Looking Back on 2016, and Gearing Up for 2017

hodge_2016_29912016 was a breakthrough year for SAWS and the accomplishments can be measured in miles, smiles and legislation. It was a year of growth and transition and a year of new endeavors. We launched a new partnership with the United States Naval Academy, and took on management of the Linville Gorge Information Cabin. The seasonal team was our biggest ever with over 30 employees – and it was the first year in which female team members outnumbered the males.


With staff working for the past six years to protect more acres of the Cherokee National Forest, in February Congressman Phil Roe joined Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in sponsoring the Tennessee Wilderness Act. SAWS also had a major role in the just signed National Forest Trail System Stewardship Act, as I wrote the language focused on better volunteer engagement for the Forest Service trail system, and we continue to be deeply rooted in the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Plan Revision process.  These are legislative achievements that will have long lasting and far reaching impacts on wilderness in the future.


2016 was also a year of significant transition. We relocated our Basecamp from Tennessee and our corporate office from our hosts at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and USFS to our new Central Region office at 225 Chestnut Street in Asheville where we are most happy to have staff, tools and gear all under one roof.  We saw our permanent staff grow by two, and we announced that in early 2017 we will be opening a new Northern Region office in Roanoke, Virginia.


This season we had four Wilderness Field Crews and nine Wilderness Rangers work in thirty-three Wilderness /Special Management areas across four National Forests. The accomplishments are impressive and valued at over $350,000 by the USFS:


  • 16,700 hours of work in the field
  • Nearly 28 miles of trail cleared of brush and over 750 trees removed from trails
  • Nearly a mile of trail tread restored
  • Over 50 feet of rock retention wall and 22 log steps built and installed
  • Over 4,500 public engagements in the field – sharing topics like Leave No Trace, Wilderness values, local trail information, local changes to conditions or regulations, and in general making sure the public has the information they need to enjoy and protect the wilderness experience
  • Over 1,700 pounds of trash packed out


Together, our Rangers and Field Crews responded to a significant storm event on July 8th that impacted the Appalachian Trail in northeast Tennessee. Because of our capacity – made possible by support from you – the team at SAWS removed over 200 trees spread over 8 miles in just over four weeks, opening the damaged trail for thru-hikers and others during the AT’s peak hiking season. And, because of support from you, we will be ready to respond when called to the address the damage from the recent southeastern wildfires as well.


While the actual numbers are important, it is the work of creating the next generation of conservation and wilderness professionals that makes what we do so relevant and enduring.  As always, our staff, crews and rangers will be out working to engage the public to fulfill our philosophy of Protection through Connection and our work will remain focused on emphasizing and engaging communities that are underrepresented in conservation efforts. We will roll out new ways to empower folks in rural counties to participate in stewardship of their backyard public lands and to sustain the cycle of citizens protecting the places they love.

As we gear up for 2017 we need you to become a steward with us. One of the best ways you make a difference is through your end-of-year giving. We have just launched a campaign to match dollars committed from the National Forest Foundation to fund one of our Wilderness Field Crews. Your support will help create jobs for six young conservation leaders, it will help create transformational experiences for this crew, and it will make a difference for the wilderness. We are just about halfway to our goal of raising $30,000.

Thank you so much for all that you have done for public lands preservation by supporting our efforts, as a donor, volunteer or friend of SAWS! Yours is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

If you would like to donate to our non-profit efforts as a part of your end-of-year giving, you can do so here  or here or mail a check to our new address at 225 E. Chestnut St. Suite 001, Asheville, NC, 28801. If you would like to receive our newsletter, have questions or comments or would like to volunteer, you can do so here.