Don O’Neal, a member of the Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC), keeps the A.T. open and in good repair on his club’s 60 mile stretch of the A.T. A club leader – he is a former president of NHC – Don is happiest when he is out on the A.T.
Don started out as an A.T. hiker – section hiking the A.T. between 1981 and 1991. During his hike, he had a chance to appreciate the efforts of volunteer maintainers up and down the trail. While hiking near his home, he noticed a section of the trail that “looked messy,” which led him to become a Trail maintainer for NHC, a task that was a pleasure for Don, a physician who spent most of his days inside.
When he retired in 1998, he already planned to spend more time on the A.T. “digging in the dirt,” and took over as NHC’s Trail Manager. This position involves him in all aspects of Trail maintenance and management – from planning work trips and projects to providing updates for official A.T. guidebooks. Don also monitors rare and endangered species in Standing Indian Gap, “the prettiest part of the trail.”
Don still appreciates every chance he gets to be out on the A.T. He can now identify local birds, trees and flowers, and even learned to play the penny whistle while out hiking – a lightweight, hiker-friendly instrument. As a hiker, he also wants to leave behind something for other hikers. Thanks, Don!