Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tribute to the Trail Volunteer

  Group shot of our crew in Sand Spring, VA.

When I sign the trail register, I often like to express my gratitude for the hard work that thousands of volunteers put in on the trail every season. From impressive stone staircases to handcrafted log structures these trail workers have demonstrated some beautiful construction work. There are so many other jobs covered by the A.T. Volunteer: there are blazes to be painted, signs to replace, trail registers to collect, overloaded privies to tend, shelters to repair, fallen trees to cut... the list goes on.

From spring 2008 through summer 2011 I worked as a crew leader for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Konnarock and Mid-Atlantic volunteer trail crews. Even before this I was an active member of the Outdoor Club of Virginia Tech going on day-long work trips. It was during these times that I came to appreciate the physical structures that help make this footpath passable and environmentally sustainable. It is easy to walk a short section of trail without realizing the immense task required to construct it. I will never look at a hiking trail the same again, and I plan on volunteering more of my time in the future.

Often a trail builder's goal is to create a final product that blends into its environment. (S)he makes use of raw materials immediately available. Timber or stone is harvested on site and set into the earth, ready to endure the foot tramping of many nature seekers to come. Simple hand tools are used to dig, chop, drag, crush, lever, and cut building materials. Water drainage and soil erosion are important factors if we want these trails to last through generations of use.

When a section of trail is beyond repair, a relocation is in order. The ATC or local trail club must contract a professional to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement along the proposed corridor. Local trail clubs along with the ATC then get to work recruiting volunteers. There are always multiple trail relocation projects ongoing along the corridor. Other reasons for relocations may include: to avoid beaver floodings and landslides, to eliminate dangerous roadwalks, to preserve the primitive or natural setting. Many projects take several years and thousands of volunteer hours to complete.

There are a total of 31 local trail clubs whose tireless efforts keep this trail alive. Many of these clubs are comprised of mostly retired folks with lots of free time. There are however two student based clubs, though turnover rate is quick. I say we need more young volunteers! There is great potential for bridge-building here!

The volunteer community is truly amazing. This long, thin line from ME to GA is the ultimate accomplishment! A concrete symbol of our great United States of America. These committed individuals have donated large chunks of their lives to the A.T.'s maintainance. So the next time you're out on the trail and you see someone coming with a mattock in on hand and rockbar in the other, please stop to show your thanks!
 I had the pleasure of bossing my Dad around while he and Rogebo joined the trail crew for a week.
 The unveiling of a brand new stone staircase, a two week project near Delaware Water Gap, PA.

Sean the stone splitter

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