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Frequently Asked Questions

Trail Overseers & Volunteering in George Washington National Forest

(Click on any question for more information)

Who are Trail Overseers and why are they needed ?

Trail Overseers are very important volunteers who keep trails open in George Washington National Forest (GWNF). The reduction in staffing and budget for our public land agencies has caused an increased reliance on dedicated volunteers to perform routine trail maintenance duties. Existing trails would become impassible, unsafe, and difficult to follow if not for Trail Overseers.

A Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Trail Overseer is a volunteer who selects a segment of an existing trail that needs an Overseer and makes periodic visits to that trail segment, performing routine maintenance to the trail and reporting any issues that require additional assistance. No experience or equipment is necessary to take on this duty -- the PATC offers many avenues for training and education, and will provide all necessary tools and supplies. Trail Overseers are extremely valuable members of the outdoor recreation community!

There is always a great need for new Trail Overseers. More trails exist than volunteer Overseers for them. Overseers eventually retire, move, or have life events that create openings for new Overseers.

The US Forest Service, GWNF staff and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club are extremely appreciative of Trail Overseers in the GWNF.

One must be a member of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to be a Trail Overseer. Dues are $35.00 per year, or $50.00 per year for a family. PATC is a non-profit organization with over 75 years of service to the mid-Atlantic trail system, including a segment of the Appalachian Trail and side trails in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, on National, State, local, and private lands.

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What are the duties of a Trail Overseer in George Washington National Forest ?

Always remember that safety is the highest priority. The complete safety of a trail volunteer is infinitely more important than performing ANY trail maintenance activity.

After a Trail Overseer is assigned a segment of an existing trail that is in need of an Overseer, the Trail Overseer's basic duties are:

  1. Visit the trail segment on a regular basis, preferably at least 3 times a year, hopefully more often.
  2. Prune back encroaching foliage.
  3. Maintain a set of painted trail blazes so that the entire path of the trail is followable in both directions.
  4. Clean out leaf debris and sediment from all water bars.
  5. Remove fallen sticks, limbs, and trees that are within the physical ability and training of the Overseer, and report those which are beyond the physical ability and training to the PATC District Manager -- safety is the number one priority!
  6. Perform annual weeding of encroaching weeds.
  7. Pick up litter.
  8. Report any trail issues that are beyond the scope of a Trail Overseer, such as large or potentially dangerous obstructions, severe erosion problems, need for signs, vandalism, or anything that would require additional assistance.
  9. Inspect the trail after unusual weather activity (high winds, ice storms, hurricanes, etc.) to assess any damage -- but definitely wait until the weather is well past and it is safe and prudent to do so.
  10. Provide timely and accurate reports of all volunteer trail work that is done.
  11. Interact with other Forest users in a positive, informational, helpful way -- Overseers are indeed the public emissaries of the PATC and the George Washington National Forest.

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What are the benefits of being a Trail Overseer ?

The intangible benefit of being a Trail Overseer is the knowledge that you are performing an invaluable service to the public. It can also be wonderfully rewarding to be able to gaze upon "your" trail after work has been done, to see the positive changes you have made. It gives quite an enriching sense of pride. New skills are continually learned as well.

Tangible benefits also exist. Overseers are able to claim their driving mileage to and from trail work as a tax-deductible expense on their income taxes. They also annually receive a wallet card that entitles them to a variety of discounts at outdoor retail stores.

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How is the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club organized to support Trail Overseers ?

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club takes responsibility for supporting a large trail network in the mid-Atlantic states. PATC subdivides it's area of trail management responsibility into twenty geographic Districts. The George Washington National Forest portion is subdivided into four PATC Districts -- Great North Mountain, Massanutten North, Massanutten South, and the Tuscarora Trail South District. Each PATC District is assigned a volunteer District Manager (DM).

District Managers report to PATC's volunteer Supervisor of Trails, who oversees the entire area of PATC trail management responsibility.

