Union Volunteers Restore Views at Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon

April 11, 2014

By Kate Cywinski – Union Sportsmens’ Alliance
A picturesque 550 ft. canyon made up of chasms, plateaus and pinnacles painted in hues of pink, orange, red and purple is something you might expect to see out West—not in southwest Georgia.  Yet that’s what visitors find at Providence Canyon State Park—fondly known to locals as Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon.  Though formed by erosion resulting from poor farming practices in the 1800s, the canyon is an icon in a region blessed with parks and public access in every direction.
A hiking trail with scenic views is the key draw to Providence Canyon State Park, but until recently, it was dotted with downed trees and limbs and severely overgrown with vegetation, which extended up to 15 feet beyond the fence that runs along the canyon rim.  As Park Manager Tracy Yearta was deciding how to address the trail, he got a call from Dave Hall, Recording Secretary for the Columbus Metal Trades Council (CMTC).
“It was a very pleasant surprise to get that call,” said Yearta, who has managed both Providence Canyon State Park and Florence Marina since the parks were restructured a few years back.  “It got me rejuvenated because we were trying to form a game plan to tackle a section of park we felt needed the most attention because we didn’t have the manpower to do the whole thing.”
Located in Fort Benning, GA, the CMTC is an umbrella group of six unions including IBEW Local 613, IUOE Local 926, LiUNA Local 515, UA Local 52, IAMAW Local 2699 and SMART Local 85.  Its leadership became aware of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance when union representatives from Atlanta mentioned USA’s Atlanta Conservation Dinner and gun-a-week calendar at monthly meetings.  They then learned about USA’s Adopt-A-Park program at a union convention, and that really sparked their interest.
After a few discussions with USA’s conservation project coordinator, Dave Hall, who was nominated to organize a park project, contacted Yearta and laid plans for volunteers to clean up the 7-mile trail beginning at the park entrance.
On February 8, Hall, CMTC President Mike Culpepper and members of each CMTC union along with Pablo Diaz, the human resources manager of CMTC’s main contractor Tiya Management, and his son met up with park staff equipped with chainsaws and determination; they needed both.
After clearing a large section of fence to restore views of the canyon, the 12 volunteers split into two groups and worked from opposite ends of the trail to remove fallen trees, cut dead limbs overhead and refresh trail markers.
“Seven miles is a lengthy area to clear, and when we ran into the other team at the end of the day, you could see the light in everyone’s eyes,” said Hall.  “It was one of the most fulfilling events I have ever been a part of! Everyone…had a sense of pride knowing the work we were doing would have a lasting impression on the park staff and our community.”
Following the success of the project, the CMTC has already had follow up discussions with Yearta about more joint projects like improvements to dock and cabin facilities at Florence Marina.
“I just can’t say enough how much I appreciate those guys taking their personal time to come out and help. … It’s really important to the visitors and park staff,” Yearta said.  “We basically have one team taking care of two parks, so groups like the Columbus Metal Trades Council are a tremendous asset to the park system.”