Under Construction

20141217_110305By Bill Hodge, (soon to be) Executive Director

The sounds of hammers and drills have filled the air here at the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) Basecamp for the past few weeks. Walls are going up to create gear rooms and workshops to create an efficient workspace for the future of the SAWS team. The sounds of hammers and drills are also a metaphor for the SAWS program undergoing a renovation in other arenas of our efforts to be good stewards of Wilderness across our beautiful region.

While the sawdust flies in the back, the work in the front office is on another transition. Since 2011, the SAWS effort has been a program within The Wilderness Society, an organization behind the creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System we serve today. The Wilderness Society is an organization that, like SAWS, was born here in the Southern Appalachians.  SAWS will no longer be a program of The Wilderness Society at the open of the New Year, and the construction of the ‘new’ SAWS is well underway.

Last month, SAWS started the process of becoming a stand-alone organization with our own Board of Directors, our own bylaws, and a new relationship with The Wilderness Society. January 1, 2015 SAWS will begin a new era, with a renewed commitment to growing our tribe of passionate stewards, serving our landscape’s wild places through programs developed under the helpful support of The Wilderness Society. While SAWS will begin our independence in a few weeks, our connection to the efforts of The Wilderness Society will continue into the future. The new ‘partnership’ involves a common interest in protecting the wild places of southern Appalachia – those protected through Wilderness designation and those needing that protection. The Wilderness Society will also place significant resources behind our success as we begin life as an independent organization.

The new SAWS Board of Directors, under the leadership of Chairman Bill Meadows, is focused on growing the SAWS effort into a model of addressing capacity for Wilderness stewardship while building the relevancy of Wilderness in the lives of a new public, a new generation. The team working to address these issue will remain the same with me (Bill Hodge), serving now as Executive Director, and Brenna Irrer serving as Program Manager, along with the unbelievable drive of seasonal staff and other supporters.

The ‘new’ SAWS begins life with operations based out of Tellico Plains, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina with plans for offices in Roanoke, Virginia and then Atlanta, Georgia or Chattanooga, Tennessee. We will be rolling out a fund-raising campaign after the first of the year, so yes, we will be asking for your support. We have begun the process of searching for staff for our 2015 season that will include volunteer efforts and paid backcountry crews, and of course our continued partnership with the Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to host the Wilderness Skills Institute.

In the future, we look forward to new and inspired ways to address our stewardship challenges and to seeing you on the trail. Let the sawdust fly – we all have work to do!