Volunteer vacation (vol’en-tir va-ka-shon) n. 1. A period in which one spends a holiday from his or her normal occupation doing volunteer work on trails, maintenance on park cabins and similar projects in various parts of the country. Advocated by such groups as the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and American Hiking Society.


Volunteer vacation (vol’en-tir va-ka-shon) n. 1. A period in which one spends a holiday from his or her normal occupation doing volunteer work on trails, maintenance on park cabins and similar projects in various parts of the country. Advocated by such groups as the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and American Hiking Society.
Gerhard Laule of Shawnee, 59-year-old chemistry professor at Seminole State College and Oklahoma Baptist University, read about the concept some three years ago.
Delving deeper, he found the American Hiking Society had a group building a trail that eventually would follow the Buffalo National River 26 miles through the north-central Arkansas Ozarks.
Work on a six-mile segment was about to start.
“The Buffalo National River is one of my favorite places in the world,” said Laule, who was born in Germany and came to the United States with his parents at age 2. Northern Arkansas is one of his former homes.
Laule volunteered to devote a vacation week to the project.
On June 7, two-and-a-half years after Laule started spending fall and spring breaks and some weekends working on the new trail, he and his wife, Danielle Laule, became the first persons to hike the just-completed six-mile segment.
They did it in three hours. “We loved it,” Laule said. “It’s just a beautiful trail.”
He has hiked several trails on the Buffalo National River and found “this is probably one of the best trails on the river.”
Laule was honored for helping build it and the couple was recognized for being the first to hike it at a dedication ceremony the next day near Dillard’s Ferry, Ark.
Laule was one of five Oklahomans, and 137 volunteers from 27 states, who spent weekends and time off from employment the past several cool seasons cutting the six-mile Buffalo River Trail/Ozark Highland Trail extension through woods and undergrowth.
The section they built meanders southwestward from Buffalo Point, Ark., a short distance south of Yellville in north-central Arkansas.
“It pretty much follows the river,” Laule said. “There is some climbing but not very much. It goes to several bluffs along the river” that overlook the wide, blue stream.
The Buffalo was officially designated as a national river several years ago.
When they started, the volunteer vacationers found a route marked with blue plastic flags, laid out by Ken Smith, retired engineer from Fayetteville.
“He is the Buffalo National Trail guru,” Laule said. “He has built a lot of trails on the Buffalo River.”
Once the initial trail was laid out, the botany was studied to see if there was any endangered species along the trail, Laule said. None was found.
 “After the botanists went through, then an archeologist went through to see if there were any prehistoric sites. There were not any.”
Then the vacation volunteers were cleared to start building the trail.
“All that was there were the blue flags,” Laule said. His job, that first fall, was to find the flags, “which were really hard to find because they had been there a couple of years.”
Next step was to cut trees to chest height so they could see where the trail was to be.
“You go in and remove any stobs that are in there and dig out the stumps. The trail is built with a tread that is 2 feet wide and has a level tread. It has to have a 45-degree angle on the uphill side so the water will drain off,” Laule said. “All the work is done by hand.”
They cleared a path 2 feet wide. The volunteer vacationers did not install any hard surfacing on the trail; they simply created a level tread. So many rocks were along the route that it was not necessary to bring in any.
There are no improvements along the six miles. “It’s just a trail. The best part is several really beautiful overlooks of the Buffalo River,” he said.
 “There was quite a bit of undergrowth to cut through. Of the 26-mile trail, this was probably the most difficult part,” Laule said. “It took two-and-a-half years to build this trail and Ken estimated it would be another 10 years before the whole thing is finished.”
Ken Smith “is just a volunteer like the rest of us,” Laule said. Ninety-nine percent of the trail was built by volunteers and most of the work had to be done in fall and winter because “it’s so hot in summer. Hot and buggy and snakey.”
Laule didn’t see any snakes, however, during his work on the trail. The volunteers camped in tents at a campground at Buffalo Point while working.
None of the rest of the projected 26 miles has been developed, although work has started on the next section.
“I’ll continue helping them anytime I can get off,” Laule said. He has been out a few weekends, but his main trail work is during college fall and spring breaks. He plans to resume work during fall break in October.
Laule formerly hiked, backpacked and was an avid runner for years. But after moving to Oklahoma 20 years or so ago, he started bicycling and is now a bicycle racer.
When he started riding his bike, he met the Pottawatomie County Pedalers Club members and they became good friends.
Laule started biking from Shawnee to work at Seminole State College, about a 35-mile round trip. “So about 2001 I got into racing,” Laule said.
Subsequently, he won two gold medals on the 5K and 10K time trials at the National Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La. He has also raced in the Oklahoma Time Trial championship and has won it in his age group three or four years — every time he has competed in it.
Laule also won the Terry Powell Toughest Rider Award in the 26-mile Tribbey Time Trial shortly after the late City Manager Powell died of cancer in April 2004.
“I did it for Terry,” Laule said.
Danielle Laule bikes also, and they sometimes ride together on a tandem bicycle.
The couple took bikes to Germany six years ago and made a five-day ride through the Frankfurt area to Munich, staying in guest houses along the way. They’ve also been on several bike trips arranged by the Pottawatomie County Pedalers.
Laule has been a chemistry professor at Seminole State College since 1988 and added the adjunct chemistry professor position at OBU six years ago.
“I don’t ride to work much any more,” Laule said. “My time schedules don’t help make that possible.”