Celebrating a Vision
Photo by Janet “Fancy Free” Abbott
In 1987, I had the privilege of walking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It was only the beginning of my A.T. journey. Just a few months later, the opportunity came for me to work for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the organization most responsible for my long-distance adventure. Abandoning plans for my master’s degree in Russian literature, I accepted a job as orders clerk and moved to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in March 1988. I couldn’t wait to start learning what happened behind the scenes at the ATC headquarters to make the magic of the A.T. experience possible.
After the ATC’s longtime employee, the legendary and beloved Jean Cashin — known to legions of hikers as “Trail mom” — retired in 1996, I was hired as information services manager. It was a joy and privilege to have the responsibility of seeing that those who walked through the doors of the ATC’s Harpers Ferry Visitor Center were made to feel welcome and to provide information about the A.T. Every day I met inspiring people for whom visiting the ATC was a pilgrimage of sorts, whether they drove or walked a thousand miles.
There is a certain thrilling look of hope and anticipation in the eyes of those with an A.T. dream, whether it’s to see their first white blaze or walk the entire Trail. Greeting and assisting them felt like a sacred honor.
This June, I retired to spend more time with my husband, a former ATC colleague. Now I have more time to devote to our A.T. volunteer work that began in 1995 when we adopted a 1.2-mile Trail section on the Virginia/West Virginia border. Later, the scope of our volunteer responsibilities grew when we adopted several miles of the A.T. corridor boundary to monitor.
I left the ATC with one goal unmet: finishing an entire hike of the A.T. while an ATC employee. On my vacations, I was able to hike more than 2,100 miles in the span of 33 years. Each hike renewed my love for life, the A.T., and the ATC. I have just 56 exciting miles left to complete the A.T. a second time. The next chapter of my life is unwritten, but the A.T. will be woven into its pages.