When Kristen Forshey first heard about the Trail Management Internship, funded through the TRAILS FOREVER Legacy Fund, she knew she found the summer program she was searching for. As an Akron native and 2015 University of Akron graduate in biology, Kristen has spent a lifetime exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s hiking and biking trails with her family. Here’s how Kristen is making sure she’s leaving her mark on the park for generations to come. – Julie Schuler, Conservancy member
How long have you been interning through the TRAILS FOREVER program? This is my second summer in the position. The first year, I started working in March and was planning to wrap things up in August—but the weather and trail conditions weren’t ready for me to leave! I stayed through November. This year, I’m also planning to work into November, keeping our trails ready for all of the fall hikers.
Tell us a little bit about your responsibilities.I work with Jeff Pettigrew, who is the National Park Service (NPS) Trails Volunteer Coordinator, and together we organize volunteer crews. Once those crews are scheduled, I make sure we have the right equipment and tools on the trail so we can make the most of the volunteers’ time. I also lead the crews in their work, showing them what to do.
In the spring, this consists mainly of resurfacing projects. With the heavy rains and flooding, the trails need a lot of TLC. We’re also working to get gravel stone on many of our trails. This is a nice hardened surface that helps with drainage and can accommodate the park’s growing foot traffic. Lately, we’ve also been replacing many of the culverts with hardened crossings. These are more natural and help increase trail sustainability.
What is your favorite part of your day? Definitely working with the volunteers! I love the days where we have a bunch of volunteers and there are people to talk to and lead. It is so satisfying to get so much work done in such a short period of time. It’s also a good to see the volunteers get excited about what they’ve accomplished.
I never realized how big of a role the volunteers played in maintaining the trails. There are hundreds of volunteers we work with regularly. We only have about 5-10 folks on the official NPS trails crew each year [many of whom are seasonal employees]. Without the volunteers, keeping our trails in top shape would be unmanageable. Being a park enthusiast, I didn’t realize how important volunteers were until I was immersed in their activities.
We have a lot of regular volunteer groups, like the Medina Horseman’s Council and Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council. We also have other volunteers who have adopted miles of trails. Youth groups, corporate groups and more. There are opportunities for everyone.
What interested you in the position when you applied? My “dream job” was working for one our country’s national parks, so I was thrilled when I found out there was a position like this in my own backyard. I have such a sentimental connection to the park. When I was a kid, my mom used to take us for hikes around the park all of the time. Brandywine Falls was a favorite spot, but really anywhere we could hike or bike drew us in.
Hiking has always been a big part of my life, and it’s one of the coolest things that attracted me to this internship—the fact that I would be out on the trails rehabbing them and building new ones, and knowing that I’d be able to help make decisions about the trails and gather volunteers to really enjoy them. It’s an amazing thing to be able to look at a trail and say, “I built that.” The sense of accomplishment I feel towards our trails continues to motivate me to make them better for the future.
Had you heard of the TRAILS FOREVER initiative before? It wasn’t something I was familiar with until I started. Now I see how it is one of the most important resources that the trails division of CVNP has. We can recruit volunteers, but we still need the tools, equipment, and human resources such as myself to keep the trails healthy. A big part of this park is the 120 miles of trails we have. It’s important to keep those trails safe, especially with the ever-changing weather.
What’s your favorite trail? There are so many! I love the Oak Hill and Plateau areas, but I also love Ledges for sentimental reasons — we spent a lot of time there as a family. Oak Hill is super pretty and has so much vegetation.
TRAILS FOREVER is an initiative to protect and maintain the trails of Cuyahoga Valley National Park—for all people, for all time. This initiative is a partnership among the Conservancy, National Park Service, park volunteers, and donors who contribute to the ongoing preservation of CVNP trails.
As part of this program, the Conservancy has embarked on a campaign to raise a $10 million endowment for the TRAILS FOREVER Legacy Fund. When this goal is reached, the fund will forever generate $500,000 each year, exclusively for our national park trails.
Take action! Learn more about all the ways the Conservancy is supporting trail projects and other important initiatives in the national park here, or learn more about making a bequest to the Legacy Fund by contacting John Debo at (330) 657-2909 ext. 120.