Watoga Park Foundation
Do Not Feed
the Trail Workers
It is no secret that volunteer trail workers love trail snacks. Many gravitated toward this avocation because they were force-fed trail bars by their mothers in the 1970s. They became hopelessly “hooked” on such treats in the period between abandoning their Big Wheels and reading The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.
Later in life, when they first felt the heft of a Pulaski in their hands and headed off on a trail to do the “good work,” they were already addicted to sweets. Yet, despite this handicap, these sugar-fueled trail workers created safe and pleasurable hiking experiences for millions of Americans on trails throughout the country.
In those days when a hiker encountered a trail worker, it was a social obligation to offer thanks and gratitude for their selfless work. This was often immediately followed by an offering of a trail snack.
This unwritten rule of trail etiquette is where the problem began; giving snacks to trail workers is like feeding bears. In the sense that they both enter into a state of semi-hibernation in the winter months and when warmer weather returns they are out on the trails, constantly hungry, and always on the lookout for a tasty snack.
But in recent years this respectful relationship between hiker and trail workers has been strained. Reports started coming in to ranger stations and park offices from Alaska to Florida. Trail workers were not content with just expressions of gratitude from hikers – they demanded trail snacks.
Trail workers started demanding food; sometimes performing clownish antics on the trail, expecting a treat in response. A hiker on the Allegheny Trail reported a trail worker hanging by one arm from a tree limb that extended across the trail, mimicking a chimpanzee. The hiker eventually handed over her Cliff Bar and the pseudo-simian swung out of the way, allowing the hiker to continue on her way.
There was a time when hikers could leave their cars at trailheads with the peace of mind of knowing that their car and its contents would be safe until their return. This is not so anymore.
A trail worker in Ohio was arrested last year for breaking into a car to steal a box of Girl Scout cookies left in the backseat – Tagalongs to be precise. Signs are often posted at trailheads now warning folks not to leave food items in plain sight.
Admittedly, trail work is on the lower steps of the hierarchical ladder of volunteerism, a mere rung above the squads of volunteer pooper scoopers that work in many of the metropolitan parks where dog-walking is popular.
But this is no excuse for the increased food-based aggressiveness of trail workers. It is becoming a common sight to see trail workers sitting along the trail holding out their Boonie hat, hoping for a granola bar from a passing hiker.
Another volunteer trail worker at Watoga was witnessed begging a Snickers bar off of a young family of hikers, only to traumatize the children by devouring the candy bar without removing the wrapper.
This is not behavior that we would expect in a park the caliber of Watoga. Perhaps such behavior may be tolerated by our corn and soybean growing neighbors to the north, but not here in West Virginia.
And just to relieve you of any pangs of guilt you may feel about not feeding trail workers, consider the fact that trail workers instinctually pack a lunch before going out on the trails. When they are fed by visitors, this evolutionary trait is diminished, resulting in a trail worker that loses his or her fear of visitors.
So, what are the authorities doing to address this problem?
The West Virginia legislature is considering a new bill intended to reduce these unsavory acts by volunteer trail workers. This legislation, referred to as the “The Three Twinkies and you’re out” bill, contains the following provisions for offenders.
1. Trail workers violating any of the regulations pertaining to begging, coercing or intimidating hikers for the purpose of obtaining trail snacks of any kind will receive a verbal warning on the first offense.
2. Trail workers violating any of the above-mentioned infractions a second time, will receive a written warning and will be forced to work on the Kennison Run Trail or Jesse’s Cove Trail at Watoga State Park, where few hikers would dare venture anyway.
3. Trail workers violating said regulations a third time will be humanely trapped and relocated to an abandoned strip-mine in eastern Kentucky to spend the rest of their days wandering around, searching in vain for anything that resembles a tree.
So, before you reach down into your pack to dig out that overly-ripe, smashed banana to give a trail worker, just remember what old Smokey says “Only you can prevent trail worker relocations.”
Note: It goes without saying that what you have just spent time reading, is nothing but pure, unadulterated, unabashed, unmitigated, 100% prime, grade A Baloney.
But what else do you have to do during these endless days of home-sheltering?
So, feel free to feed trail workers as often and as much as you want. Also, feel free to put a pie on my back porch, and I will make every effort to see that it gets to a deserving trail worker.