Volunteering in Natchez Trace State Park

By 2022 NextGen Trail Leader Aleshea Carriere

I packed my bag and loaded the truck. My sister’s rushed voice beckoned from the truck speakers, “you’ll miss your flight if you don’t hurry. You’re always running behind.” I shushed her as I whipped into her apartment complex. Minutes later, I bid her goodbye from the revolving doors as a plane soared overhead. 

Hours later, the fasten seat belt sign gleamed. Nashville was below. I hurried to the baggage claim as the crisp fall air flushed my cheeks. Greeted by a thick West Tennessee accent, Ranger Jeff welcomed us as we drove the 1.5 hours to Natchez Trace State Park. The joy on his face was evident as he prepared us for the week. “We’re gonna work hard but, well, have fun,” he lamented. Hours later, dinner was consumed, and the crew met. I found a silver of cell service as I sat on my bunk. 

“We’re in these older Cabins. They ain’t bad. They hold bunk beds. There’s only three of us in this one. Two rooms. Brother and sister in one room. I got a room to myself and pick of the bunk beds in it. 

Most of the crew is older. Like retired. Our cabin is toasty. I’m on breakfast duty. I have to be at the main building by 6:30 am.” I text.

Night turned into the first day, and our trail work began. The Rangers laid out the premise of our work. We’d build a sustainable trail following Mike Riter’s Trail Design course and IMBA standards. We’d learn to see a 3-5 slope by the end of the week. I found myself enamored with the McCloud tool. The air was crisp and welcoming over the heat. 

“I survived day two. I was paired with Mr. John. That’s what I call him now. Mr. John. He has to be in his 70’s. I’m the youngest person here. I kid y’all not. Even younger than the park staff.  

On the first day, I worked with our crew leader from AHS. She’s a volunteer like us but has tons of trips to this state park with AHS. She can cook like no one’s business. She’s deff southern, and we’re eating good. Anyway, today I was paired with Mr. John, and I love how patient he was teaching me. Once I figured it out, we were moving. Did so many sections of trail. I’m also the only female minority, I think. I see why AHS was happy I could come and would document it. A lot of these volunteers do lots of these with lots of different orgs. Multiple in a year, and they told me it always skews older.”

I typed those words as day two ended, excited for our free day. The ladies of the group made our way into town for BBQ, supply refuel and exploration. 

The final days came and went in a blur. Each day, with Mr. John as my partner, my confidence grew. Faster and faster we got plowing through each section of trail assigned to us. Mr. John would smile as I yammered on McCloud in hand moving dirt. 

The final day, pride was evident among the crew. We’d finished the section of trail we’d hoped to accomplish, and we passed many backpackers and runners on our way out who thanked us for our advocacy and work. 

Confident in my knowledge I boarded a plane back to Texas determined not to make this my only trail maintenance experience.

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