"I wanted to comfort these people who are not from here but who are contributing to our community by building the Trail to attract more visitors,” she said. “I wanted to make them feel better, away from home but at home. It affects my heart and my soul."
So since 2013, the Holiday Lodge has hosted a pool party for the Konnarock Crew, thru-hikers, town officials and community members.
"When I went there, I wasn't sure what to expect," said Bob Brogden of Carrboro, North Carolina, who has been a Konnarock Crew member for the past five years. "Our crew leader was making a big deal of it, and I soon found out why: Sonu and her staff exceeded all of my expectations. I had no idea I was going to be able to shower and I jumped at the opportunity. Sonu even provided a towel and soap!"
In all his years working with Trail crews, this was the only time Bob could remember being able to shower during a work trip.
"Sonu is not a hiker nor someone you might expect to value the wilderness adventure of the trail, but she recognizes the value of the Trail to her community," said Kathryn Herndon-Powell, education and outreach coordinator for the ATC. "The Trail brings a lot of life and new people from all over the world who might otherwise not visit Pearisburg, so she sees economic value but also lends a special identity to Pearisburg. I think Sonu personally loves meeting hikers and being a part of that world because she recognizes she can help support the community."
"Everything she does, she does with a passion."
"I enjoyed the party — it was really nice to be there, to talk to people, to interact with community members," said Bob. "I very much appreciate what Sonu does for Trail crews and what the hiking clubs do for Trail crews. Their generosity enhances crew morale and greatly increases the likelihood someone will return and bring new people with them."
Bruce Agnew, a board member of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) who helped the Konnarock Crew with this Trail relocation, agrees that the generosity and engagement of people like Sonu improve the greater Trail community.
"It shows me there are more and more people out there who are embracing the hiking community,” he said. “The hostels that are popping up along the Trail are a rather strong signal of that interest. The more people, businesses and community groups engage with hikers, the more Trail communities will be threaded together by the mobility of the hiking community.”
Bob agrees: "When businesses like Sonu's get a glowing report from hikers, word travels up the Trail. She's not out to charge an outrageous fee, doesn't pretend she runs a luxury hotel, but what she does do is something memorable — she could be considered a Trail Angel. If I were doing a long hike, a place like the Holiday Lodge would be more than a brief respite. It would be a place I very much appreciated.”
In March 2016, the ATC, the RATC and the U.S. Forest Service held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open approximately 1 mile of relocated Trail near Pearisburg. About 100 people — both enthusiasts from the Pearisburg community and from as far away as Blacksburg and Roanoke — attended the event, an unprecedented number according to Kathryn.
"Sonu helped publicize the event and drum up excitement," she said. "Everything she does she does with passion."
For Bob, Sonu's "sense of humanitarianism” stood out to him in addition to what she was doing for the crew.
"She realizes the importance of work crews to maintain and keep the Trail in good repair so that people will continue to use the Trail and come to her business,” he said. “But she is serving the larger community too. You have to have faith in humans, and I think Sonu is helping in that way, helping without an expectation.”
Given all of her contributions to the A.T., Pearisburg and the hiking community, Bruce was shocked when he discovered Sonu had never actually set foot on the Trail.
"I assumed she had walked it, given her generosity," he said, noting he planted the seed to get her out onto the Trail. "She is a community member for all she has done."