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Bridge to Somewhere

Volunteer vacationers from across the country, along with U.S. Forest Service, complete bridge project on McCreary’s Buffalo Canyon Trail

For most people, the word “vacation” conjures up blissful images of rest, relaxation, and fun.

However, for a group of folks who recently travelled from as far away as Texas, Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago, Illinois to visit the Daniel Boone National Forest in McCreary County, the word “vacation” brought about the hard-core reality of undertaking the hard physical labor needed to build a bridge across Spruce Creek on McCreary County’s Buffalo Canyon Trail Number 508 as part of a “volunteer vacation” sponsored by the American Hiking Society.  For this outdoor-loving group of vacationers, the physical labor required to build the bridge plus the sense of accomplishment derived from completing the project made McCreary County a dream vacation come true.

With assistance from U.S. Forest Service personnel Rick Wilson and Drew Hopkins, the ten member team spent approximately a week in McCreary County constructing the trail bridge.

Indiana’s Mike Halien, a retired engineer of forty-two years, put his professional skills to work assisting with bridge construction and explaining in detail all of the technicalities involved in piecing together a sturdy nail laminated bridge capable of supporting hikers, heavy loads, and playful children jumping up and down.

“Since I’m an engineer, I usually go where they are building bridges,” Halien commented with a grin.

North Carolina’s Todd Smith has been going on volunteer vacations and working on various outdoor trail projects for ten years.  Employed at a call center, Smith has found the American Hiking Society volunteer vacations to be a great way to see the country and get outdoors with nature.

After traveling cross-country on his motorcycle to California from his home in Brooklyn, New York, Kacper Jarecki roared into McCreary County and the bridge project on his way back home.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” the New Yorker exclaimed about his outdoor building project.  “It’s been a lot of fun, and completing the bridge gives one a true sense of accomplishment.”

Group leader Chad Etheridge from Texas is a retired air traffic controller who has enjoyed hiking all of his life.

“When I retired, I wanted to give back to the trails, and this is a good way to do that,” he commented.  “As an air traffic controller, I spent all my time working in a dark room.  Now, I’m outside in the light!”

Etheridge, who has led groups on projects in three different states this year, anticipates a fourth project in Arkansas before the year is completed.

“I’ve loved Kentucky,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

Etheridge encourages people to start hiking and to get involved with the American Hiking Society as early in life as possible.

“Don’t wait until you are older to hike,” he advised.  “If you can, start while you are young when it is easier on your body.  Get involved with volunteer vacations if you can.  It’s a great way to give back and there is such a sense of accomplishment in doing this.  In just a matter of days, trails and bridges can be built or maintained.  You can see what you have accomplished almost immediately.  It’s a great feeling.”

(Information about getting involved with the American Hiking Society’s volunteer vacations can be found at the organization’s website,

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