Volunteers: In Their Words

Diane Petrilla, M.D.

I consider myself a “second generation” Appalachian Trail (A.T.) maintainer. For many years, I listened fascinated, to the stories that my father told about maintaining the A.T. in the Smokies: keeping a section of trail clear of pooling water and blowdowns, intricately planned helicopter lifts with supplies to build shelters and privies, and teams of people who would go out and stay for several days to work on A.T. sections.

When I retired from my medical practice in middle Tennessee and moved to East Tennessee in 2011, it was an easy decision to adopt an A.T. section to maintain. I was fortunate to be paired with an experienced maintainer, Patti G., who taught me excellent trail maintenance practices and who has become a wonderful friend. From there I went on to become involved in more A.T.- related missions as part of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (SMHC) including volunteer recruitment, mulch operations, planning for National Trails Day, and others.

There are many things I love about being an A.T. volunteer, but there are several that are most important. I thoroughly enjoy my relationships with other maintainers. My (affectionately nicknamed) mulch mules will gather up and backpack hundreds of pounds of mulch to a privy, as a team, and laugh while doing it!

When I help out on monthly club work trips, I am with some of the most dedicated volunteers I have ever come into contact with. They skillfully clear blowdowns, build steps, rehab trail, and so much more. It is always a pleasure to be with them.

In addition, I love being outdoors anyway, and hike often, so being on the A.T. for maintenance or other projects is another way for me to be outside but be thoroughly engaged with the land itself. When I am clearing a water bar, I see salamanders, wildflowers and earthworms; I can smell the good rich earth. When I am trimming back vegetation to give clear passage to hikers, I am marveling at the robust native plant life that comes back year after year.

Ultimately, I feel I am giving back to all of the trails that I love to hike on, not just the A.T. It is also delightful to meet day hikers, section hikers, and thru-hikers while I’m working in my bright blue volunteer shirt, where I find we are mutually interested in what the other is doing. The hikers are universally grateful for what goes into maintaining the Trail. My deepest hope is that they return home and think about the volunteers they may have connected with during a hike, and decide they want to give back too! And then do it.

Explore more stories from A.T. volunteers.