Wilderness Trail Building in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14301A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Explore the Red River Gorge's more than 100 natural arches
  • Work alongside U.S. Forest Service personnel
  • Enjoy evening talks by the campfire


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


DatesSep 20–27, 2014
StaffMichael Garr

Trip Overview

The Trip

Help the U.S. Forest Service build a new bridge along the Whittleton Arch Trail. Previous Sierra Club trips projects included replacing a suspension bridge and replacing a 35-foot staircase to an arch.

We'll work with the U.S. Forest Service in one of the South's most beautiful landmarks. 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. 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. 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

The U.S. Forest Service will be airlifting in bridge building materials onto the site this winter, so when we arrive, everything will be in place for our work. The Whittleton Arch Trail is a wonderfully woody historic trail that once was a home to a narrow gauge railroad.

This project will be unique in that we will use native materials. Participants will be instructed in the use of traditional woodworking tools and we will prepare our building materials from native timber, splitting and hewing locally harvested trees. Construction will be without modern fasteners (nuts, bolts, screws, etc.). Instead we will rely upon techniques such as pegged mortise and tenon joints. The Forest Service will supply tools. 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.


Day 1: We will gather in the afternoon 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: On these days, wewill 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 working on the project.

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

Day 8: The trip will end in the morning, after breakfast and departure for home.



Getting There

The nearest airport is Lexington, Kentucky, a 90-minute drive from the gorge, and we are about three hours south of Cincinnati. 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 several picnic tables and a large shelter for food preparation. Electricity is available for cooking, and we'll even have a microwave. For our convenience, there will be a new Jacuzzi among the trees, onsite showers, and port-a-pottie. Meals will be prepared to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Those with other special food needs should contact the leader.

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 the following 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 daypack 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 will need your own reusable eating utensils (cup, spoon, knife, fork, and plate). A tent with a rainfly and a waterproof rainsuit (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. 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.


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 federal Wild and Scenic River system in 1994.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Mike Garr is a recently retired firefighter from Michigan who now calls the Texas Hill Country home. He formerly served as cook and as assistant leader for both this trip and the Top of Texas service project in the Guadalupe Mountains. Mike has been an EMT as well as a wilderness first responder and has led a number of service projects in other parts of the country before becoming certified as a Southwest Service Project outings leader. He now again leads service projects in other states.

Assistant Leader:

Thomas Garr

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