Volunteers re-mark Sheltowee Trace trail

CORBIN, Ky. — "You want to blaze sparingly," Steve Barbour warns his troop of 30 volunteers. "... You don't want it to look like I-75 out there."

Barbour, executive director of the Sheltowee Trace Association, is helping lead an effort to "re-blaze," or re-mark, the 280 miles of the Sheltowee Trace trail system.

On a drizzling morning, 30 such volunteers gathered at Sheltowee Trace Outfitters in Whitley County, armed with handfuls of white plastic diamonds to be nailed on trees along the trail.

The Forest Services provides the blazes and the nails.

Barbour provides the manpower.

He also tutors volunteers on the proper way to nail in a blaze — at eye level, and with nails only half-way into a live, healthy tree.

"If the tree's still growing, it will grow out and eventually push the blaze right off the tree, believe it or not," he said.

Volunteers also clear fallen trees and trash from the trails. Barbour said proper blazing helps promote use of the Sheltowee Trace by novice hikers — if a first-time hiker has a bad experience by losing the trail, he's less likely to return to the outdoors.

"There hasn't been an organized blazing activity like this since the trail was actually built, which is over 30 years ago," Barbour said. "We've had individuals and teams out since the first of March walking the trace and putting blazes up, so we've done somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 miles of the Trace that needed to be done."

The reblazing is the first major activity undertaken by the Sheltowee Trace Association, which was incorporated last year to "protect, preserve and promote" the Sheltowee Trace National Recreational Trail. The trail runs 280 miles, the entire length of the Daniel Boone National Forest throughout Kentucky. It was completed in 1976 and takes its name from the Shawnee word for "Big Turtle," the nickname given to Daniel Boone by the Native American tribe.

"Our goal by the end of March was to make sure the whole trace was blazed, and we knew of any blockages on the trace that we might have to get teams out to clear, so we're confident at the end of the month we're going to be where we want to be," Barbour said.

The recent Sunday event was the largest single reblazing event the STA has hosted since beginning the project. Sheltowee Trace Outfitters — a company that hosts rafting, canoeing and camping excursions — provided free overnight camping to volunteers and drove shuttles to drop off and pick up hikers along trail.