Julia James was a nurse and midwife before retiring three years ago. She has enjoyed hiking for years and says being on the trail “fills her soul.”
Frank Gammon spent 26 years in the military and 16 more as an ROTC high school teacher. “I’m not what you might expect of an environmentalist,” he says.
These two retirees of very different backgrounds are among the hundreds of people who help Carolina Thread Trails maintain and expand a network of hiking, camping, and other facilities that cover 15 Charlotte-area counties and serve 2.3 million people.
The trails get plenty of use at this time of year, but keeping them in good shape is a 12-month job with many different needs.
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The trails cover all types of communities. They range from the Stonewall Street Trail in Charlotte’s Uptown, to the Ridgeline Trail that runs through rural areas of Cherokee County (S.C.) and Cleveland County (N.C.).
“We have volunteer opportunities of all kinds,” says Vanessa Covington, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the Charlotte-based organization.
“Many of the people who help us are retirees,” Covington says. “They can work as little or as much as they wish – and in a variety of ways.”
James, 64, of Mount Holly, says her volunteerism was an epiphany that came to her on a hiking trail.
“One day when I was out there, it occurred to me – Someone has to build and maintain these trails I enjoy,” she recalls.
She started by participating in a one-day cleanup of a trail. Covington says Carolina Thread Trails schedules many of those during the year. James and other volunteers cleared invasive plants from the trail.
Then she heard about the Trail Masters program. Trail Masters are Carolina Thread Trail leaders who complete a four-day workshop and promise to spent at least 40 volunteer hours a year. James became a Trail Master, as have several of her friends. She now manages a 2.2-mile section of the South Fork River Trail near McAdenville.
Gammon, 65, of Huntersville, laughs when the word “environmentalist” is mentioned.
“I’m ex-military,” he says. “I respect nature, but I don’t think anyone would call me a tree-hugger.”
He grew up in a rural area north of Nashville.
“Our back yard was hills and a forest,” he says. “That’s where my brother and our buddies played. The forest doesn’t scare me. I enjoy it.”
After four years in the Air Force, 22 in the Army, and more than a decade and a half teaching ROTC in Iredell County, Gammon retired three years ago.
“I looked for an area to volunteer,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that when I got involved, it was with an organization that wouldn’t take advantage of people. I talked to some people around here and some farmers in Iredell County. They all had nothing but good to say about Carolina Thread Trails.”
Along the way, Gammon was appointed to the Huntersville Greenway, Trails and Bikeway Commission. He also has become a Carolina Thread Trail Ambassador – one of the volunteers trained to talk about the organization at civic events and before school, church and business groups.
“It takes as much, or as little time as you want to put into it,” he says. “Volunteer opportunities range from being an ambassador at public events, to trail maintenance, to being a guide for walks, hikes, mountain bike rides, or canoe trips.”
As a nonprofit organization, Carolina Thread Trails relies on ambassadors to spread the word about its programs and help win support from individuals and groups.
“We have about 40 active Trail Masters and about 30 ambassadors,” Covington says.
Even retirees with physical ailments can help, she adds.
The one-day trail cleanups and trail construction sometimes are on terrain that is not too taxing. And even people whose ailments severely limit their activities can serve as ambassadors.
“No prior experience is necessary,” Covington says. “We provide all the education.”
James, who has earned the nickname “Grasshopper” from her hiking friends (a reference to the early 1970s TV show “Kung Fu,” where a young martial arts student was known as a “grasshopper”), hesitates when she is asked about her favorite hike or her favorite day helping on the trail.
“Every one is my favorite,” she says. “When I get back to my car, I realize how much I enjoyed myself.”
Want to get involved?
To learn more about Carolina Thread Trail activities and volunteer programs, check www.carolinathreadtrail.org.
If you’re interested in volunteering, click on the “Get Involved” pulldown menu and then click on “Volunteer.” You’ll start by completing a Volunteer Profile, providing background information and details about how you might be interested in helping.
You can also see photos and check out activities at the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CarolinaThreadTrail.
Or if you’d rather go old-school and contact Vanessa Covington by phone, call 704-376-2556, ext. 215.
Looking for something a little different than Carolina Thread Trails for your volunteer efforts?
No problem – there are dozens of options.
One big need is in area school systems. While it’s still mid-summer, it’s not too early to get in contact with local schools and see where you’re needed. At most schools, the principal and head secretary work throughout the summer, usually on Mondays through Thursdays.
If you want to volunteer in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, you can get a list of schools and phone numbers at the CMS website – www.cms.k12.nc.us. You’ll also want to fill out a Volunteer Profile. At the website, click on “Get Involved.” At the bottom of that page, you’ll see a link to “Volunteers.”
School starts in the last week of August, but schools like to line up a solid list of volunteers well in advance.
Another treasure trove of volunteer activities is available at the Share Charlotte website. Share Charlotte is a clearing house for volunteer needs in the region.
Here are some ideas for volunteers:
Safe Alliance: Rape Crisis Companions needs help to staff its 24-hour hotline and to meet with clients in person. Daytime, night and weekend shifts are available. 704-332-9034.
Foundation for Girls: This organization works to nurture leadership in girls, especially working with the homeless, refugees, victims of trafficking, or victims of domestic violence. Volunteers are needed for the “Express Yourself” workshops, where girls try their hand at photography, pottery, art or fashion design. 704-231-0040.
One7Academy: One7 provides a Christian-based academic program for refugees and the immigrant community. Volunteers are needed to pick up lunches for students at area restaurants. 704-989-9240.
GenerationNation: Formerly known as Kids Voting, this group provides civics and citizenship education to students of all ages. Guest speakers are needed. If you’ve worked in government or the media, you’re needed. 704-343-6999.
The Relatives: This youth crisis center provides shelter for youth (many of whom are 16-24) in need of help. Volunteer mentors are needed. 704-344-1111.
Salvation Army: Volunteers are needed to serve breakfast, lunch or dinner to women and children at the emergency shelter. 704-716-2769.
Urban Ministry Center: Morning help is needed to manage incoming phone calls. 704-926-0616.