Each PATC District Manager coordinates the efforts within his or her PATC District. The DM advertises for new Trail Overseers, assigns trail segments to new Trail Overseers, and is PATC's liason with the staff of the public land agencies. Trail Overseers work closely with their DM, planning, answering questions, providing assistance and tools, and reporting trail activities.

PATC also has numerous Trail Crews, each with a catchy name. Some crews, such as the Stonewall Brigade, work exclusively in one District. Other crews work wherever they are needed. Trail Crews are invaluable to address issues that are beyond the ability of a Trail Overseer. DMs will often call upon Trail Crews to address serious trail management needs. Trail Overseers should work through their DM in order to arrange for this assistance. Many Trail Overseers also regularly volunteer on a Trail Crew, but this is completely optional.

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What is the George Washington National Forest ?

National Forests are managed by the Department of Agriculture. They are used not only for recreation, but for logging, mining, and hunting. Few visitor amenities are present. They can be wonderfully secluded for hiking, but generally avoid them during hunting season. They are less restrictive of activities; more areas are open for camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, All-Terrain-Vehicle use, etc. National Forests are managed by very small staffs; expect to be completely self-reliant while visiting. The nearby National Forests are George Washington National Forest in Virginia & West Virginia, and Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. Nationwide, National Forests are beginning to charge entry fees, but the local Forests in our area have not yet started doing so.

Unlike nearby National Parks, the trails in George Washington National Forest are open to hiking, bicycling, and horseback (and mule) riding. Trail maintenance efforts must be made with all three of these uses in mind.

There are many trails in the George Washington National Forest. PATC directly oversees a percentage of these trails. Other GWNF trails that do not have an official PATC Overseer receive volunteer work from PATC on an irregular basis.

The George Washington National Forest encompasses a very large area. The GWNF is subdivided into Ranger Districts for the Forest Service's own management purposes. The Lee Ranger District is the part of GWNF that PATC helps to maintain; PATC has four Districts within the GWNF's Lee District -- Massanutten North, Massanutten South, the Tuscarora South District, and Great North Mountain.

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Who do I contact if I am interested in being a Trail Overseer ?

The person to contact is the PATC District Manager for the District in which you are interested in volunteering.
If you don't know who this person is, see the list of trail districts and district managers

You may also look for the "Help Wanted" section in issues of our monthly newsletter, The Potomac Appalachian.
These are kept online. Click Here to see recent issues.

You can discuss with the District Manager all of the available opportunities, and decide whether one sounds good for you.

Another great way to find out more information is to go on a monthly volunteer trail crew trip and talk with the crew leader and other volunteers.

The current PATC District Managers for Great North Mountain are

  • Don Upton (email donupton20164@aol.com)
  • Lee Manning (email lee.manning@cox.net)
  • Both at once (email stonewall@patc.net)
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    I'm not ready to commit to being a Trail Overseer, but I'd like to help out.
    What other trail volunteer opportunities are available ?

    Everyone's help at any level is very much welcomed !

    You can do as little as going out for a hike and providing a detailed report of the trail conditions you find. You should communicate with a District Manager first, so that you know exactly what to look for on your hike, and that you will be hiking on trails that are in need of being looked at. While hiking, bring a notepad and pen and take accurate notes !

    Another easy way to help is to spend a day with a volunteer Trail Crew, such as the Stonewall Brigade. Most crews go out for a day once a month. No experience is necessary. You can work as hard or as little as you wish. The crew will be very grateful for your help, even if you can only make it once a year. You will both accomplish something and learn something on every trip. If you are able to go more often, even better! The Stonewall Brigade goes on a work trip the third Saturday of every month in Spring, Summer, and Fall. If interested, email stonewall@patc.net) for more information, or see the web site at http://www.ljmanning.com/stonewall

    You could also contact a District Manager and put your name on an email list to be notified when special ad-hoc volunteer trips are being organized. Occasionally a special trip needs to be made to work on a particular issue, and volunteers are always needed for these trips.

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    Contact the Stonewall Brigade at stonewall@patc.net.