Imagine if you would, a community that stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Where you can literally walk almost the entirety of the east coast in about 6 months or less. Well, it's no dream thanks to the dedicated volunteers who have created and continue to steward the wonder that is the Appalachian Trail.
It's said that the Trail is the heart of the community and the volunteers are the soul. This past weekend I had the honor of meeting people who embody what being the soul of the A.T. entails. Ages 18-30, from Maine to Georgia, and from different backgrounds, we all came together to work toward the stewardship of something that clearly means more than just a Trail to us. Besides the amazing accommodations (gifted osprey backpacks) and the lovely hike to the Len Foote Hike Inn, the group’s energy was always riveting, from 8 am to sometimes 10pm, our conversations about the A.T. community seemed never to end. It wasn’t a problem though, we concentrated on valuable discussions about our governance and projects to overcome barriers for connecting to a more inclusive audience for the Trail. The fact that we enjoyed each others company helped a lot as well.
Meeting people whose passions shine made the weekend great. One Next Gen member even hiked 8 miles to the top Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the A.T., before breakfast. She stated that her "heart was singing". Not only were we all different in our own ways but we all viewed and used the Trail differently. Some of us are thru-hikers, some of us are trail workers, some of us are lawyers, some of us work in public relations, but in the end we all care about the Trail in one way or another. Sitting in a room drawing the map of your life, pretending to be a whimsical tree, or spending the weekend planning a future for a community that is over 2,000 miles long from Georgia to Maine may not be for everyone. But when it comes to the Appalachian Trail it's important to remember that it's there for everyone, at no cost to the public, thanks to thousands of volunteers like the ones that I met this weekend. No matter who you are, as long as you care, then the Appalachian Trail can use someone like you. Contact your ATC regional office or the nearest club to you (there are 31 Volunteer Trail Maintaining Clubs). You might even decide that you want to be a whimsical tree and you'll apply for Next Gen, either way, it's never too soon to join the family.
To meet the Next Generation Advisory Council, visit: http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/about-us/board-and-leadership