Don Dunning became an A.T. maintainer in 2002, he has been a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club(SMHC) since 2007, and was a member of the SMHC Board of Directors from 2016-2017. Dunning and his wife Nancy have maintained their section of the Appalachian Trail from Sweat Heifer to the Boulevard Trail for eleven years. Simultaneously, Dunning and Nancy were also spearheading the multistep process of all mulching operations for the SMHC. In order to prevent the introduction of forest pests in the backcountry Great Smoky Mountains National Park delivers the mulch in bulk to a central location for the Club. It then has to be dried and bagged before it is delivered to maintainer sheds for volunteers to pick-up and hike-in. While equestrians are able to help haul a lot of mulch at once with their pack stock to various backcountry privies along the A.T. Dunning is regularly hiked these heavy mulch bags to various shelters on his own. Mulch is an essential part of privy etiquette, after each use visitors add a hand-full of mulch to help with odors and to assist with the composting process by reducing moisture. It was through Dunning’s leadership and hard work that the privies on the SMHC’s section of the A.T. continue to safely compost human waste as designed.
While Dunning has recently “retired” from his volunteer responsibilities, he continues to provide help and advice to the SMHC. During his time as a prominent volunteer leader Dunning developed a wonderful relationship with the March Consortium, a group of five colleges from across the nation that convene 100 students to the Park each year to deepen their understanding of parks and recreation management. Many of those students choose to return and volunteer with Dunning and the SMHC’s Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee.
Dunning also didn’t fear taking his responsibilities a step further when he committed to publishing the Club’s newsletter in 2015. This involved collating many hike and post-hike information and photos, as well as other important announcements and events. The newsletter serves to be the Club’s most important line of communication, and Dunning continues to mentor its current editor. Cyndi Spangler the SMHC’s Communications Director explains, “Being the newsletter editor is HUGELY time consuming yet Don somehow, miraculously, handled it with grace, patience, and perfection. How he managed this job in addition to everything else he did for the club is just amazing”.
To top it all off, Dunning managed the preparation and registration of the SMHC’s National Trails Day events for the past several years and was presented with the Harvey Broome Award in 2018. The Harvey Broom Award is the SMHC’s highest honor, it is named after a founder of the Wilderness Society and one of the SMHC’s past presidents. The Club’s current Vice President Diane Petrilla states, “Don quietly and steadily simply gets the job done, whatever it may be, and has never hesitated to pitch in if he is needed for help on other projects. He has been a role model for all of us who are maintainers.”