I did my first solo hike as an AMC volunteer trail patroller for the Connecticut chapter on Saturday.
In our state the AMC and its volunteers manage the entire section of trail, about 52 miles. We also have caretakers, boundary monitors, sawyers, maintainers and other important roles to help preserve and enhance the trail.
For those that are not familiar with the patroller role it is basically the same as a ridge runner but not on a seasonal, paid basis. In my particular role the advantage is I can hike or backpack whichever sections I choose when I am able vs. being assigned to one area at a certain time. Though occasionally at a very busy time, we will be called up to help support the ridge runners in certain high traffic areas. At the end of the day we all have the same goal. Both are great because many volunteers with different schedules and desires all contribute how they can.
We greet hikers, help provide them with information they might be seeking like maps, distances to shelters, campsites or road crossings, educate about leave no trace ethics, clear stealth campsites that in our state are likely on private property if they’re off trail, and fire rings which are illegal here. While we don’t have any authority to fine anyone, big issues will be conveyed to the proper people to protect others’ responsible future enjoyment of the trail. I was inspired to take the position by those I met backpacking this summer. The ridge runners and caretakers were extremely passionate about what they did, and the trail. If you see these folks out there, give them some props! They do a lot to make your experience what it is, and likely cover as much mileage while traversing their turf.
Once upon a time as a newbie hiker and backpacker maybe I too thought all this was overkill. But having seen the results of large amounts of trash left behind, the aftermath of errant fires at popular campsites and still-hot embers left in many a fire ring, I concur that sadly stricter rules have to be enforced if you want to have a trail at all. A good percentage of hikers are newbies, and while they are out for an exciting and challenging adventure that has many admirable qualities, some seem to care little about what they leave behind, because they are just passing through or are too young to think about the effects their actions have.
While there’s as large a contingent of considerate hikers who follow leave no trace ethics and truly care for the environment they are traveling in, there are always those who will not. I witnessed this on this very hike when I saw some trail magic left from one hiker to another as I headed out for my hike. I smiled when I saw this thoughtful gesture. But when I came back on my return several hours later, I noticed the second hiker had picked up their trail magic and then left the unneeded note and bag it was left in in the trail map box rather than pack it out. A ziploc bag and a piece of paper weight about an ounce or less. There was a town a few miles up the trail that is a popular resupply spot where it could have been disposed of. Surely that extra ounce wasn’t going to weigh them down.
There’s also a spot in New York that was famous for letting hikers stay overnight on their lawn and that we enjoyed visiting on a summer backpacking trip this year. But because of a very badly behaved hiker later that summer, they’ve stopped doing so after many many years. People have to realize that their actions directly affect the experience and enjoyment of many others at some point. The few CAN ruin it for the many. And while I admire those who can hike 2,000+ miles in a few months and hope to do myself one day, your accomplishment doesn’t excuse littering or bad behavior.
While I have already done all of the trail in Connecticut and will be doing it over and over and over as part of my volunteering, I am excited to get to know our section of trail even more intimately and in more depth while also protecting it. And so I explored this section of trail in much more detail, which was fun. I ended up skipping the first .2 miles from Hoyt road to the route 55 parking lot due to time constraints and honestly there really is no area there that one would want to stealth camp. Its a lovely but boggy little area that I enjoyed walking through though when I did it the first time.
It was a beautiful day for a hike and I also enjoyed seeing more of the views than last time because there were no leaves on the trees. I enjoyed crossing the Ned Anderson memorial bridge again (seen above), named after a local resident who was responsible for blazing and maintaining the original section of trail in Connecticut. I am currently reading a book about him that I bought at the ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.
The rivers were as scenic as ever and the view from Ten Mile Hill even more impressive without the leaf cover. While only 1,000 feet high, the trail on either side of the summit drops 700 or more feet with a fairly steep grade – a formidable introduction to our ‘flat’ state. It always amuses me how many have the impression the trail in Connecticut is a joyride. While it is lower in elevation than many other states, and has a flat section or two, there’s a LOT of good climbs and descents to challenge any seasoned hiker.
I met another maintainer and a friend of his on my way nobo (northbound) and caught up with them on the way back and we all hiked out together, exchanging stories and making plans for more hikes when possible. Its great to see all the enthusiasm our volunteers have, and the respect we have for each other. It’s a great organization, and I hope my story today helps inspire others to take care of the trail they love, and maybe even volunteer.
Happy trails! I hope to see you out there.