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Class helps improve Appalachian Trail safety

Fourth grade teacher Cathy Harron leads her students down a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Front Royal. This year, Harron and her class worked to have caution signs installed at a trail crossing on a busy road in order to make the area safer for hikers. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

Fourth graders from Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Front Royal met hikers Douglas and Sabrina Wright, who also go by their trail names, Stakes and Cliffwalker. The students and their teacher, Cathy Harron, worked to improve the trail crossing the Wrights were visiting, adding caution signs so drivers would slow down. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL -- Douglas and Sabrina Wright were not expecting to meet a fourth grade class when they reached the Appalachian Trail crossing on Remount Road.

But the class worked all year for hikers just like them. The Wrights were on their way home to Massachusetts after starting the trail in Georgia, and met with the children responsible for having a "hikers crossing" sign installed on the busy highway intersecting the trail.

Cathy Harron, their teacher at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, participated in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Trail to Every Classroom program and was able to bring them to the crossing in order to see the results of their work.

When Harron's students took a trip to the trail Thursday morning to see the signs, they were also able to see several hikers going through, heading across the road and avoiding traffic with the assistance of the signs.

The Wrights were able to stick around and thank the students for all their work.

Harron had her class write letters to local officials, such as Taryn Logan, Warren County's planning director. Through those efforts, the Virginia Department of Transportation installed the signs in order to increase safety at the crossing.

Ten-year-old Kaelyn Owens said she enjoyed doing the work, and hopes to hike the trail herself someday.

"It felt special that they actually listened," Owens said.

Logan was also at the event, along with Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray and County Administrator Doug Stanley.

"It's a great honor to walk the trail," Murray told the students.

Thru-hiker Sonja Carlborg attended as well. She was able to speak to the class earlier in the year, and said the signs at the Remount Road crossing were much needed.

"People go through on their way to work, whipping along and not thinking about hikers that might be out here," Carlborg said.

Harron said she used the trail to teach her class about a variety of subjects, including social studies, science and math. She taught them about local governments especially, showing them how they can interact with town officials in order to achieve something, such as increasing safety.

"They really responded well to it," she said. "They understand more about what it means to be a trail town," she said.

Stanley said there are also plans in place to create more trails connecting the crossing with Front Royal. Right now, Carlborg pointed out, hikers have to hitchhike and walk along the busy road when they are trying to go into town and get supplies.

Alyson Browett, chairman of the Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community Committee, said she has seen many near-misses on the crossing.

"It's a really dangerous road," she said. "Those crossing signs are vital to the safety of the hikers."

She said teaching the students about the trail is a great all-around experience -- they can learn about the outdoors, nature and the importance of stewardship.

"The trail is a magical place," she said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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