Local Climbers Encourage a Lifetime of Public Lands Stewardship Through (not)Work Week

Local climbers Sarah Brengosz and Jeff Hearn create natural stairs. Photo by Jay Young, NRAC.

 The New River Alliance of Climbers (NRAC) board member and co-founder Gene Kistler had a vision for bringing climbing and trail stewardship together.  In collaboration with the National Park Service at the New River National River, Gene and other local climbers drafted a plan and created the first (not)Work Week in 2015 to enhance access on pubic lands. 

Volunteers learn safety best practices when building trails. Photo by Jay Young, NRAC.

When asked where the idea for the project came from Gene shared, “There was a need to get a workforce together as the NPS approval for Tattoo Wall was coming together.” Gene, and members of NRAC recognize how important it is to have well maintained trails on public lands. Trails minimize impacts on the landscape and to promote sustainable recreation.

Why (not) work week you ask? Organizers chuckle when saying, “work + fun=not work”. 

The week long project is held every May and draws volunteers from across West Virginia and surrounding states. The week consists of free camping at the American Alpine Club Campground (AAC), breakfast and sign-ups for the daily raffles, trail work until the afternoon, time to play or relax, and then dinner, sponsored by East Coast climbing gyms, at a local restaurant.  At the end of the week NRAC and other sponsors host a “Big Fun Party” at the AAC for volunteers as a big thank you for all their work.  Volunteers are left with dirty hands, full bellies, a sense of pride, lots of prizes, and a weekend to enjoy climbing and the Appalachian Film Festival. 

Throughout the week volunteers work with experienced trail builders learning about trail stewardship and best practices for trail development and management. Lex Rogers, 29, from Martinsburg, WV reflected on his first (not)Work Week experience, “The more time I spent in the Gorge, the stronger my sense of responsibility and stewardship for the place became.” 

Vista view of the New River National River from the (not)Work Week project. Photo by Jay Young, NRAC.

The relationship between climbers and NPS personnel continues to grow and shape management plans of the area as climbers show their interest in the West Virginia mountains. In 2018, climbers contributed $12.1 million dollars to the local economy.  In turn, as the sport of climbing gains population it is inherent that groups like NRAC continue to promote best practices at the crag, trail development, and overall stewardship to protect and preserve the wild and wonderful natural resources the Mountain State holds. 

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