and enjoy the trails.
“It would be overgrown (without them),” he said. “The park is not staffed to maintain the trails. We do that. It would be overgrown and virtually unusable at times of the year. We spend a lot of man-hours out there.”
Anyone can volunteer with the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club. For more information or to sign up, visit www.kennesawmountaintrailclub.org.