With increasing numbers of prospective A.T. thru-hikers starting their northbound trek in Georgia each year, Jay Dement of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) proposed and helped put in place the “Trail Ambassador” program, now in its second season. It places trained volunteers at shelters and on the Trail to supplement the A.T. ridgerunner program. A friendly presence on the Trail, they provide Leave No Trace education, promote Trail values, and serve as an on-the-ground resource for Trail managers.
Previously serving as GATC’s Information and Education Director, Jay is now the club’s Outreach Director. He facilitates the club’s work with schools, youth groups, and the Girl Scouts. He is a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He successfully applied for the A.T. in North Georgia to be designated a “Leave No Trace Hot Spot” by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. That designation led to a one-week Hot Spot event week to raise awareness for Leave No Trace among Trail visitors, surrounding communities, school children, and partner organizations.
To implement the Trail Ambassador program, Jay worked with ATC’s regional Trail Resources Manager Leanna Joyner and the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest to shape the program, the training, and the volunteer agreement that the Trail Ambassadors function under. GATC President Don Hicks says, “Jay’s development and implementation of the Trail Ambassadors program is one of the most important things that GATC [has done] in preparation for the anticipated increase in thru-hikers.”
Jay also does trailwork, which he credits with getting and keeping him fit. He worked on the Hawk Mountain campsite project last year, a management effort among the Appalachian Trail partners to reduce overcrowding at the Hawk Mountain Shelter during the peak hiking season.
Jay is a photographer. He also plays a little golf occasionally when he’s not volunteering and enjoys traveling with his wife Debbie, who is a travel agent.
Jay is excited about getting to meet and talk with hikers on the Trail and finds working with young people rewarding. “Occasionally, I help someone where it makes a difference, and this is the big reward,” he says. “I am encouraged by young people stepping up with an interest in preserving the backcountry. It makes me feel good about the future.”
Jay says it is important to reach out to the local community to engage people in the Trail club’s work and mission. Having family-oriented activities broadens interest, and some of those who participate as children may one day come back as volunteers.