Every year my local Connecticut AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) chapter puts together their “A.T. Day.” This day consists of multiple activities. There are of course hikes of various lengths and difficulty along all 53 miles of our section of trail, as well as some in Macedonia Brook State park, including family hikes for small children and beginner hikers. We did one of these last year up Cobble Mountain in the State Park, a peak formerly on the A.T. with sweeping views west to the Taconic and Catskill Mountains. There are also boundary and trail maintenance workshops, rock-climbing lessons on St. John’s Ledges, training for trail patrollers, and road bike rides close to the trail. The Connecticut AMC is responsible for maintaining the portion of the Appalachian Trail in our state.
At the end of all of these activities, there’s a grand chapter BBQ at the main pavilion at the park. Camping season ends there September 30, as do the crowds generally, so its a great time to take over that space, and connect with other members and management. Group and chapter leaders work the grill, meet and greet longtime and new members, welcome non-members, and spread the word about volunteering. And with temperatures dipping into the 30s at this time of year, there is always a much-appreciated roaring fire. The cost is only $6 and that includes the food and drinks.
This club, and the Appalachian Trail, are what they are because of volunteers. I’ve always wanted to give back to the trail and the club but I am usually using whatever time I have off exploring new trails and sections of the A.T., as these adventures also provide much-needed therapy and balance in my hectic life.
This year I gave in, because I truly feel the need to give back to the trail is something I and everyone should do whenever possible to keep it the way it is. I’ve avoided more laborious maintenance job opportunities because my back is just barely strong enough for a lightweight multi-day backpack, with new gear thankfully as advanced and light as it is. But lifting of heavy rocks and tree limbs is not something I can do.
This work party however, included something I could, and something I think every A.T. hiker would love to do — re-paint the white blazes! It was so much fun, and the day hikers and backpackers we met along the way thought it was just as exciting, and thanked us for our work. There was also a blue bucket of paint, so we could touch up the campsite side trail blue-blazes along the way. There were some in our group addressing and clearing large blowdowns with heavy saws and chainsaws, and some with ‘loppers’ to help trim back overgrowth where needed. And I will be doing some ‘lopping’ I am sure, as I spent most of my childhood helping in the family gardening chores.
Our group also created some new posts for campsite markers because some of those were formerly on unhealthy trees that were cut down so no one would be injured by a widowmaker. Another part of our group, some Yale environmental studies students, also cleared some water bars that had been congested with leaf cover and were getting jammed. The leaders also educated us on the new mouldering privies, why they have the rules they do in our section of trail, and a bit about the overall needs and characteristics of this particular part of the pathway.
While very likely the easiest section of the whole A.T., the famous 5-mile river walk along the Housatonic is also stunningly beautiful. With leaves nearing peak here, the foliage was practically glowing orange and red. This is also the first section Fielden Stream and I backpacked together, as it provided time to get the feel for our packs and make adjustments before we made our first climb up to our first overnight campsite on Silver Hill last year. Our maintenance crew finished at the end of the river walk just before the climb so there wasn’t any elevation change on this hike. But that is not why I was out there this time and it was good to just be out there and still get some scenic hiking done while giving my time to the trail.
I posted a picture of me painting a white blaze on one of my Facebook A.T. groups and got a barrage of thank you’s and likes. It’s great to see how many people appreciate volunteer work. I highly recommend getting out there a few times a year to give back to your local trails with a maintaining club.
My chapter are also short trail patrollers so I am going to take their training to be a volunteer trail patroller in the coming weeks. I am really excited about this because I can continue to give back doing what I love — hiking and backpacking! I’ve been seeking something in my life where I can contribute to preservation and conservation, and I think this is the perfect opportunity for me at this time.