After 35 years working in public safety, T.L. Staub is enjoying a much more relaxed pace.
That’s not to say his new job is easy. He has to deal with heat, bugs and all kinds of other critters. But he gets to spend entire days by himself enjoying the calm of the woods. It’s a huge transition from the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office, where he spent most of his career.
Since March, Staub has been working part-time in the Parks and Recreation Department. He helps with several different programs. This summer, he’s leading a series of kayak tours all across the county. But his main focus is to maintain existing trails and cut new ones – mostly at Rocky Point Community Forest, though he has worked on trails in other areas as well, including at Stables and Eight Oaks parks. He does a lot of the work by hand, armed with a machete, a walking stick (good for clearing the multitude of spider webs), a hammer for posting trail markers on trees, and lot of water to help him handle the scorching heat of summer.
“When I retired, I needed something to do, and this is something I was really interested in,” Staub said. “I was always talking to Parks and Rec. and Beth (Goodale) about developing some more outdoor activities for the county. There’s so much potential. They just didn’t have anybody to do it.”
Goodale, the department director, made Staub an offer and he took on the challenge. He said he was partly inspired by his son, Matt, who worked part-time for Georgetown County Parks and Recreation a few summers ago while home from college. The younger Staub started the project of marking some of the existing trails at Rocky Point. This was shortly after the property had become public again and the department was trying to build interest in hiking there.
“I would come out here with him on a day off or something,” Staub recalled. He’s always had a passion for the outdoors and is excited to build on that initial work.
When he came out with Matt in those days, there were two land trails: the Red and the Green. The White trail was later added, and a Blue Trail on the river. Staub is also working on a Black trail and an Orange trail, and he’s having fun naming all of them. The Green is now the Coachman Trail, named for the Coachman family cemetery it runs past. The red is the Choppee Creek Trail, the white is the White-tailed Deer Trail and the Black will be the Black Bear trail. He hasn’t settled on a name for the Orange trail yet. At Eight Oaks, he has dubbed two of the trails: the Red Coyote Trail and Railroad Spur Trail.
Some of the trails at Rocky Point were previously old timber roads that had grown over. Others were animal paths. And some he makes up, searching out the areas of least resistance.
“You just kind of go through and see where there’s the least amount of trees; where you can create the least amount of disturbance,” he said. “You don’t want to disturb a lot, so you weave and avoid the big trees in certain areas.”
He said carving the trails is the most challenging part of his work. Depending on the length of the trail, it can take him 70-80 hours to create a single track. But making sure the trails stay passable after they are created and mapped is a never-ending task, especially in the summer.
“There’s a lot of potential out here, a lot of room for trails. But you have to have a balance. You build the trails, but then you’ve got to maintain them because they grow up again fast. It’s a process,” he said.
He does a lot of the work by hand, cutting limbs and branches, and raking and weed-eating the paths. But sometimes he uses a trail cutter, which makes the work considerably faster and easier. He describes it as “basically a Bush Hog” that is towed behind a small off-road vehicle.
“After being in law enforcement, running 911 and everything, it’s very peaceful here,” he said. “There’s not a lot of stress. Plus, it keeps you active.”
While Staub’s work is labor-intensive, he also spends a lot of time mapping, so eventually there can be a trail guide available for hikers. He’s working on routes that will allow hikers to combine trails for longer hikes and a different experience from one visit to the next.
He believes the trails will be easier to maintain as more people start using them. He said he’s definitely seeing an uptick in the number of people who are taking advantage of all Rocky Point has to offer. The days where he doesn’t run into another person while working in the woods are becoming fewer all the time.
There’s a lot coming up at Rocky Point, including an outdoor festival in September, and he hopes it will encourage even more people to get out and explore the community forest.
“A lot of people still don’t know about this place,” Staub said. Georgetown County has a lot of outdoor adventure opportunities. It’s not the mountains or the cliffs or the vistas, but there’s a lot of unique Lowcountry-style adventures that you can do between the rivers and the ocean, and gravel riding, which is becoming big. There’s just a lot to do and I want to make it more accessible.”
To learn more about upcoming outdoor adventure opportunities offered by Georgetown County Parks and Recreation, visit gtcparks.org.