Smokies Wilderness Elite A.T. Crew (S.W.E.A.T.)
“Elite” is the operative word. This A.T. crew is arguably the most challenging since it addresses trail maintenance issues deep within the most remote backcountry areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The crew backpacks in 6–11 miles over terrain with several thousand feet in elevation change to reach their camping and work sites, carrying everything they need for their six-day hitch in the field —from gear, tools, and safety equipment to shelter and sustenance. Pack weight can be as much as 55–65 lbs. and hand-carrying tools may also be required. Experienced backpackers with recent backcountry experience are welcome to apply for this strenuous crew. Volunteers with interest but lacking extensive backcountry experience are encouraged to apply for the Konnarock Trail Crew.
S.W.E.A.T. 2021 – Update
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the uncertainty around broad vaccine distribution, and ATC’s goals of keeping our staff & volunteers safe, the 2021 season of S.W.E.A.T. has been delayed. We’ll be tackling trail projects with a four-person paid crew starting in the spring through fall, with the hope of opening up some of those project weeks to our amazing volunteers later in the year once case numbers go down and vaccinations are more widely available.
Stay tuned to this page for new trail crew opportunities as they are planned and scheduled.
The S.W.E.A.T. Crew base camp is located near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Volunteers are asked to arrive no later than 3 p.m. the day before their session start date for introduction, orientation, volunteer readiness assessment, dinner, and a safety talk. The bunkrooms have bed linens and pillows, but you’ll need to bring your towel, washcloth, soap or shampoo. Crew members with an interest in joining more than one session of crew are invited to stay at base camp and are asked to consider it a work-for-stay opportunity.
Essential volunteer functions
Volunteers spend six consecutive days and five nights working in remote backcountry locations, far from medical facilities, performing physically demanding manual labor in a variety of intense weather conditions. In addition to trail work activities, volunteers also actively contribute to community chores and always practice Leave No Trace.
Essential Functions Include
- Backpacking and hiking long distances on challenging terrain carrying required personal and group gear, tools, and safety equipment (40%). Hiking pace should be 2 mph in this strenuous mountainous terrain.
- The hike in will be between 6-11 miles over challenging terrain with thousands of feet of elevation change, carrying as much as 55-65 lbs. along with tools.
- Daily hikes to and from worksite can be up to 8 miles, in addition to the performance of trail work.
- Performing trail work (45%)
- Tasks include cutting annual growth, raking or digging out drains, installing erosion control features, or moving heavy logs or rocks.
- Managing backcountry camp (15%), including sharing in duties associated with preparing, cooking, and cleaning up from meals, maintaining sanitation at camp and worksite, cleaning and storing group tools and gear, and other tasks to cooperatively share in work of the entire crew.
- Concurrent to those functions, volunteers who see the greatest success:
Crew week & qualifications/requirements
Six days in the field start with a long, strenuous hike with considerable elevation change. Field camp and work site locations are variable from session to session, so returning volunteers rarely see the same parts of the Park twice. From the spike camp in the field, volunteers will have long day hikes to reach the project areas where they will trim the trail of annual growth, clean drains or water bars, repair sidehill, and rely on resourceful application of found materials to build steps, water bars, or other erosion control features. On the sixth day, the crew hikes out from the field, cleans gear and tools, and has dinner followed by a recognition ceremony.
Volunteers must be physically and mentally ready for the challenges of crew life.
- Volunteers must demonstrate an adequate fitness level upon arrival at base camp by participating in a team-building physical assessment consisting of the following: hiking with a 30 lb. backpack 1.5 miles in 30 minutes or less, a five-minute step test at a rate of 96 beats per minute on a 12’’ step, a minimum of 15 push-ups in 1 minute, two core exercises that consist of one minute of plank and/or boat pose, and balance exhibited by standing on each foot for 20 seconds. NOTE:Volunteers who are unable to complete a portion of this fitness assessment may be asked to reconsider their participation on crew.
- Recent backpacking trip report(s) that document distance, location, elevation change, difficulty, and trip length may be required to demonstrate backcountry experience.
- Ability to perform essential functions of the position listed above.
- Respect and follow instructions from crew leaders.
- Understand and apply the training you receive for associated trail work and safety practices.
- Communicate well with others, resolve conflicts effectively, and promote positive interpersonal relationships.
The ATC Will Provide
We supply all necessary tools and training in their use, basic loaner gear, professional Trail Crew leaders, plenty of high-energy food, off-day housing for multi-week volunteers, transportation to and from the Knoxville, TN airport and/or bus station (if required), and transportation to and from the trailhead.
Are You Crew Fit?
It’s not advisable to participate on a Trail Crew to “get fit.” In order to help volunteers prepare for a rigorous week of trail work, ATC partnered with a Kinesiology student at Lynchburg College to develop a training program to help volunteers arrive fit for the demands of crew life.