Why You Should Join Your Local Appalachian Trail Club
With more than 6,000 volunteers dedicating around 270,000 hours each year, the Appalachian Trail is one of the world’s largest ongoing volunteer projects. Volunteers touch every aspect of what makes up the AT, often performing tasks such as trail management, maintenance, and relocation, as well as building projects, such as bridges and shelters. Giving your time to the trail is a great way to help better the AT for generations to come, and there are endless ways to get involved.
Some may choose to volunteer their business or executive skills to help manage and promote the trail at one of the regional AT offices. Others who live further away from the east coast may opt to send their support in the form of monetary donations or working remotely. While each form of volunteering is both important and rewarding, those who are lucky enough to live in one of the fourteen states that touch the AT have the amazing opportunity to get involved with one of the 31 Trail Maintaining Clubs that oversee the trail.
Trail Clubs are an important part of what makes the idea of the Appalachian Trail a reality. Each club has a designated section that they care for, and through the work of volunteers, the segment is maintained and preserved as needed. These clubs cover most of the day-to-day duties that keep the AT accessible and are the ones responsible for building and maintaining shelters, cutting logs that have fallen across the trail, constructing smaller bridges, and managing overgrown plants.
There are tons of ways to give back to the trail, but by becoming active in a trail club, hikers and volunteers can both help the AT and access a few unique benefits that comes to trail club members:
Give back to the trail and support thru-hikers
Each person that steps foot on the Appalachian Trail benefits from the work of trail volunteers in one way or another. From shelter maintenance to the removal of invasive plant species, the lasting impacts of these club volunteers is felt long after their work is done. Getting involved in the upkeep of the trail helps ensure that new generations of hikers have the same — if not better — experience on the AT as those who have hiked before them. In addition to fostering a love of the trail for each new hiker that steps foot in the “green tunnel”, trail clubs often provide support for both long distance and thru hikers. By changing out shelter logs, leaving trail magic, and sometimes even providing information on shuttle services / resupply options, these clubs are a sometimes overlooked part of what helps hundreds of hikers each year on their journeys.
Gain a better understanding of LNT
The impacts of those who do not follow Leave No Trace Principles can leave a lasting scar on the AT and hinder future experiences for generations of hikers to come. Trail volunteers have a front row seat, and observe first hand the consequences of those who cut switchbacks, don’t pack out their trash, and camp in undesignated areas. Volunteering through a local trail club can help in gaining a better understanding of just how important the seven principles are, and why they should always be followed by anyone who steps foot on the trail.
Meet new hiking friends and discover new trails
Looking for a way to become involved with other AT enthusiasts in your community? A trail club is a great place to start. Each club is different, but many host group hikes and events that give you a chance to connect with other thru, section, and day hikers in your area. While many clubs choose to center their events around their designated section of the AT, there are often group hikes along stretches of other local trails. Attending club meetings and group hikes can help in discovering new friends, new trails, and new experiences on the Appalachian Trail and beyond.
Learn from the experts
Establishing a dirt path through the woods may seem like a relatively easy task, but creating a trail can take years of planning and hard work before it’s ready for hikers. Becoming active in trail maintenance can help you see the trail from a new perspective and gain a better appreciation of exactly what goes into the building and maintaining of a trail. Volunteering your time will also help increase your awareness of everyone and everything that benefits from the AT. In addition to it’s several million annual hikers, the trail is home to a countless amount of plants and animals. While ecosystems will vary depending on which part of the trail you are on, learning about the ecology of the trail will leave you with a more complete understanding of the AT and the wilderness that surrounds it.
Joining a trail club can be an incredible, enjoyable, and rewarding experience; from trail maintenance opportunities to meeting new friends, the benefits are endless. Interested in volunteering your time to the Appalachian Trail? The ATC offers loads of information on trail clubs and volunteer opportunities over on their website.
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