by Niasha Hamilton

The Making of an Elite Trail Maintainer: S.W.E.A.T. Crew

“Elite (adj.): A select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities.”

While I had known since the beginning of the summer that we would be spending a week on S.W.E.A.T. Crew, I had already been a part of CLC for a few weeks before I found out what S.W.E.A.T. actually stands for: Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail Crew. “I can’t do this,” I thought to myself. I’m not an elite trail worker! I just started backpacking a couple of weeks ago!

When I learned that Katie, Chloë, and Leanna, ATC employees that I had worked with earlier in the summer, would be our crew leaders, my anxiety about being “elite” decreased a bit. Yet, as I tried to fall asleep in my bunk at Soak Ash basecamp (the last bed I would see for a week), I was still nervous. But there was no turning back. The next morning, the members of CLC and Kal, an intrepid volunteer who jumped into our mix, became S.W.E.A.T. Session 4 and began our journey.

Left to right: J​ay, Niasha , Lucy​, Katie, Kal, Adriana.

The hike in was not as strenuous as I had thought it would be. After seven miles, we reached our campsite and stared at our home for the next five nights. A shelter with no roof, on an incredibly rocky incline – a camper’s worst nightmare. But, everything deserves a chance, so we decided to try it out. After sleeping with a storm, we looked at the campsite again in the morning, and our crew leader Katie decided it wasn’t made for us. Unfortunately, that meant hiking an extra four miles to the new campsite and losing out on a productive work day.

Making the most of the campsite.

The rest of our time was less eventful – just long days of hard work and afternoon thunderstorms. We brushed four miles of Trail, clearing out waterbars to improve drainage along the way. Hiking with tools wasn’t my ideal morning routine, but the views at Laurel Top and Bradley’s View of birds soaring through the mountains made it all worth it. It felt good meeting hikers and seeing how much they appreciate the Trail and the outdoors, and I realized that all the work we were doing was a vital part of their experience. So even after all the rain, the long hikes and the excessive amounts of granola, I would do it all over again. I ended my time on S.W.E.A.T. Crew realizing that elite doesn’t mean you have to hike the fastest, or lift the most. It means that you get out there and try to preserve that historic A.T. experience for the hikers now and those to come. If you hike a bit further just to cut those few branches, you’re elite. It’s not about being the strongest, but having the most passion for the work.

Top left to right: Katie, Lucy, Jay. Middle: Niasha. Bottom left to right: Kal and Adriana.

So I’m proud to say that the CLC (and Kal!) are officially elite. We passed the crew fit test, we hiked all our miles (plus more) and went a week without showers in order to make the Trail safer and more enjoyable. It was a great time, and I’ll most certainly be back. Happy Trails!

This post comes to us from Niasha Hamilton, a member of ATC’s inaugural Conservation Leadership Corps (CLC). The CLC provides valuable training and work experience to 18- to 25-year-olds who are new to the outdoors by offering professional development in the fields of natural resource and trail management. These young and diverse conservation leaders had never stepped foot on the A.T. before joining us this summer!

Niasha Hamilton
Conservation Leadership Corps 2016
Hails from: Niagara Falls, NY
Studies at: Buffalo State College
Intended major: Psychology
Dream job: I’m not sure yet, just something that makes me happy
Favorite CLC moment: The entire Leave No Trace Master Educator course. I was surrounded by great people for 5 days with endless laughs and learning