On my last day at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial meeting, I led a hike from Massie Gap to Elk Garden. It’s a wilderness area so we couldn’t have more than 10 people. We went southbound with 7 hardy, enthusiastic hikers. By the end of the week, only hikers are left.
I had scouted the hike a few weeks ago but I checked out the trailhead again on Tuesday. Because it was a key swap, we split the southbound and northbound groups about evenly. We drove out to the trailhead with a car from the other group. The idea was that we’ll meet them on the trail and get our keys back and our car would be ready for us.
We passed some rock art but the group really wanted to see the ponies. And I now knew how the ponies got there. They’re not really wild. After the area was logged, the balds were filling in. The US Forest Service wanted to keep the balds open for recreation. After all, we are in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. But they didn’t want to burn it – it didn’t look good.
So first they brought in sheep but there wasn’t enough good grass for them. Then they tried cattle but the cattle ate poisonous plants and died. The third try was a charm – ponies. Now the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association takes care of the ponies. They check on them and supply some hay but the ponies are pretty much self-sufficient. Every fall, they have a pony roundup. Some of the ponies are auctioned off.
We climbed Mt. Rogers and the skies opened up. We had lunch at the wooded summit as rain poured into our packs and everything else. And who was Rogers? William Bartram Rogers (1804-1882) was considered the father of modern geology. He also helped to found MIT and became its first president.
The sun shone by the time we got to Elk Gardens to our cars.