Monday, August 8, 2011

Randy Johnson produces the BIG DIG VIDEO ~ Watch it here now~

Thank you Randy for all the work you have done for the MST and all of the High Country Trails. This one is GREAT!

Randy Johnson
Video Channel:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The BIG DIG ~ July 16-17, 2011

Where is the Parkway? Is this Thunderhill?
photo by Randy Johnson
It was a foggy and wet and rainy and did I mention DAMP kind of day on Saturday.
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
Yes, this was the gathering point for the MST WATAUGA BIG DIG 2011
photo by Gerry Staninger
I will intersperse the words of John Lanman (JL) between photographs taken by our volunteers Randy Johnson (who stepped up as the official Big Dig Photographer), Paul Stahlschmidt, and Gerry Staninger.
photo by Gerry Staninger
"The combination of 15 workers we had on the trail on July 7 and 9, and the 54 workers we had at the Big Dig on July 16 and 17 pretty much FINISHED the major construction work on our section of the trail. YEAH! " JL
photo by Gerry Staninger
In spite of the rain, the crowd assembled and broke into four different work groups. Many veteran FMST trail builders converged on Thunderhill to help develop the last remaining few miles of the Watauga Section.
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
"On Saturday, 49 workers braved the rain, coolness, fog and mud to work all day on the unfinished portions of the trail. " JL We had four crews working led by veterans Jim Hallsey, Bruce Wisely, Allen DeHart, and Don Bergey. Each crew went to different locations with different problems to solve. John and Allen consult on the plan for the day.
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
The tools of the trade were distributed and they were off to the challenge of mountain trail construction!
photo by Randy Johnson
"Many of the workers traveled some distances to work with us- the longest I heard of was a 6 hour one way trip!" JL Bank of America has been a supporter of FMST and we were happy to have volunteers from the Charlotte area in these mountains.
photo by Randy Johnson
Measurements were made for the laying of the bridge footers.
photo by Randy Johnson
After setting the footers on either side of the creek the bridge framing was placed.
photo by Randy Johnson
Volunteers square and level the frame before placing uprights and treads.
photo by Randy Johnson
This was muddy, wet, slushy, sloppy work. Oh, not the bridge, just the workers! All of whom seemed oblivious to the circumstances under which the work must go on.
photo by Randy Johnson
Where there once was a wet bottom
photo by Randy Johnson
Now we have a bridge. "Bruce Wisely and his crew completed two bridges down near US 321 and on Sunday finished by placing railroad ties as steps on those two bridges and three others we had constructed previously." JL
photo by Randy Johnson
"Two of our task force members- Russ Widner and Mara Taylor- provided us with a great BBQ lunch (they are starting a BBQ catering and food truck business, Curlie Que Catering out of Deep Gap).
photo by Randy Johnson
Don Bergey and crew headed out onto the new section of trail for clearing and cutting a trail tread. "On Saturday, Don Bergey and his crew completed most of the trail in the section from Green Hill Road down to just above US 321. " JL
photo by Randy Johnson
Lopping off overhead and hanging branches along the way. Notice the rhododendron "snow" on the floor of the trail!
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
The come-along was put to great use pulling out laurel and rhodies that were in the foot tread.
photo by Randy Johnson
Railroad ties cut into step size were hauled into the meadow and down to the creek.
photo by Randy Johnson
This team covered great distance carrying hefty timbers.
photo by Randy Johnson
Workers with good spirits (and good backs) are the foundation of MST volunteerism.
photo by Randy Johnson
Vast is the wilderness, grand is the meadow, but intimately we experience the trail, step by step by step.
photo by Randy Johnson
Always noticed, our bright orange road signs give parkway motorists a visible sign of the work we are doing for the MST.
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
"Sunday we had 33 workers, including 5 who had not worked on Saturday." JL
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
The weather cleared a bit and the lightness of the new day inspired a new beginning.
photo by Randy Johnson
As the gathering again assembled by mornings light
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
and the camaraderie of the community was united
photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
new assignments were made and new teams were forged for completing the tasks of the day.
photo by Randy Johnson
While every volunteer plays an invaluable role in the building of our trails there are leaders among leaders who bear special credit. Professor Allen DeHart, trail master, founder of FMST, and mentor to us all was invaluable in his leadership for the BIG DIG 2011.  "Allen and his crew of “wets” and “drys” worked under the Goshen Creek Bridge working rock, sand and imagination to create an interesting combination rock and dirt trail bed along High Shoals Creek, while deepening/improving the creek bed as well." JL

photo by Paul Stahlschmidt
John Lanman is our Watauga Task Force co-ordinator and leader. John coordinates, organizes, and inspires us all with his dedication to the effort to complete the Watauga Section. The BIG DIG is a huge undertaking involving 75 or more people. John is the keystone that bridges the volunteers to the trail. Thanks for all you do John.
photo by Randy Johnson
A badge of honor worn by our participants.
photo by Randy Johnson
It is great to see our t-shirts appearing on the trail. This volunteer was working near the Blowing Rock intersection.

