Building the Pine Mountain Trail, Kentucky and Virginia

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13296A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Develop trail-building skills
  • Enjoy glorious fall days in the mountains
  • Help with environmental preservation


  • All meals, drinks, snacks
  • Work tools


DatesSep 29–Oct 5, 2013
StaffRoger Straw

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Join us in constructing a major hiking trail that will ultimately stretch hundreds of miles, redefining long-distance hiking in the Southeast. In Kentucky and Virginia's Cumberland Mountains, you can develop trail-building skills along the same ridges that welcomed Daniel Boone into the core of the southern Appalachians. At the same time, you can enjoy the glorious fall days and watch the leaves begin to turn.

The Project

We'll be building the Pine Mountain Trail, a segment of the Great Eastern Trail, which runs along the crest of the Cumberland Mountains on the Kentucky-Virginia border. At Cumberland Gap it will connect to the Cumberland Trail, stretching on to Chattanooga, Tennessee. When it's done, this project will provide almost 600 miles of new trail, eventually connecting to the Appalachian Trail.  


Each day we'll carpool from our base camp to the trailhead, and hike several miles to the work site. Depending on the terrain and the most pressing needs, we'll cut brush, dig trail bed, or build steps and switchbacks as needed to extend or improve the trail. We'll try for variation, giving everyone a chance to contribute and develop their trail-building skills. We will typically leave camp around 8 a.m. and return around 5 p.m. Evenings will be free. We will have one rest day, when we can hike, tour historic towns, or just relax in camp. Although we won't be planning a group activity, we'll have information about various options.



Getting There

The nearest airport is Tri-Cities Airport in Blountville, TN. It is located about 95 miles from Whitesburg, KY, the location of our host agency. 

Accommodations and Food

We will camp in tents on the grounds of the Letcher County Extension Service in Whitesburg, Kentucky or in a nearby state park. We'll have access to flush toilets and showers. We will eat outdoors. We will provide all meals, drinks, and snacks. The first meal of the trip will be dinner on day one, and the last meal will be breakfast on day seven. We will carry bag lunches to the work site each day. Meals will be hearty, and will include meat with vegetarian options. Each participant will help with kitchen duties on at least one day of the trip.

Trip Difficulty

The trip is considered strenuous. Each morning we will hike to the work site; the distance could be up to two miles, with significant elevation gain. Much of the work will involve strenuous activities such as digging dirt and moving rocks, but there will also be lighter tasks such as pruning brush or painting blazes. We'll trade off jobs for variety. We endeavor to put in an honest day's work each day.

Equipment and Clothing

Early October in the Appalachians is usually relatively dry, cool, and crisp. Expect daytime highs in the low 70s and nighttime lows in the 40s (although the record high in October is 91 and the record low is 24). It is a beautiful time to be in the area -- usually -- but we could also spend our days in wind and freezing rain so plan for all possibilities. You will need sturdy boots, comfortable work clothes that can be worn in layers, raingear (rainsuits are much better than ponchos for service trips), work gloves, a day pack, tent, and a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees. The leaders will send a detailed equipment list to registered participants.



On this trip, we will help open major new hiking trails in the Southeast, providing new opportunities for people to see, appreciate, and support the Cumberland Mountains. Just as important, our work will relieve pressure on existing trails in the Appalachians.



Roger Straw has been leading service trips for the Southeast Subcommittee for 15 years. The trips have included trail maintenance in the Caribbean National Forest, Puerto Rico and vegetation removal in St. John National Park, US Virgin Islands. His interests also include furniture building, hiking, and canoeing.


Margret “Gretchen” Straw has assisted on the Pine Mountain Trail trip and is a veteran of Sierra Club service trips including trips in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Antietam National Battlefield. She loves long-distance hiking and has hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, Scotland’s West Highland Way, and much of England’s Coast to Coast walk.

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