Volunteers: In Their Words

Emily Sellards

I have always loved the outdoors. There is nothing better than being outside, separate from the stresses of everyday life and the feeling of accomplishment after completing a particularly challenging hike. Growing up traveling to National Parks, I had always heard of Leave No Trace principles and being responsible stewards of the trails that provide so much enjoyment for so many.

My knowledge of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) started in 2018 when I found the Outdoor Club at Virginia Tech (OCVT) after beginning college. I originally joined for the promise of carpooling on hiking trips — as someone without a car, this was extremely appealing.

I soon learned that OCVT is one of two college organizations (Dartmouth being the second) responsible for maintaining a section of the Trail. OCVT cares for approximately 33 miles of the A.T. in Southwest Virginia, including Peters Mountain and the Rice Fields Shelter, both known for gorgeous views. After talking to the Trail maintenance officer at the time, I figured I might as well see what Trail maintenance really was and if I would enjoy it.

My first trip consisted of lopping overgrown bushes and grasses. Some might consider this a “not very exciting” trip, but just the idea that I was able to get outside and enjoy the outdoors was enough for me.

Several work trips later, we started running into A.T. thru-hikers, and that was when I realized how much of an impact our work was having. I noticed how much clearance a backpacker needed with their large packs on the Trail and, from then on, I was more aware of my work and started appreciating it more. There is no better feeling than finishing a project, knowing future hikers can use and enjoy the Trail. It’s the best reward I could ask for.

The respect I have for Trail maintainers is immense and I can see the love for the Trail that every maintainer I’ve interacted with has for the resource. I’ve met some people with fascinating backgrounds with interesting stories they love to share and the community I’ve seen from the A.T. volunteers is unmatched.

Almost four years later, in my final years of college and after becoming the president of OCVT, I still participate in A.T. volunteerism through Trail maintenance on OCVT’s sections. From clearing “blowdowns” (trees that have fallen across the path of the Trail) or repainting white blazes (those famous markers on the Trail that direct hikers), I’ve always found something to do that I find interesting.

To those who are interested in Trail maintenance, but unsure where to start, reach out to your local Trail maintaining club or visit appalachiantrail.org/waystovolunteer. There is always something for all skill levels — and who knows, maybe you’ll meet some incredible people along the way and learn more about yourself and the Trail we protect.

Explore more stories from A.T. volunteers.