By Jordan Bowman, ATC Director of Communications

The Dedication of A.T. Volunteers

July 28, 2020

Imagine it’s your day off. You’re exhausted from a hard work week. Nothing would feel better than a few more hours of sleep, wrapped warmly in the bedsheets.

Your alarm goes off: 6 a.m.

You look outside. The skies are still gray from last night’s heavy rain. The mud will be thick.

You get up, get ready, guzzle some coffee, scribble a note describing where you’re headed, grab your pack with a day of food and supplies — maybe an extra few Snickers bars, just in case — and head out the door to meet your team.

Today you are a volunteer on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

You spend the day working hard. You swing a mattock countless times, to better stabilize the footpath. You and five other volunteers push, groan, and sweat to move a boulder — half a ton, maybe — to a new spot to make a few more yards of Trail more resilient against erosion and the trampling feet of thousands of hikers each year. You hammer stones into gravel. You clean out water bars and haul a container of white paint for several miles, repainting any white blazes that have faded over time.

The sun is getting low, so you and your team pack up and head back to the trailhead. You head home, tired but somehow energized. You inhale dinner — didn’t realize you were that hungry — take a hot shower, crawl into bed.

Your mind goes back over the day. That small section of the A.T. will last a little while longer now. I gave new life to that small piece of the Trail, you think, and drop into a deep sleep.

A few weeks pass. You do it again.

And you keep doing it again for 30 years.

Keeping the Trail's Volunteer Legacy

Go to any of the 31 A.T. Maintaining Clubs or one of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Trail Maintaining Crews, and you will meet individuals who have come back month after month, year after year to help maintain a world-renowned footpath. Few will tell you it is easy work. From huge projects like Trail relocations and reinforcing erosion-prone areas; to renovating shelters, privies, bridges and other infrastructure; to simply ensuring the treadway is in good shape for another year of hiking, hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteer time is dedicated to maintaining and protecting the A.T.

Yet every year, while fresh faces show up ready to do their part to protect and maintain the Trail, there is always a crowd of familiar faces ready to — once again — haul heavy maintaining gear into the A.T. backwoods.

Some of you might be thinking: if it requires so much effort and dedication, why do so many continue year after year?

The hard work of A.T. volunteers

For our 2017 myATstory short film A Lasting Legacy, we profiled Maine Appalachian Trail Club volunteer Dave Field, who has spent over 50 years maintaining the New England backcountry. Between repainting white blazes and surveying the Trail for necessary maintenance, he found time to talk about why he continues to volunteer today:

“The Appalachian Trail was what I had decided to do to make a favorable difference during my life. My personal commitment over all of those years was a combination of feeling good contributing to this magnificent project we call the Appalachian Trail and being able to see a sense of accomplishment in cleared Trail… I designed a hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine and helped to build it. And probably more than anything else, that is the lasting legacy that I would have to claim.”

Marge Fish, a Green Mountain Club volunteer since 1975, also recognizes the benefits volunteering has had not only on the Trail, but also for her own well-being.

“I get so much from the Trail, it’s important that I give something back to it,” she said. “I refill my personal well by hiking these trails, especially for being out multiple nights at a time, and volunteering allows me to give back to something that I love and value.”

This devotion Dave and Marge describe is prevalent throughout the volunteer community: a sense of accomplishment and pride in preserving the Trail, knowing that it will be there for future generations to enjoy — and that a new generation of volunteers will be ready to continue the work that has come before them. Volunteers take pride in not just protecting the A.T. but protecting a century-long legacy.

An essential part of the ATC’s role is to ensure aspiring A.T. volunteers find opportunities to give back to the Trail and, ideally, understand the satisfaction of preserving the Trail. As mentioned in a previous post, we are building programs to help the next generation of volunteers easily find and sign up for work trips, Trail crews, community roles and other ways to get involved. Through this work, we hope to foster the dedication needed for volunteers to return again and again to protect the Trail that they love.

As Dave Field said: “The volunteer maintainers and managers of the Appalachian Trail are the greatest assurance of its continuance that we could possibly have.”

Are you interested in protecting the legacy of the Trail? Complete our volunteer survey and we will send you more information on relevant volunteer opportunities.


Help grow A.T. volunteer programs and opportunities by donating to the Trail today.