Charles Parry


Charles Parry of Blacksburg, Virginia, longtime Trail supervisor of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, died Christmas afternoon. He was RATC’s trail boss for 34 years, an astoundingly long tenure even by Appalachian Trail standards. Charles was fondly known to hundreds of Trail maintainers and managers. He worked on trail construction right through the fall, before his passing last month at age 68. He had been diagnosed with Wegener’s disease, an autoimmune disorder, about a year ago.

Charles grew up in Camden, New York, on a farm where he learned the manual labor that he would love all his life. He was a mathematician who taught at Virginia Tech. Somewhat the classic math geek, Charles was a superb teacher and faculty advisor to the math club. He was also an honest broker of Appalachian Trail values, who expressed compassion for Trail neighbors and hikers and wry skepticism of governmental requirements. He had many friends and admirers at both the university and on the Trail, where he and his wife of 20 years, Gloria, met on a Roanoke A.T. Club hike.

Charles guided RATC and ATC during the many miles of relocations that accompanied the federal land-acquisition program begun in the late 1970s. Working with Mike Dawson, ATC’s first Virginia regional representative, and the Forest Service, Charles walked hundreds of miles to determine the “Optimal Location” for the Trail’s routing across the great valley crossings of the Jefferson National Forest along RATC’s 113-mile assignment.

RATC member Bob Peckman extolled his good friend in the club’s winter newsletter: “Charles was physically and intellectually a giant. He loved his wife, math and building trail in that order. He has left a very large footprint on the A.T., on the club and on our lives. Charles was the most compassionate man I have ever known… He was our encyclopedia. He knew and loved all our trail neighbors and understood their problems. Trail busting was only part of what he did.”

Anonymous @ 1/11/2011 10:02:25 AM

What a great tribute to a man whose name was synonymous with miles and miles of the A.T. in central and southwest Virginia.

– Laurie Potteiger
Anonymous @ 1/12/2011 10:11:01 AM

Generations to come will benefit from Charles’ years of hard work on the Appalachian Trail. It was a labor of love and he will be greatly missed by many – and hard to replace if that is even possible.

– Alice Davis
Anonymous @ 1/12/2011 11:01:20 AM

I’ll never forget my visit to Craig County middle school with Charles. He spoke to a full auditorium of students about his volunteer service on the A.T. The students were lined up to talk with him after his presentation. Charles was an amazing inspiration in many ways, probably beyond what he ever realized.

Laura Belleville
Anonymous @ 1/12/2011 12:30:01 PM

Charles Parry was one of the fundamental influences in my career with the National Trails System and the A.T. From Charles I learned invaluable lessons, but mostly I learned the possibility of what could be accomplished if you put your heart and soul into something worthwhile. Charles and I built lots and lots of trail, but it was his steadfast hold on what the cooperative management system meant that I remember the most. Charles believed the volunteer was THE most important part of the system. He believed the volunteer must be at the table and that seat needed to be respected, as much as any agency partner (even if it was the President of the United States),

When Charles passed, I took a moment to reflect how much of Charles has come with me here to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. I find myself repeating his words to demand the paramount role of the volunteer in the stewardship of the CDNST. I wish I could say thank you for all he taught me.

Teresa Martinez
Anonymous @ 1/17/2011 12:16:39 PM

From 1980 to 2001 I was the Regional Rep for SW and Central VA and worked closely with Charles as the Trails Supervisor for the RATC. He was one of the most dedicated volunteer leaders with whom I have worked in my 30 year career in trails. I remember working with Charles digging new trail in the pouring rain, building trail structures and shelters and outhouses, and sitting through endless numbers of meetings with the club and with agency partners. Most memorable and meaningful were the many days that we spent together designing better locations for the AT. From eliminating many miles of road walks to putting the trail on sustainable locations and grades, we were literally crafting the experience that hundreds of thousands of people would have on the AT for decades to come.

Mike Dawson
Anonymous @ 1/20/2011 4:34:50 PM

Charles will be greatly missed by all that knew him. I will truly miss the sense of humor, the incredible work ethic, his trivia questions at club banqets, his lunches(with super-thick slices of home-made bread) on work hikes, and the true honor of working with such a great man. My only regret is not working with him more often.
Kenny Garrett
Anonymous @ 1/21/2011 6:23:56 AM

As stated previously by others, Charles was a wealth of knowledge and a strong worker but he also took time to enjoy the gifts the AT had to offer. As I remember at one of my first work hikes near McAfee’s Knob, we took time for lunch in the powerline clearing where Charles, myself, & others paused to view the impending storms top the mountains around us; it was beautiful. Thanks for the help & guidance to this volunteer/ridgerunner/club member and all the others.

Julio Stephens
Anonymous @ 1/21/2011 1:56:39 PM

Even though I was old, weak and pretty broken down, Charles welcomed me as a volunteer and found useful things I could do to help build a new trail. He had the greatest gift of a good leader – making others feel valued and important. We will miss him forever.
Diana Christopulos
Anonymous @ 1/22/2011 1:07:33 PM

If there were ever an AT trail supervisor “hall of fame” Charles Parry should be one of the first names to be placed in it. Going with him on work hikes was always entertaining and usually educational. His love of math showed through in planning trail work as well as in his baseball trivia contests at lunch time. Charles loved the challenge involved in moving huge rocks into position for steps on the trail. He never got to hike the entire AT, but he hiked far more miles working on it than most 2000 milers hike going end to end. His many years of AT maintaining, improving, and relocating in the RATC section have resulted in miles of sustainable trail that will continue to provide enjoyment to thousands of hikers.

Fred Coughlan
Anonymous @ 2/1/2011 12:06:57 PM

This is a story about the side of Charles that many didn’t know unless they saw him deal with someone’s problems like tell the Board about a trail neighbor who was sick. We were on a canoe trip way up in Canada. Charles was a virtuoso with a paddle. I had caught a nice Walleyed Pike while trolling as I normally did the hour before getting to the next camp. In a small voice Charles asked “are you going to let it go?”. It was a beautiful fish, and for those unfortunate enough to not know, the tastiest fish there is. I said “no, I am going to cook it, but if you want, you don’t have to eat it”. With a twinkle in his eye he said “no, if you are going to cook it, I am going to eat it”. Charles loved to eat more than any two people I know. But he would rather have seen that beautiful fish swim away than to have enjoyed a delicious dinner.

Bob Peckman