by Kayla Carter

An Open Invitation to Give Back to the Land

Many Tennesseans call themselves “volunteers” based solely on their football team affiliation. When I think of volunteerism, I think of a mutually beneficial agreement between a few or several individuals to accomplish a goal together without a monetary exchange. When I help someone out of my own volition, I feel accomplished. The person or people I help out feel accomplished as well. We can all feel good about volunteerism, right? So, why not do more of it?

Many more volunteer hours would have been acquired in my high school years had I known that I could be a volunteer trail maintainer, especially if I had known I could maintain my own section of the Appalachian Trail. The local trail club could have been training me from age 15 instead of 25.

I was first introduced to trail maintenance through Bob Peoples. His hostel is in Hampton, TN. I used to live nearby. I never met or heard of him until I set out to thru-hike the entire A.T. After Peoples invited me to join in on the Kincora Hard Core 2014 Crew, I’ve been hooked on trail maintenance ever since. Through his influence, I was able to establish a relationship with my local trail club.

My story also takes me down a path that leads to a close relationship with the wonderful people who work for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I was selected as a member of the ATC’s Next Generation Advisory Council. It’s so great to meet and know some of my peers who share a common interest.

I was recently invited to attend the ATC’s Volunteer Leadership meeting. It’s the culmination of all the trail clubs that are tasked with maintaining their chunks of the A.T. It was really eye-opening. I loved meeting people from up-and-down the East Coast who share the same passion for trail maintenance.

Another way for anyone to get involved would be one of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s several trail crews throughout the summer. I attended the Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail (S.W.E.A.T) Crew. It’s a week-long stint in the Smokies to clear out waterbars, construct drainage trenches, trim plants and bushes too close to the Trail and do other general maintenance on the A.T.

When I go out to maintain my 3 mile section of the A.T. near Roan Mountain, I can reconnect with the sense of community I came to know while thru-hiking. It’s an atmosphere of inclusion. We are all trying to make it to the same goal. We want everyone to make it together. Being back on the A.T. helps remind me of one of my greatest accomplishments. I can continue to feel that sense of achievement through my continued involvement in giving back to the trail.

When I return to the real world, I’m always disappointed to find that these qualities are lacking in the mainstream. As mainstream as hiking and being outdoors have become, perhaps it would also become “in” to give back to trail systems and public lands.

There are still so many people I want to thank for facilitating stewardship as a priority in my life. I’m thankful that the local hiking club invited me to join in. I extend that same invitation to anyone who reads this post. Go, seek and find your local trail club or stewardship group and volunteer your time with them. Maintain away!