Franklin “Ox” LaFond
Many people know Franklin Lafond by his trail name “Ox.” LaFond’s love of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) started in 1997 when he thru hiked the Trail. He continued hiking when he could, section-hiking the Trail from 1998 to 2001. His volunteer contributions to the Trail began when he joined the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club in 1998. During those early years, LaFond learned about trail construction and maintenance, and the skills that go into building rock and log structures. Since those early days with the GATC, LaFond has accumulated approximately 5,000 volunteer hours throughout his over twenty-year timespan as a volunteer to the Appalachian Trail.
LaFond moved to the Knoxville area and joined the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (SMHC) in February 2009. He has put all his training to use, on his adopted section of the A.T. and also by helping and mentoring other maintainers with their sections.
LaFond has been the SMHC’s representative for the Deep South Regional Partnership Committee (RPC) since 2014. He is the current RPC chair. He also is currently a member of the Stewardship Council, where he sits on the PCRC and the Youth & Diversity committees.
Since June of 2014, LaFond has been the Co-manager in the Nantahala National Forest (NNF) and oversees its thirty-miles of the Appalachian Trail. LaFond’s continuous dedication and attention to this section of the Trail has resulted in incredible accomplishments. Thanks to his leadership, the once individual work of multiple maintainers has given way to group work trips where teamwork is used to accomplish the larger trail maintenance tasks. LaFond explains that plenty of work remains and he looks forward to all that is in store with this section of the Trail.
In the recommendation letter for the 2020 SORO Volunteer of the Year award that LaFond received last year, the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club board wrote: “Franklin is a model for commitment and leadership for the A.T. He has shown leadership and devotion in so many ways and has been the driving force behind many of the achievements along SMHC’s segment of the Trail for the past several years. Furthermore, he continues to actively form partnerships and mentor on how to maintain the Trail, thus laying the foundation for more work to come and acting as a force multiplier for the Trail.”
LaFond is always willing to step in wherever needed. In addition to supporting other maintainers and SMHC special projects, he also engages with summer trail crews and the other A.T maintaining clubs in the Southern Region. He has been a staple for the Damascus Hard Core Trail crew for eighteen seasons and is a seasoned alumnus for the Konnorock Trail crew. He enjoys meeting fellow trail workers and has forged many long-lasting friendships.
LaFond puts in the hard work, the hours, the leadership, the planning, and continues to take delight in the Trail and its community. He is passionate and dedicated to the long-term success of the Trail and its surrounding landscapes. This passion is obvious whether he is leading a work team, teaching new skills, meeting with hostel owners and trail community leaders, or simply stopping to give an A.T. hiker enthusiastic words of encouragement, and share in their stories.