Conasauga District Trail Volunteers History
U.S. Forest Service rangers Mike Davis and Larry Thomas began the trail volunteers program 1990 in order to better maintain the trails of the Cohutta Wilderness. That first year a total of 14 volunteers, under the name “Team Cohutta,” contributed 666 volunteer hours on various trail projects. The volunteer program continued to grow and thrive throughout its first two decades, emerging as a key resource for the Forest Service in Northwest Georgia.
In 2007, at the request of the Forest Service, the volunteer program was formally organized as the Conasauga District Trail Volunteers, Inc. to help ensure its long-term viability while also offering the potential to better grow its size and capabilities. Team Conasauga was chosen as the group name because it better reflects the scope of its expanded mission – to support the trails and recreation areas of the entire Conasauga District of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Since 1990, the volunteers have amassed over 127,000 hours of volunteer work, or an average of 6,778 hours per year. Most of the volunteers reside in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Team Conasauga is allied with other trail organizations including SORBA of Northwest Georgia and Backcountry Horsemen of North Georgia.
Although trail maintenance has always been the primary purpose of the volunteer program, other past, present, and planned volunteer activities include wilderness management, public information and education, maintenance of developed recreation areas, campground hosting, wildlife and fisheries habitat improvement, wildland firefighting and prescribed burning.
In addition, several volunteers went on to become Forest Service employees. Carl Dietz was a Top Gun volunteer from 1992 to 2000 before being hired as a seasonal wilderness ranger in 2001. He now has a permanent position as a recreation forestry technician on the Ocoee Ranger District, Cherokee National Forest. George Russell, the second Volunteer of the Year in 1992, went on to briefly work as a Forestry Technician on the Cherokee National Forest.
Larry Etheridge, who was a Forest Service employee during his youth, served on volunteer projects in the early 1990’s to improve wildlife habitat on the Cohutta Ranger District as a past president of the Chattahoochee Sportsman Club. He is now a Game Manager for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
More recently, Drew McCarley served as a volunteer when he wasn’t working in his seasonal Wilderness Ranger position under the Student Temporary Employment Program. Drew later worked as a Recreation Technician for the Ocoee Ranger District, Cherokee National Forest. Following his 2009 graduation with Forestry and Wildlife Management degrees from the University of Georgia, Drew accepted a position as a Forester Trainee on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California. Drew has returned to the Ocoee on the Cherokee National Forest as a Forestry Technician.