Much like the Georgia mountain breezes, Ashley Luke has been described by her Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) colleagues as “a breath of fresh air.” In just two years, Luke has made a deep impact. She assists GATC members in ways that help them to go above and beyond their responsibilities and meaningfully engages with hikers to promote the work of GATC. Luke initially joined the GATC to be a Trail Ambassador. A Trail Ambassador is responsible for collecting data related to Trail and visitor use conditions, as well as providing visitors with educational information. In her role as a Trail Ambassador, Luke is also responsible for meeting with and registering thru-hikers at the Basecamp in Amicalola Falls State Park. Luke’s enthusiasm for the Trail and her positive energy makes her the perfect first point of contact as these hikers begin their months-long northbound journey.
Luke’s passion, initiative, and innovative spirit, in addition to her role as the main contact for the Georgia Ridgerunners, expands the role of Trail Ambassadors and spreads their influence even further. Known to be gifted in “seeing the bigger picture,” Luke has recently taken on the responsibility to lead the Trail Ambassador program for the club and has initiated improvements since starting. Spending time on the Trail allowed her to talk with more hikers about the GATC and its mission, as well as the importance of Leave No Trace principles. Through these efforts, Luke became a friendly face for the hiker community, which greatly increased the GATC’s organizational outreach capabilities. Jay Dement, former president of the GATC and founder of the Trail Ambassador Program, says that Luke’s willingness to engage with hikers improves hiker education, and thus the overall Trail experience for all visitors. As a Leave No Trace Master Educator, Luke addresses the root causes of many visitor use issues with direct community engagement, helping the GATC use proactive strategies to keep their sections clean. Luke also maintains a section of the Appalachian Trail on Blood Mountain.
Luke rises to the occasion in extremely difficult circumstances, as was the case when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the safety of hikers, volunteers, and those living along the Trail. As it was safe to do so, Luke adapted the conditions in the Amicalola Falls Basecamp to abide by CDC recommendations, protecting hikers and preventing them from overwhelming the healthcare resources of local communities. According to her fellow volunteers, Luke “knows what needs to be done” and remains committed to seeing it through. Most importantly, they say she understands that forming relationships ultimately goes the furthest in supporting common goals for the protection of the Trail. Luke will undoubtedly continue to make positive changes, helping the next generations of hikers to enjoy the backcountry as much as she does.