Give Back to the Trail

7 Reasons to Volunteer for the A.T.

April 22, 2022

The next time you take a step on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), take a moment to reflect on what you are standing on (beyond the dirt, leaves, and rocks, of course).

Every inch of that A.T. has, at some point or another, been cared for by dedicated volunteers. Each step represents hours of sweat and effort poured into the Trail — sore muscles are as common for maintaining volunteers as white blazes. Volunteering for the Trail requires committing precious free time, often on weekends. And when the job is done, visitors to that section may never know you were there.

So, knowing all of that, why do people choose to take time out of their daily lives to volunteer on the Trail?

We spoke with dozens of volunteers to see how they answered that question. Here are the top seven reasons they keep coming back to work on (and for) the Trail year after year — and why they think you’ll love it just as much as they do.

1. You get to spend time in nature and help others find their nature moments, too.

Photo by Horizonline Pictures

Hundreds of articles have been written on the long-lasting benefits of spending time in natural places like the A.T. — it provides emotional, mental, and physical healing. Imagine what a few hours spent with your phone put away, hiking to a project site, and giving back to the Trail can provide for your wellbeing. As Benton MacKaye wrote in 1921: “…the Appalachian skyline is a natural resource (and a national resource) that radiates to the heavens its enormous health-giving powers…”

2. You gain valuable skills and experience.

Whether you are looking to make a career move, expand your skillset, or just break out of the 9-5 work schedule, volunteering experience can be used toward finding a career in conservation and recreation. Even if you aren’t entering the conservation field, you’ll have an opportunity to develop project management skills that translate into other career opportunities.

3. You make new friends with a community of awesome people.

When you volunteer, you are tapping into a valuable, welcoming resource of other people that also love the Trail. Many volunteers have built lifelong friendships through their joint passion of caring for the Trail.

4. You help create unforgettable experiences, both for yourself and others.

Photo by H. Dean Clark

The amount of time you dedicate to volunteering on the A.T. is up to you — it can be a one-time event or something you do for the next 20 years. Yet no matter how often you volunteer, the act of giving back can be a life-changing experience you’ll remember for years to come.

5. You will come away with a deep sense of personal satisfaction.

No matter how you volunteer for the A.T. — whether it’s working directly on the footpath or assisting with education and outreach far from the Trail itself — there are real results thanks to your time and effort. There is joy in making a positive impact that will continue to benefit others in the future. More than one volunteer has proudly pointed to a blaze they painted, a rock step they installed, or a revitalized section of Trail and proclaimed, “That happened because of me.”

6. You will directly add to the legacy of a nationally recognized Trail.

Multiple volunteers stated how they can feel the Trail’s history when they stand on it, and that’s for a good reason — the Trail was first proposed over 100 years ago, and volunteers have always played a vital part in keeping the Trail open and accessible for the hikers (and volunteers) behind them. By becoming a volunteer, you are becoming a part of that rich legacy of volunteerism, conserving the A.T. for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.

7. You are caring for something that sparks your heart.

When we talk to volunteers, one word is repeated more than any other: love. Love for the Trail itself, love for the community of hikers, love for the unique Trailside communities, love of the protection the Trail provides for wildlife habitat, love for the one-of-a-kind hiking experience — the list goes on and on. Whatever you love most about the Trail, there is an opportunity for you to help make it stronger and extend that love to the millions of people seeking their own A.T. experiences.

These are just a few reasons more than 6,000 people volunteer for the A.T. every year. With volunteer opportunities ranging from on-the-ground maintenance to welcoming visitors to assisting with administrative and promotional work, there are so many ways you can give back to the Trail you love.