Edited by Alivia Acosta, ATC Volunteer Development Coordinator
Stories of Volunteering on the A.T. for the First Time
My name is Sean, and I was an intern with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy during the winter of 2020. As an avid hiker and passionate conservationist, I was thrilled to finally have an opportunity to volunteer on the Appalachian Trail for the first time! I did not know what to expect but after taking my light car part-way down a rugged dirt road I met with Potomac Appalachian Trail Club volunteers who were leading the volunteer worktrip.
Once I got there, I had a general idea that I’d be fixing erosion and clearing obstructions, since the purpose of the trip was to clear blown-down trees. I also knew that nature often has its own plans and is indifferent to our expectations. Trail maintainers can make plans, but they don’t control the trail’s needs. After a windy day, the trail was full of fallen trees. In fact, there were twice as many as were reported! There was one so large we couldn’t clear it, so we made a path around the tree so that visitors could continue to pass-by without much obstruction.
Despite how many logs I had to move, the maintenance job didn’t even feel like a job! I’m not a certified chainsaw operator, so I didn’t actually cut the larger trees, but all I needed for my part was strength, endurance, and cold weather gear. I had all of those things, so the work was simple and quick. Between blowdowns, I actually spent most of my time out with the maintainers hiking down the trail.
Not only was I taken on a beautiful hike down the Appalachian Trail, but it was with maintainers who taught me all about that section’s history. The story of the Appalachian Trail is a long and fascinating one, worth hearing from those who know it best! They didn’t think it was a beautiful section – lined with dead ash trees, vines, and overgrown understory plants – and it certainly did lack waterfalls, grottoes, or imposing forests. I still found it beautiful and enchanting, though; I felt like I was walking through the haunted woods in a fairy tale. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
Overall, I found what most Appalachian Trail hikers already know: you never know what can happen in the backcountry, and something new lies around every bend! After working on the blowdowns, we ended up joining another maintainer who arrived on the Trail with installing signs, picking-up litter, and doing shelter upkeep. This is the work that I originally imagined doing when I first applied for my internship with the ATC. Even so, that was definitely a day on the Trail I’ll never forget.
My name is Amanda. My daughter Yahaira and I recently participated in our first-ever A.T. volunteer experience helping with boundary monitoring and maintenance. It was a great first experience for us, and hopefully the beginning of many more to come.
Yahaira enjoyed finding the boundary markers and even found a missing monument which she thought was pretty awesome. She also had fun re-painting the boundary markers on the trees. For me, I loved being out in the woods. It is really my happy place. The exercise and conversations were the highlight of my week.
I also learned that the A.T. has a buffer (boundary) that extends beyond just the actual footpath. Our trip leader, Ryan, loved talking about what boundary work is, and why it is so important. Chris, a fellow volunteer, was a wealth of information for thru-hiking long distance trails. It was great to hear their stories. While Father Time, another fellow volunteer, loved to share his knowledge as well and encourage us “younger” folks to continue volunteering. Along the way my daughter, Yahaira, also learned about boundary monitoring which she said seemed like a fun thing for her to do when she is older.
We knew we were making a difference while we were on the Trail when we saw a few hikers who were thankful for the work we were doing. They had once gotten off the Trail by accident before and they were glad to see the yellow markers marking the boundary. The work we did was meaningful to those who had gotten turned around. We also saw a makeshift deer stand, which is important to remove from the Trail corridor for hiker safety (plus, they aren’t allowed inside the corridor anyway).
For anyone who might be interested in going out to volunteer for their first time: Yahaira wants you to know that the people you will be working with are really nice and they make sure to show you what to do so that you aren’t guessing. And I say, “give it a try!” I’ve wanted to do this [volunteer on the A.T.] for quite a while but felt like I should have experience first. Funny thinking, I know, because the only way to get experience is to go out and do the work. It is fun, and the people are AMAZING!