Trail Volunteers at Carvins Cove take on a massive project

Group has moved boulders up to two tons

ROANOKE, Va. – Inch by inch, two volunteers winch a boulder weighing some 700 pounds up the side of a hill.

Nearby, other volunteers are breaking rocks and pounding the pieces into crevices between other rocks, while still others bring them even more rocks in a huge sort of mechanized wheel barrow.

For trail workers at Carvins Cove, this is known as Sunday morning. 

"It's a labor of love. It's something I like to do and I want to be able to be a part of it," said A. Lucktong, who with his teenage son is the one breaking rocks.

Donny and Katie Smith are a 30-something couple with three young kids, Tru, "D" and Maddie.  The entire family is helping on this Sunday morning.  All but Katie, (who ran) rode their bikes to the work site on the trail.

"It's a combination of outdoors and exercise and just getting them out of the house and putting them to work on something that they can experience for a lot of years," explained Donny.

"We started cycling about 10 years ago and then our kids got into it and I think it's good to bring the next generation out here and enjoy the outdoors it's really just in our backyard," added Katie.

This trail project is bigger than any other in the region.  The crews, under the direction of fellow volunteer Brian Batteiger, have been building a stone bridge over a small gully using rocks weighing up to two tons, heavy enough that they've had to roll them on logs in order to move them into place.

There's a rule of thumb that says volunteers can build about a mile of trail per year but to give you an idea of the technical nature of this project, it's taken seven months to go about 100 feet.

For Batteiger, It's a quality vs. quantity equation.

"Yeah it is tough call between getting a lot of trail built and going with quality. But if you get the trail built in a way that's very sustainable, you don't have to come back and do maintenance on it.  You can keep building more trail," he said.

People are excited to be a part of something that's unique;  a trail segment that may last centuries.

"I've been working on this trail since summer of two years ago. So I have about 500 hours working on this trail over the last two or three years," said volunteer Dick Howard.

"People are going to be out here riding mountain bikes 150 years from now enjoying the fruits of my labor. I enjoy the idea of that," he said.

Howard is perhaps the chief volunteer -- behind Batteiger. 

"I've been building trails since about 1980 and I thought I knew how to build trails until I started working with Brian. Then I realized I had to forget about 95-percent of the stuff that I thought I knew and learn how to build trails the right way."

The right way in this case is Batteiger's vision - that not-so-simple stone bridge.

To build it, workers needed to split boulders to make them more manageable -- drilling holes, pounding wedges by hand, then cajoling them into place until the fit is nearly seamless.

The entire trail will be different from most.  It will be a 7-mile-long "flow" trail.  Flow trails feature embankments and berms that riders love.  According to the crew, it will be the longest such trail in the nation.

"I started doing trail work out here before it was even legal, before riding was even a thing," said Batteiger, who began building at the Cove about 20 years ago. But this is his most ambitious project by far.

"We spent six or seven months on the section. and we moved some of the biggest rocks we've ever moved before. Actually elevated to make a bridge, which is something new that we've done. I'm not sure I'm going to attempt something like that again anytime soon."

All those rocks and other touches create trails that need less maintenance.  Though the Cove is becoming a national-caliber cycling destination, the city has no budget to pay professional trail builders. So it's important to do it right the first time.

"This is really the building blocks of the trail community coming out and doing trail work is how it all happens,"said Renee Powers trails and greenways supervisor for the City of Roanoke.

So the volunteers' compensation is a love for what they do.

Volunteers like like Ron Butler and Mike Starkey, who finally got that boulder into place. 

And that guy breaking rocks -  A. Lucktong? He's a heart surgeon.

For them and countless other volunteers on different days,  there is something about a trail - about creating a woods passage that is somehow more than that.

"I really enjoy doing it. I feel like I'm creating something that's going to last for a long time and be fun for a lot of people. I like the outdoors. I like being out here working during the day. And it's fun. Fun to create. Create a trail that's going to last," said Batteiger.

Those interested in volunteering to help can go to or email


About the Author:

John Carlin co-anchors the 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WSLS 10.