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Trails day a free, educational event for hikers of all skill levels

Chris Miller and Drew Albright hike
Chris Miller, 22, of Chapel Hill, N.C., left, and Drew Albright, 17, of Fairfax, hike along the Limber Lost trail near Skyland in Shenandoah National Park. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Lee Shaeffer and volunteer Hal Hallett demonstrate
Potomac Appalachian Trail Club president Lee Shaeffer, left, and volunteer Hal Hallett demonstrate the use of a two-man crosscut saw at a past National Trails Day events at the Byrd Visitor Center in Shenandoah National Park. Courtesy photo (Buy photo)

By Jessica Wiant - jwiant@nvdaily.com

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and Shenandoah National Park are inviting people to go "Beyond the Trailhead" on June 5 as part of National Trails Day.

The nationwide event was founded by the American Hiking Society in 1993 to celebrate and raise awareness of trails and the work that goes into making them, according to the society's Web site, www.americanhiking.org.

"It's a tremendous partnership," said Laura Buchheit, the park's interpretive trail manager, to keep trails open and safe and keep people educated.

The local event coincides with one of the park's fee-free weekends, making the day a rare no-cost option for families, whether they've preregistered or just happen upon it while touring Skyline Drive.

Taking place on June 5, "Beyond the Trailhead" is a joint effort between the park and PATC, said the club's trail patrol volunteer and Trails Day coordinator Cindy Kelly.

She said most people going through the park on Skyline Drive stay in their vehicles, or get out only at overlooks.

"Few visitors get out and walk on the extensive trail system the park has," she said, so the event aims to get people who might not otherwise do it to go on a hike.

"The event is designed to give novice hikers the information they need to leave their cars behind and venture beyond the trailhead to enjoy this area's numerous hiking and nature trails," a news release from the park says, but there will also be something for experienced backpackers at displays and discussion groups based at the Byrd Visitor Center at Mile 51 of Skyline Drive.

The club will be offering a choice of five hikes ranging in distance and difficulty level, according to the release.

The club has specially trained hike leaders who will offer the Trails Day hikes in addition to the normal ranger-led programs at the park, Buchheit said.

A "Story of the Forest Nature Trail" hike is suitable for families with young children, and the day, in general, is geared toward families, she said.

That hike in particular can accommodate small children and strollers, Kelly said. Other hikes, according to the release, are moderate- or advanced-level treks for adults.

Each hike will take participants to some of the park's interesting features, like waterfalls, the Appalachian Trail and Rapidan Camp (the former summer retreat of President Hoover), according to Kelly.

Hikers not only will get the experience of being on the trail, but they will also have the experience of discovering the wildlife and wildflowers that can be seen from the trail.

"Being on the trail you never know what you will discover," Buchheit said.

The hikes will be held rain or shine, with the exception of thunderstorms, she pointed out, and the experience will depend on conditions.

Mist or fog, for example, can still lead to a hike with lots of wildlife activity.

"They don't take the day off," Buchheit said. "So much of it is weather dependent."

She encourages people to consider attending even if the forecast calls for warm weather -- because it's cooler at higher elevations.

"If it's hot, come to the mountains," she said.

The hike leaders, rather than following a script, are able to explain some of the natural and cultural history of the park and what people can to do preserve the trails for future visitors in addition to talking about whatever they encounter on the trail, whether it is a newborn fawn or a bear, Buchheit said.

The discussions the leaders have will cater to the hike's audience, she said.

The hikes will all begin from the Byrd Visitor Center, where PATC volunteers will also be hosting displays and discussions on topics like first aid and Leave No Trace, and how to get involved with PATC, Kelly said.

Shenandoah National Park's trail crews will also demonstrate the use of traditional tools for trail maintenance, according to the release. The tools not only have significance as past traditions, but are still used today because, in much of the park, property has been designated as wilderness and motorized tools are prohibited, according to Kelly.

Visitors will have the opportunity to try their hand at the crosscut saw themselves, Buchheit said.

During the day, the visitor center will also host Maryland backpackers Georgia Harris and Randy Motz, authors of the book "Solemates -- Lessons on Life, Love and Marriage from the Appalachian Trail."

The couple will give a one-hour presentation on their 2006 through-hike of the Appalachian Trail at both 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the release said. Book signings will follow each presentation.

For more information on "Beyond the Trailhead," visit the PATC website at potomacappalachian.org or e-mail trail patrol at tpntd@patc.net. For more information on the park, visit www.nps.gov/shen.


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