The Cherokee National Forest is home to the Citico Creek, Gee Creek, Bald River Gorge, Upper Bald River, Little Frog, Big Frog, Sampson Mountain, Unaka Mountain, Pond Mountain, Big Laurel Branch, and parts of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Cohutta Wilderness areas. We work in each one of them, and together they total 86,099 acres.
With SAWS originally based in Coker Creek, our work in Tennessee began in 2011 to address a need for stewardship capacity. In our first year, we hosted the first-ever Wilderness Trail Skills Conference on the Ocoee Ranger District. There, we trained 25 individuals in crosscut saw, wilderness first aid and other critical stewardship skills. The success of this training event quickly caught on, and only a year later it became the Wilderness Skills Institute that trains over 100 individuals annually.
In our first year we also fielded a wilderness ranger on the Cherokee National Forest, who spent the season collecting recreation site data and educating visitors in Citico Creek, Big Laurel Branch, Pond Mountain, and Unaka Mountain Wildernesses. Our first field crew completed work in the Big Laurel Branch and Citico Creek wilderness areas as well.
We have also partnered with businesses and universities to provide transformative and immersive wilderness experiences for employees and students, while getting important stewardship work completed.
In 2015, we partnered with Rock/Creek in Chattanooga to get work completed in the Upper Bald Wilderness area. Our staff and their employees spent a week enjoying the wilderness and clearing the Benton MacKaye trail in that area. We also partnered with Eastern Michigan University and the University of Illinois for several years to provide Alternative Spring Break options for students looking to give back to Appalachian communities and public lands. Our staff worked with them to clear and improve trails in the area, providing a safe and fun experience for students.
Since 2011, our wilderness rangers and specialists have worked in every wilderness area on the Cherokee National Forest, making significant progress in both on-the-ground stewardship efforts and the Forest Service’s Wilderness Stewardship Performance and Wilderness Character Monitoring programs. Over the years, our rangers and specialists have collected volumes of data that are helping inform management decisions and are contributing to the development of well-informed management plans. Our rangers and specialists also work to engage and educate the public.
In Northeast Tennessee, we’ve worked with Johnson City Parks & Rec Nature Summer Camps, East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Buccaneer Outdoor Adventure Stewardship events and Wilderness/LNT/Trail stewardship programs for the ETSU Parks and Rec department, and Kingsport YMCA Heathy Kids Day events to educate students about wilderness and Leave No Trace and engage college students in volunteer stewardship work.
In Southeast Tennessee, we do public education and engagement at Ocowassee Fest at Hiwassee-Ocoee State Park, and at Eco Days at Indian Boundary Recreation Area on the Tellico District of the Cherokee National Forest. We’ve hosted several National Trails Day events on the Cherokee National Forest and regularly work with the Tellico Ranger District volunteers in wilderness areas.