"Jim Hallsey and his crew completed most of the trail connecting Thunder Hill with Raven Rock Overlook.  Each of the sections were completed on Sunday morning." JL

John Lanman comments that "The effort and skills of the crews were amazing, especially considering the less than ideal working conditions (an understatement). Our only problem is that we ran out of work on Sunday before everyone was ready to quit. Individual thanks will be going out to the workers- an amazing effort."

"Special thanks go to Bing Oliver and Chick-Fil-A who kindly contributed chicken biscuits for the workers on Saturday morning and two of our task force members- Russ Widner and Mara Taylor- who provided us with a great BBQ lunch (they are starting a BBQ catering and food truck business, Curlie Que Catering out of Deep Gap). Thanks to Allen de Hart for arranging and managing the camping at Price Lake." JL

photo by Randy Johnson
And why do we do this?
I believe this photo by Randy Johnson gives us an answer.
We are workers in nature, providing connections to nature for others to discover nature. It is a drive that is within our nature.

In closing: All of these photos were contributed by Randy Johnson, Paul Stahlschmidt, and Gerry Staninger. Many thanks to you for sharing your images.

And, thanks to all of our hardworking volunteers. You are the ones who are making the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail happen for generations to come.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Hey Folks, Its time for a Big Dig! Each year for the last three we have hosted a FMST fellowship and trail building weekend in these mountains.
This year we will be working near Blowing Rock off of the BlueRidge Parkway near milepost 291.
Temperatures are cool in the evenings, sometimes as low as mid 60s!
The daytime temps reach a soaring high seldom above 84.
You can expect afternoon showers that sometimes drop the temperature as much as 15 degrees in 10 minutes! Generally they pass quickly.
You will have noticed, the Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) are in full bloom now through mid July. (click to enlarge for best viewing)

Rosebay Rhododendron, also known as Greal Laurel or Great Rhododendron is a multi-trunked small tree or large shrub that is very common in the understory forests of slopes in these Watauga Mountains.
Rosebay Rhododendron blooms in early summer.  Flower color ranges from light pink to white, though white is most common.
But the most remarkable color can be found in the budding blossoms. The flower buds are pinker than the opened flowers. The leaves are large, leathery, and evergreen.
There is a remakable symmetry to the blossoms ~ this one reminds me of fireworks exploding.

A newly opening bud is called a crown.
Seen from above and the side you can easily understand that term. My favorite "Crown" is the next photo, click to enlarge it to see its sweetness and moisture laden beauty~ Yummy eye candy!
We will be working in a Rhododendron thicket during the BIG DIG.... sometimes known locally as a Laurel Hell (though not truly a laurel) or sometimes called a Rhododendron Slick. Often they are 12-20 feet tall and you will look up to see the blossoms at this location along our trail.

Lest we crane our necks looking up and miss some of the finer discoveries found below.
This woodlands salamander was found along the trail at creek side near AHO this week.
This little critter is one of many species of Southern Appalachian salamanders.
Click to enlarge and you will notice this little fellow has a heart shaped spot on his side! In fact, all of these photos of this set are much more enjoyable to view in a large format. Check out the last one~
Time to move on along his way as he marches back toward a crack between the rocks.
There are so many wonders, large and small to discover within the Watauga forest
along the Mountains to Sea Trail.

I regret I will not be able to particpate in the Big Dig this year.

I have photographed our Big Dig events and covered them in this blog over the years. I hope you will take time to peruse the following links for an idea of the joys of trail fellowship and volunteer effort we share on the trail.

Big Dig October 2009

Big Dig part 2

Bridge Building Big Dig

Thunderhill area day two

Big Dig area to be worked on this year

Bid Dig area to be worked near Shoals Creek in July

I truly hope some of you will send me pictures to share from this event, please send me your photos.
You may email me photos to I will compose a blogpost of your experiences soon. Thanks! I'm counting on you!!!

Have fun and enjoy your gifts of service to our MST~