On September 27-29, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and its partners at Everybody's Environment held the Everybody’s Environment Emerging Leaders (E3) Summit in Bryson City, North Carolina. Designed to provide the next generation of conservationists with hands-on experience and skills, the summit focused on everything from trail-building workshops to night sky preservation. 26 emerging leader participants and Everybody’s Environment partners gathered at the YMCA’s Camp Watia, with some being more experienced in the outdoors than others.
"The 2019 E3 Summit was my first time at camp. It only took 27 years," said Brandon Altemose, an E3 participant and partner at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.
One of the overriding themes of the summit was the importance of increasing the overall exposure of the great outdoors to all people interested in the natural world. Throughout the weekend, the group discussed how we can collectively work toward making environmental stewardship accessible for everyone. The keynote speaker for the event was Daniel White — better known as “The Blackalachian” — a 2017 A.T. thru-hiker who has dedicated his career to promoting outdoor recreation and environmental health so that individuals of all backgrounds can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of nature.
"Over the course of the weekend, I experienced such a deep sense of radical kindness, openness, and vulnerability with everyone else that I hated to leave," said Altemose. "There is much work to be done around environmental equity, diversity, and inclusion, but my experience at the E3 Summit gives me hope."
On September 28, National Public Lands Day, summit participants took part in a trail maintenance project directly on the A.T. Which the guidance of ATC staff and volunteers, summit participants helped remove debris, reinforce sections of the footpath and, perhaps most memorably, repaint some of the Trail's white blazes.
"My absolute favorite part of the experience was getting to paint an iconic A.T. trail blaze on a unique rock trail marker," said Steven Reinhold, a summit participant and founder of both the #trashtag cleanup movement and the Appalachian Adventure Company. "I cannot think of a more symbolic display of stewardship than blazing a trail, and that was an honor I will never forget."
"The E3 summit is one of many organized by Appalachian Trail Conservancy to ensure future generations have an opportunity to explore and value our public lands and wild spaces," said Julie Judkins, Director of Education and Outreach for the ATC. "We were very happy with how this summit was received and the enthusiasm we saw for making environmental stewardship accessible for all. As we move forward, our goal is to partner with wide variety of communities to ensure we provide as many people as possible with an opportunity to experience and learn from natural refuges like the Appalachian Trail."
Over the next several weeks, we will be highlighting a variety of ATC projects and showing how they will positively affect the A.T. experience for future generations. Each of these projects (and many more) are only made possible through the dedication of our members and donors! By giving a gift to the Trail today, you are ensuring that the unique A.T. experience — in the Southeast and beyond — are preserved and protected forever and for all.