The Partners of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness received the 2018 Bob Marshall Award for Group Champions of Wilderness Stewardship from the U.S. Forest Service.
Through extensive volunteerism and financial donations, the Partners have helped to protect, conserve, and enhance the natural resources, historic heritage, and wilderness stewardship of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness on the Nantahala National Forest. The group has donated more than 2500 volunteer hours since the beginning of 2017. By means of successful grant applications, fundraising, and volunteer efforts, they have helped to develop and improve wilderness facilities; maintain wilderness trails; update interpretive materials, signage, and maps; and assist with wilderness inventory efforts.
“It is only through their generous donations of time and money that many projects within the Wilderness have been accomplished,” said District Ranger Andy Gaston. “Their volunteer efforts enjoy strong local support and have resulted in many positive comments about the overall health of the wilderness and the benefits of the area to the local community.”
Recently, the group led a comprehensive volunteer effort to fund and replace approximately 30 wilderness signs at trail junctions located deep with the wilderness. These signs have greatly diminished the need for search and rescue operations to locate lost hikers within the wilderness.
The Bob Marshall Award is a National Award that honors the lifelong work of Bob Marshall, an American forester, writer, and wilderness activist who spearheaded the 1935 founding of the Wilderness Society in the United States.
“We are honored that a local group has received national recognition for their work on behalf of the Nantahala National Forest,” said National Forests in North Carolina Forest Supervisor Allen Nicholas. “The Partners have gone above and beyond with efforts such as their Junior Forestry School for local students and volunteer training programs to demonstrate their commitment to present and future generations.”
Bi-annually, the group conducts a Junior Forestry School for 11-17 year old students interested in careers in natural resource management in cooperation with the Cheoah Ranger District and local schools.
“Additionally they have donated $2,500 annually to the Cheoah Ranger District for the employment of a Youth Conservation Corps intern and collaborated with other conservation organizations to raise funds for trail rehabilitation and training,” said Heath Emmons, natural resource specialist on the Cheoah and Tusquitee Ranger Districts.
The group received approximately $12,500 in grants from the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance to restore trails that were damaged by wildfire. They initiated and organized a training program with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards to certify volunteers in the use of crosscut saws in the wilderness. They conduct numerous trail maintenance and invasive plant species removal on the popular Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail. This trail receives approximately 30,000 visitors per year and is considered one of the most popular wilderness trails in the Southeast.