Feeling lost? Lack a sense of direction? The Western North Carolina Alliance Forest Keepers initiative may be able to help. This Saturday, Nov. 8, a group of forest keepers will trek into the Craggy Mountains for a hands-on field workshop on orienteering and navigating in the woods (both on- and off-trail).
The outing will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including travel time. The day’s events will include a 6-mile hike and a winter-tree identification seminar. WNCA’s AmeriCorps Forest Keepers Coordinator Alexandra Guest and WNCA’s Public Lands Field Biologist Josh Kelly will lead the expedition.
“We’ll be navigating with maps and compasses, and we’ll be doing a 6-mile hike,” Guest says. “Most of the hike will be on-trail, but it will have an off-trail component. So we’ll be consulting back with our maps and compasses and working as a group to make sure we know where we are,” she adds. “Josh is a Western North Carolina tree savant, so I’m excited to be working with him.”
Guest, who has a Bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Skidmore College, says that WNCA is one of 20 groups that are part of AmeriCorps Project Conserve. The forest keepers Program, however, is exclusive to the Western North Carolina Alliance. “My role as an AmeriCorps member for WNCA is to run the … program,” Guest says.
“Part of WNCA’s tagline is protecting mountains, forests and rivers,” Guest said. “So the forest keepers are part of that forest component.” Guest explains, “Essentially, the … program is founded on this issue where there’s a lot of public land in Western North Carolina and not a lot of government funding for that land. [It’s] a volunteer-based program that appeals to people who are outdoor enthusiasts.”
She hopes that the program evolves into a group of outdoor supporters who not only recreate on public land, but also help to protect it – by providing the front line of defense against invasive species, pests and pathogens. “I think an overarching goal is to find a balance for people that is between environmental stewardship and environmental science,” Guest says.
In addition to the Nov. 8 event, the forest keepers will try to host monthly events throughout the year. Those who’d like to participate this Saturday can meet at the U.S. Forest Service in Asheville at 160 Zillicoa St. by 9 a.m. WNCA will provide carpooling from that point. The outing is free of charge and open to the public.