Wilderness Trail Building in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13292A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Explore the Red River Gorge's 100+ natural arches
  • Work alongside U.S. Forest Service personnel
  • Enjoy evening talks by the campfire at our comfortable camp


  • All meals
  • Group gear and work tools
  • Optional free day to explore the majestic scenery 


DatesSep 21–28, 2013
StaffJulie Koivula

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Help the U.S. Forest Service build a new trail or bridge (project will be based on the group ability and Forest Service needs).  Other possible projects include: adding handrails to the bridges built by previous Sierra Club Service Outings, building steps, and trail brushing.

We'll work with the U.S. Forest Service in one of our most beautiful scenic areas. Carved by wind and water over the centuries, the Red River Gorge is characterized by steep sandstone cliffs, overhanging rock ledges, and narrow valleys littered with boulders. It is also home to more than 100 natural sandstone arches, many of which can be seen from the area's 60-plus miles of hiking trails.

The 28,000-acre geological area has been designated a national natural landmark. The Red River Gorge is about half congressionally designated National Wilderness, about 13,000 acres of eastern wilderness. Within the gorge is the Red River, a portion of which is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. This unique river features both gentle ripples and exciting whitewater. The complex topography provides habitat for a rich diversity of plants and animals, including many rare species.

This is a wonderful place for bird watchers, boasting more than 100 species. This time of year, migrating birds pass through to winter in the South. Common game species such as white-tailed deer, fox, squirrel, turkey, grouse, and quail are prevalent. Bear, bobcat and coyote are present, although their secretive nature makes sightings rare. Instead of a few dominant plant species, 20-25 species share dominance, especially tulip poplar, sugar maple, beech, basswood, yellow buckeye, red oak, white oak, red maple, hemlock, black walnut, black cherry, shagbark hickory, white pine, and white ash. 

The Project

We will work with the U.S. Forest Service, most likely building a trail bridge. The site selected is almost right under one of the most beautiful arches in the gorge. Construction materials will be airlifted to the site prior to our arrival. The Forest Service will supply tools, which we will transport to the worksite. We will be shuttled from our group campsite to the work area, but some moderate hiking from the trailhead to the worksite will be required, and may involve 1-2 miles through some gorgeous scenery. Other possible projects include trail construction, which will consist of cutting fallen trees and grubbing out bushes and tree saplings where necessary to open a previously marked route. We also will rake the area clear of dead leaves and decayed wood; cut, loosen, and level dirt, roots, and rocks to form a trail tread 24 inches wide; and rake to shape and smooth the tread.  We may also work on trail maintenance, which will consist of cutting back intrusive vegetation, removing deadfall, and building and improving trail drains.


Day 1: We will gather Saturday at 4 p.m. at our group campsite near the 900-foot Nada Tunnel. This one-lane stone tunnel was built for use by a logging railroad during the early 1900s and is listed on the national register of historic places.

Day 2: We will hike to previous Sierra Club project sites, visit Gladie Visitor Center, or boat and swim in Mill Lake.

Days 3-4: We will work on our service projects.

Day 5: This will be an optional "free day" to explore the area -- you can choose to hike, canoe, read, or rest. Some may chose to continue to work on the project.

Days 6-7: We will continue working on our service projects.

Day 8: The trip will end with an early breakfast and departure for home in the morning. 



Getting There

The nearest airport is Lexington, Kentucky, a 90-minute drive from the gorge. We are about three hours south of Cincinnati, and you will need to rent a car or carpool. We will provide a list of participants to facilitate ride sharing.

Accommodations and Food

The group campsite will accommodate our cars and tents.  There are redwood food prep tables, covered shelters, and a full kitchen. Electricity is available for cooking, and we'll even have a microwave. There are several picnic tables for comfortable seating for meals. Meals will be prepared to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Those with other special food needs should contact the leader.

For our convenience, there is an onsite redwood outdoor shower with lighting. There is a chemical recirculating toilet and camp chairs are available for everyone’s use. The camp also has a great hammock, abundant firewood, and a special camp game. We’ll be able to work hard during the day, then relax and talk around our campfire in the evening.

Trip Difficulty

This trip will be moderately strenuous, and will require basic manual work skills. You need to be in good physical condition. No special skills are required; the safe use of all tools will be demonstrated. The ability to work in cooperation with Forest Service personnel and fellow Sierra Club members is a must.

Be prepared for daytime temperatures in the 70s to 90s and nighttime temperatures that can get down into the 40s. The weather is often great at this time of the year, but you must be ready for rainy, wet, and cold conditions, as we will work in all reasonable weather conditions.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will send you a detailed equipment list after you sign up, but here are a few essentials: You must bring two pairs of leather work gloves. You will need a backpack large enough to carry your personal gear and a day-pack for carrying lunch, drinking water, etc. to the work site. Bring two one-liter water bottles to take water from camp to the work site. A pair of broken in, waterproof boots suitable for hiking and trail work is mandatory. A pair of lightweight camp shoes (Tevas or similar) is recommended for comfort after a long day on the trail.

The Sierra Club provides cooking gear, but you can bring your own reusable eating utensils (cup, spoon, knife, fork, and plate, and perhaps a mesh bag to hang utensils for drying). However, if you need to pack light there are dishes and utensils available at the camp. A tent with a rain fly and a waterproof rain suit (not a poncho) are required. Your equipment need not be expensive, but it should be made of quality materials.

Recommended clothing for this climate is lightweight long underwear, such as Capilene, and warm outer clothing. Please do not bring jeans for working in -- they could get wet and they don't dry readily. Plan to layer your clothing so you will be able to take things off or put them on as the weather dictates. 



  • "Red River Gorge" geographical area topo map: "Daniel Boone National Forest"


  • Sierra Club Bluegrass group, Hiking the Red: A Complete Trail Guide to Kentucky's Red River Gorge.
  • Ellis, William E., River Bends and Meanders: Stories, Sketches and Tales of Kentucky.
  • Ruchhoft, Robert H.,  Kentucky’s Land of the Arches.


  • http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/dbnf/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5345319


Publicity has greatly increased visitation to Red River Gorge. The area is within a six-hour drive of 23 million people, prompting fear that it might be "loved to death." While some areas are now extremely popular at times, the trails and backcountry are still pristine and provide a feeling of wilderness and solitude. However, logging, upriver strip mining, oil extraction, and other intrusions threaten the gorge's health. After many years and much effort by dedicated individuals a significant portion of the Red River was designated for protection under the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1994. Please also come prepared to share conservation issues from your state and local home site.



Julie Koivula has been a Sierra Club member for more than 25 years. She retired from teaching and coaching at the high school level. She also taught swimming and is a first aid/CPR instructor for the American Red Cross. She has her wilderness first aid certificate, and she loves to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, ski and play many other sports. She now leads and assists on a variety of Sierra Club outings, including backpacking, canoeing, service, biking, and archaeological survey trips. Julie is the Co-Chair for the Midwest Outings Subcommittee.


John Everett has been a Sierra Club member since 2003. He is retired after an executive career in the information systems industry, and lives in Aurora, Illinois. John is a graduate of the Sierra Club's national leadership training program and is certified in Wilderness First Aid and Adult CPR. While John's passion is cycling, he has participated in and served as a staff member on a number of Sierra Club national outings, including bicycling, hiking, camping, canoeing, and service trips. Among his other interests are pre-Columbian cultures of the Southwest, and the journey of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery.


Kenneth Green


Pat Stevens

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