National Geographic : 2008 Oct
"THE LAYOUT OF THE TRAIL IS GOOD BECAUSE HIKERS DID IT," TIM ERNST is a handcrafted trail. It was built by people who weren't experts when we started, but got expert in a hurry. We built the trail that we wanted, the way we wanted it. In those early days we simply went out on weekends and bushwhacked. We walked drainages, walked ridgetops. We looked around and asked our selves, What's down there?" At milepost 54, the Forest Service had pro posed that the trail run along an old road to save construction costs and effort. Ernst and his team scouted around a bit and discovered a wonderfully picturesque holler now known as the Marinoni Scenic Area. "I told the Forest Service, 'We have got to bring the trail through here,'" Ernst says. "They said it would be a lot more difficult to build. I said, 'I don't care how hard it is to build. That's what we're here for, is to see places like that. It's not an interstate.'" Hikers can easily judge for themselves if the effort was worthwhile. From the Lick Branch trailhead it's only a couple of hours' easy walk ing west to Marinoni. (There'll be a delay where the trail winds through an amazing maze of sandstone blocks, each the size of a small RV.) After crossing the old road that was to be the trail, the path descends into a sheltered cove under big beeches, their smooth, gray bark mercifully untouched by lovesick teens and other pocketknife-carrying woods vandals. Elevation Profile of the Ozark Highlands Trail Lake Ft. Smith Hare Mountain Haw Creek Falls Woolum 1,017 ft 2,380 ft 800 ft 666 ft 310 m 725 m 244 m 203 m 2,000 ft 1,500 1,000 Over the Ridges and Through the Woods Volunteers built the last section of this 165-mile footpath in 1984. Winding across mainly federal lands, the trail leads hikers up steep ridges and down into cool, shadowed hollows. "We designed the route so people could really feelthe terrain," says Tim Ernst, founder of the group that sustains it. In the decades since its creation, volunteers from 20 states have worked more than 350,000 hours extending and maintaining the trail.