Volunteers: In Their Words

Donna Chapman

I have been an Appalachian Trail (A.T.) and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) volunteer since 2012. I had always loved the Trail and, while out hiking one day, I met a group of volunteers who were moving a privy and lent them a hand. As we talked after completing our work, I learned that the A.T. was maintained primarily by volunteers. One of them wore a shirt with the quote “The Appalachian Trail is a footpath for those who seek fellowship with the Wilderness.” It was at that moment I truly felt and understood what it meant, and I was immediately interested in joining them and taking part in caring for the Trail.

As an avid hiker, it was never a question of if, but rather when I could start as an A.T. volunteer. Luckily for me, there was an immediate opening for a caretaker at Wiley Shelter, the northernmost shelter in New York. Wiley was built in 1940 and, at that time, needed a lot of TLC. Caring for Wiley Shelter afforded me a great opportunity to learn about Trail maintenance and being a volunteer. It also was a great way to interact with day, section and thru-hikers. Speaking with hikers about how volunteers maintain the Trail and all the work that goes into it made them appreciate volunteers a lot more, too. Slowly but surely, Wiley Shelter and the Trail around it were left in better condition and Leave No Trace principles were being used by more visitors!

Building on my experience as a caretaker, I became the A.T. Ambassador for the Harlem Valley A.T. Community in 2015. I spent a lot of time speaking with the public at events, such as farmers’ markets and community days, and working with youth groups, scout groups and military veteran groups. This, to me, is the best way to engage volunteers: by using a boots-on-the-ground approach. There is no greater joy to me than watching a person paint their first blaze or watching a student tell their peers about Leave No Trace. It never gets old to see a person who lives in the city step off the train and onto the Trail. They have so much joy and excitement seeing something that, up until that day, they had only read about in a book or seen in a movie. Several thru-hikers have reached out after finishing their hikes and joined the Club in appreciation of all the hard work they witnessed along the Trail.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I had the privilege of becoming the Volunteer A.T. Chair for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference from the Hudson River to Connecticut. I now have the honor of overseeing 52 miles of Trail and all of the dedicated maintainers and monitors who give their all to protect it.

To me, the best motivation to engage volunteers is to show them and guide them in the areas that they express an interest in. There are so many great opportunities to give back! Maintaining, monitoring, community outreach and invasive species identification are just a few of the ways to become a volunteer. Engaging volunteers to protect the Trail for future generations is so important and something I love.

Explore more stories from A.T. volunteers.