This summer we launched a new partnership with the United States Naval Academy, engaging with Midshipmen from across the country in personal and professional development while serving our common good, our public lands. This exciting new union was years in the making and has the opportunity to grow to serve more students and additional places.
This year’s cadre of Midshipman included students from as far away as Seattle and as close as Winston-Salem. From rising sophomores to rising seniors, the crew arrived in mid-May and joined our team just in time for the Wilderness Skills Institute – a training partnership with the United States Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. From the day they arrived in May until they left five weeks later, the crew trained, cooked, relaxed, and worked together.
After two weeks of skill development and leadership training, the crew hit the wilds of Southern Appalachia. The crew worked across two states and four Wilderness areas. In Linville Gorge, the crew helped lead a volunteer day in improving water drainage features on the Hawksbill Trail. In the Pond Mountain and Unaka Mountain Wilderness areas the crew worked on installing new Wilderness information kiosks – signage that will help the forest visitor understand and better appreciate the Wilderness experience.
The biggest project this new partnership crew tackled was major trail work in the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness along the Appalachian Trail. Over the course of two weeks, the team of six brushed over 43,000’ of trail – removed a number of trees that had fallen across the trail and installed a new Wilderness Information Kiosk. Their time in the Big Laurel Branch Wilderness included five days camped in the backcountry while covering 17 miles of trail. As the crew emerged from their five-day Wilderness experience they were greeted by First District Congressman Phil Roe – a sponsor of the Tennessee Wilderness Act that would expand the Big Laurel Branch. Congressman Roe spent an hour with the crew hearing their stories and sharing a few of his own.
The pride and passion displayed by this crew of Midshipmen for their country and our shared public lands was impressive. Our Navy is in great hands – and this partnership is destined to grow.