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A Lasting Legacy

Six Miles Can Change A Life

“To those who would see the Maine wilderness, tramp day by day through a succession of ever delightful forest, past lake and stream, and over mountains, we would say: Follow the Appalachian Trail across Maine. It cannot be followed on horse or awheel. Remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation, it beckons not merely north and south but upward to the body, mind and soul of man.” — Myron Avery, In the Maine Woods, 1934

In 1954, when Maine-native David Field walked into the woods with his older brother and some friends at the age of 14 for a six-mile hike in the Bigelow Range, he could not have known the influence the trip would have on his life.

Nor could he have known the influence he would have on the Appalachian Trail.

Due to the poor condition of the Trail from the damaging effects of Hurricane Carol a year earlier, the young men took two days to complete what they thought would be an “easy” hike. With the intent of fixing the trail for others to enjoy, they returned with saws and other tools to clear the Trail of multiple blowdowns. For the next three years, they would maintain that section of trail, without any knowledge of the Appalachian Trail.

Soon, a representative of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) – established by A.T. architect Myron Avery in June 1935 to help protect and maintain the Trail in Maine – contacted Field and his friends to ask if they wanted to continue to volunteer their efforts on the Appalachian Trail.

Field’s MATC membership card dates to 1956, when his volunteer work became “official.” The group of young men were assigned a 7.5-mile stretch of the A.T. on Saddleback Mountain, which Field maintained until 2016. (He notes this section is now divided into three sections and maintained by three new volunteers.)

Since 1967, Field has held various MATC officer positions, including club president and lands overseer. In addition, Field served 26 years on the board of managers of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now Conservancy), including as chair for six years.

In 2013, Field was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame for his work relocating 172 miles of the state’s 281 Trail miles. As a forester and former dean of the Forestry School at the University of Maine, Field felt the Trail needed to get off old logging roads and up onto the 10 high peaks it crosses today.

“Get people out there, see how much fun it can be to build a lean-to, build a trail, meet hikers.”

Preserving History

According to Field, fellow Mainer Myron Avery was a phenomenal correspondent, skilled at documenting his work, expeditions, and everyday life. After Avery’s death in 1952, his will stipulated that all of his correspondence and documents be donated to the Maine State Library.

Field has spent countless hours digitizing, transcribing, and archiving Avery’s correspondence and photographs dating from 1927 through 1952, as well as more than 25,000 historical documents of the MATC, for the MSL’s collection.

The primary challenge has been with the many files Avery wrote by hand. “His handwriting was awful,” Field says, adding he feels as though he’s learned another language through transcribing Avery’s work. “It’s a lot of tedious work but incredibly fascinating,” he adds.

The work of digitizing and archiving these documents and photographs culminated in Field’s 2011 book titled “Along Maine’s Appalachian Trail,” in which he describes the Trail’s rich history in the state.

Protecting the Future

Currently, Field coordinates the work of all the corridor monitors for MATC, which oversees 307 miles of A.T. boundary. “That’s more than Yellowstone National Park,” Field notes. He is responsible for the training of monitors for 70 corridor assignments, who look for encroachments and work with other partners to maintain the Trail.

Field also has set a personal goal of photo-documenting all of the A.T. boundary monuments in Maine. Many are buried and difficult to find, while others are easily found using witness trees to triangulate their locations. Still others were never set, and some have disappeared, Field notes. He and other volunteers so far have photographed 85% of the boundary markers, with the goal of finding the others soon.

“These boundary monuments are important to the integrity of the lands and the Trail in Maine,” Field says.

Call To Action

When asked for his suggestions for recruiting new (and younger) volunteers to help monitor and maintain the Trail – a challenge many Trail maintaining clubs and the ATC face – Field expresses concern that many hikers do not understand how the A.T. Cooperative Management System works, and that too many people believe the Trail is maintained and monitored solely by National Park Service or other paid employees.

There are enough people who don’t understand how volunteers contribute to the Trail to “catch your attention,” according to Field.

“We need to get past that,” he says, noting that education can go a long way in helping Trail users realize they can contribute. “Several years ago, we realized MATC was just about invisible, so we embarked on efforts to raise the visibility of the club. Through various media outlets, including social media, we’ve been able to help people understand a little more about the club’s work,” Field says.

Other than education, Field suggests getting people out onto the Trail. “If you can get them interested enough to go out with you on the Trail, you can get them hooked,” he says, adding that the A.T. is a hands-on adventure. “Get people out there, see how much fun it can be to build a lean-to, build a trail, meet hikers. It’s not difficult to find folks who like to hike or like to be outside,” Field says.

“Obviously, don’t take them out in the height of black fly season,” he adds with a laugh.

An important part of engaging new enthusiasts is for Trail maintaining clubs to have well-defined responsibilities for volunteers so they can take ownership, Field notes. He believes many people who work in office jobs crave that sense of responsibility.

“Say you spend all week at your desk, then you get out on the Trail and clear a bunch of blowdowns or paint blazes or put up signs. That gives you a sense of accomplishment that appeals to folks who in their professions might not get to see those end results,” Field says.

Into The Soul

Dave Field knows exactly what Myron Avery meant in 1934 when he wrote the Trail “beckons not merely north and south but upward to the body, mind and soul of man.”

“The Trail is insidious. It crept up on me. This didn’t begin as a life mission, but then the trail maintaining became an obligation, something I agreed to do,” Field says. “I so thoroughly enjoyed being in the woods. When I needed a fix, I went out to do trail work.”

When asked what the Trail has given to him over the years, Field takes a long pause.

“Oh, dear. How do you say it?” he begins.

“Beyond family and work, this is what I do to make a difference. I love being out there. I love the forest, the surroundings of the trail. Being able to sense this accomplish that I’ve created the opportunity for everyone to enjoy this. It’s a way to leave a memorable mark on the world. The Trail is permanent, something people will enjoy for a long time, and I helped create it.”

And for all of those accomplishments, we are grateful.

– by Alyson Browett, At-Large A.T. Community Ambassador