The Mountain Stewards tend the mountains

Photo by Rita Van Fleet
The bent tree remains a mystery (Photo by Rita Van Fleet)

According to President Don Wells, the Mountain Stewards was formed in 2003 to build and maintain recreational facilities in Pickens, Dawson, Gilmer and Cherokee counties. The 501 (c)(3), all-volunteer nonprofit organization provides labor for projects for state and local governments and non-profit organizations that provide the materials. Wells estimates that the organization has built more than $1 million dollars in facilities and improvements in the four- county area since its inception.

In 2007 the Mountain Stewards, initiated an Indian Cultural Heritage Program, has evolved into a national program in which volunteers locate, document, and help preserve Indian sacred sites. The Indian Trail Tree Project which began documenting Indian Marker Trees evolved into a national program that has documented and recorded into a database 2,300+ trees in 45 states and more than 5,000 miles of Indian trails. Finally, the organization has expanded into Indian cultural heritage sites, using dowsing and Native science.

Among many projects, Mountain Stewards built and maintained the Eagle’s Rest Recreational Facility on Mount Oglethorpe in Pickens County. Facilities include an outdoor classroom and observation platform, bathroom, and kiosk. The two observation towers that are 16 feet tall provides a 60-mile view. The organization also maintains 2.5 miles of existing hiking trails at Eagle’s Rest, as well as the Burnt Mountain Preserve trails. With the support of the Mountain Conservation Trust, they have added 300 additional acres to the Burnt Mountain Preserve. In 2015, the Trail Crew cleared 12 miles of trails in the Dawson Forest, made repairs to the Wildcat Creek Bridge, and treated another 200 hemlock trees to protect them from the wooly adelgid disease.

The Mountain Stewards has also supported the Angels on Horseback program by building trails for their program which provides therapeutic horseback riding for children and young adults with mental or physical handicaps. They built a 28-foot long by 10-foot wide bridge over a ravine that was a challenge for the horses and a judging stand for their arena area. They also assisted in relocating the program to its new site.

The Mountain Stewards webpage (https://www.mountainstewards.org/) documents their efforts and project. The webpage also discusses mountain stories, trails, scenes, and weather. The story of the trees is told in a book and DVD that are available at https://www.mountainstewards.org/book-pop-up.html.

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