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Unicoi County 4-H team honored for inspiring hikers to hit trails
Posted on April 6th, 2015

Unicoi County 4-H team honored for inspiring hikers to hit trails
April 5th, 2015 9:44 pm by BRAD HICKS[Unicoi County 4-H team honored for inspiring hikers to hit trails]
Last month, the Unicoi County 4-H GPS team received first place in the Tennessee 4-H GIS Contest for its recently-developed "Top Ten Trails of Unicoi County" map. (Photo Contributed)

In the Johnson City Press


ERWIN — The Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team has spent a number of hours traversing the trails of Unicoi County, assessing the vistas, features and accessibility of each to determine which trails would offer hikers the best experiences.
And recently, the team was recognized for its efforts.
Last month, the team received first place in the Tennessee 4-H GIS Contest for its recently-developed "Top Ten Trails of Unicoi County" map . The team also won a fifth place award for its map of the Buffalo Creek Park Arboretum, a trail surrounding the town of Unicoi's Bogart-Bowman Cabin.
The team is made up of eight members, with these members raging from seventh-graders to high school seniors. The members of the team are: Allen Hicks, Amanda Huggins, Ben Hensley, Dara Carney-Nedelman, Dylan Roberts, Liz Moughon, Max Clouse and Wyatt Luther.
County UT Extension Agent Ty Petty said the team's aim all along has been to encourage locals to "take a hike."
"Our ultimate goal is to promote outdoor recreation in Unicoi County and encourage local residents to enjoy the outdoors and engage in an active lifestyle," Petty said.
The 4-H GPS Team began its initial mapping efforts after the county was named an Appalachian Trail Community by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy several years ago.
"We started the 4-H GPS Team at that point with the idea we wanted to do something to get information out to both our local citizens and tourists to promote the Appalachian Trail," Petty said.
"At that point, the only way to really find out about it was to ask somebody that knew or go to the bookstore and buy a book. Our goal was to get some free, user-friendly information out to people that they could just pick up and go out and hike local trails."
This led to the team's first big project — the creation of the "Hike the Appalachian Trail" brochure. For the brochure, the team mapped out all five sections of the Appalachian Trail running through Unicoi County. These sections range in length from 8 to 14 miles.
Petty said approximately 2,000 of these brochures have since been distributed, and the local UT Extension often receives requests from out-of-staters asking to have one mailed to them.
After the development of the Appalachian Trail brochure, the Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team broadened its horizons, as its members went out and hiked more trails in Unicoi County. This led to the development of the team's "Top Ten Trails of Unicoi County" map.
"So our goal over the last couple of years was to get to the point where we could do a top 10 trails of Unicoi County, and we accomplished that this past February," Petty said.
According to the Unicoi County 4-H GPS Team, the top 10 trails in the county are: the popular Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail in Unicioi, the half-mile trail near Red Fork Falls, the two-mile trail near Rock Creek Falls, the trail in the Lower Higgins Falls area around the manmade Birchfield Camp Lake, the one-mile trail near Sill Branch Falls, the Erwin Linear Trail and the Unicoi County Heritage Museum Trail.
Two portions of the Appalachian Trail also cracked the top 10 — the section from Sams Gap to Spivey Gap which cross Big Bald Mountain and the section from Indian Grave Gap to Iron Mountain Gap crossing Beauty Spot.
Along with providing the location and length of each trail, the map also scores each trail in difficulty on a scale from 1-5 and details features each has to offer, such as waterfalls and scenic views.
"I think that you could easily say that over the last few years the middle school and high school students have put in over 300 hours of volunteer time to complete the map, including hiking all those trails," Petty said. "The majority of that time was spent huddled around computers here at the office after school on Friday afternoons."
The team entered its top 10 trails map in the state 4-H GIS Contest in February. Entries were scored on the maps submitted, a video shot by the team and the team's response to several essay questions. The team received word in March that its map netted its members top honors.
Petty said the next step is for the team to convert its top 10 map into a brochure for distribution. This brochure would likely include directions to trailheads, a brief description of each trail, difficulty scores and highlights each has to offer.
The team's recent recognition is not its first brush with success. Two years ago, the team won first place in the state for a map it developed of the Nolichucky River. This map, which labeled the river's major rapids and provided an elevation profile of the Nolichucky, also won "Best Student Map" at the Esri International GIS User Conference.
"Our students have been extremely committed to these projects to promote outdoor recreation in Unicoi County," Petty said. "We're extremely proud of the work they've been able to accomplish, but even more important than the awards they've earned is the experience with technology and team-building and goal-setting and other life skills they've learned along the way."

Read more: Unicoi County 4-H team honored for inspiring hikers to hit trails | Johnson City Press http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/article/125651/unicoi-county-4-h-team-honored-for-inspiring-hikers-to-hit-trails#ixzz3WYr8R0IQ 
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