PILOT MOUNTAIN — The Friends of Sauratown Mountains is an environmental group committed to preserving the Sauratown Mountain range, including Pilot Mountain State Park, Hanging Rock State Park, the Sauratown Trail, and surrounding waterways.
Established in 2010, the nonprofit organization has grown to more than 200 members. “We worked to create as broad a base as possible,” said President Jay Young, explaining how they reached out to existing groups such as Piedmont Land Conservancy, Sierra Club, park advisory committees, as well as hiking and river groups. All with an interest in the environment, the members have a wide range of knowledge and backgrounds.
The group is run entirely by volunteers. As a chapter of the Friends of NC State Parks, the group is invited to the state’s annual conference, has communications with upper park management in Raleigh, and has the option to work on statewide projects, according to Young.
The organization’s work is broad. The Friends provide volunteer hours, financial support and advocacy for the parks and natural areas.
During work days, scheduled twice each month, volunteers perform a range of tasks including trail maintenance, litter removal and fence repairs. “We do necessary work that the park rangers don’t have time to accomplish,” explained Young.
Horne Creek Trail, Mountain Trail and the new Tracks Trail are among the trail restoration projects completed at Pilot Mountain. The group also has done preliminary work for the upcoming loop trail, which will circle the base of the mountain with only a five-percent grade. Connecting with the Grindstone Trail and bringing the park trails closer to the town, the six-mile loop is expected to be complete this fall.
According to Young, 1,070 hours were logged by trail volunteers alone last year. With trail work valued at around $1 per foot, the Friends have saved the parks tens of thousands of dollars. “Volunteer work on the Mountain Trail was valued at $24,000, which helps us get grants by matching funds,” explained Pilot Mountain Park Superintendent Matt Windsor.
Aside from work days, volunteers can help in the visitor center at Hanging Rock or run information booths at community events. “There is room for anybody in the Friends group, no matter their talents,” said Windsor.
Fundraising events are another critical component of the Friends. In its third year, Reach the Peaks is a fundraising collaboration with the Stokes County Arts Council. Scheduled for Sept. 26, the 11-mile hike benefits both organizations while also bringing tourism dollars to the area. “Tourism is the future for this region,” Young said.
Having established Reach the Peaks and a second fundraiser at Hanging Rock, the Waterfall Photography Challenge, the group intends to create an event for Pilot Mountain next. “We hope to create something similar, yet unique to Pilot Mountain,” said Young. Though the planning has begun, details have yet to be released.
In addition to the Stokes County Arts Council, the Friends have formed relationships with other area businesses. The Dan River Company, Singletree Gun And Plough, and Priddy’s General Store were a natural fit in partnering with events at Hanging Rock. As the group increases its efforts at Pilot Mountain, members hope to find new businesses willing to partner.
The funds raised so far have gone toward establishing a wildflower meadow, purchasing benches and installing informative display signs in the parks.
Advocacy is another important way that some members choose to serve. “Volunteers can often speak on behalf of the parks when employees can not,” said Windsor. Contacting state and local representatives about issues facing the parks is often the first step in finding solutions.
Membership benefits include quarterly meetings, members-only events and educational programming, such as training for using a chain saw, forest conservation and plant identification. Camaraderie with like-minded individuals, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from serving a cause are other valuable benefits.
“I have met some of my closest friends through my involvement with the Friends,” said Young.
For more information about getting involved with the Friends of Sauratown Mountains, visit www.sauratownfriends.org or call 336-706-2017.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.