The High Country Needs a Hero!
Wild ponies. Craggy boulders. Sweeping views. Grassy balds fringed by an enchanted spruce-fir forest. Those who have hiked the A.T. in Southwest Virginia never forget it. But right now, the High Country needs a few heroes.
Each year a few sections of the AT become available to new volunteer maintainers. Often these are simply assigned to the next volunteer on the waiting list and the Trail never skips a beat, but a perfect storm of challenges in the Mount Rogers High Country brings the potential for lasting damage to one of the most beautiful sections of the A.T. First, an unusually high number of sections have become available. Long-time volunteers have moved from the area while others who have maintained challenging sections for decades need a break. Second, the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club has fewer new volunteers to take these available sections – any heroes out there? Time to stand up and be counted.
Let me tell you from my own experience: having your own section of the Trail is worth it. After my A.T. thru hike in 2006, and several years of living like a vagabond, when I finally settled down in Roanoke Virginia there was nothing I wanted more than my own section of the A.T. to steward. I joined my local trail club (The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club), joined a work hike whenever I could and got to know the Club leaders.
I thought I’d be a shoo-in because I work for ATC and spent several years leading the Konnarock Trail Crew. Still, I had to be patient and earn my stripes within the Club. Eventually, I became a Co-Overseer of a gorgeous 7-mile section of the Trail on Sinking Creek Mountain.
That’s why this opportunity with the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club this fall is so exciting. There are currently several sections of the A.T. in the High Country—totaling about 20 miles—in need of Section Monitors. (The terminology in every Club is a little different—Section Maintainer, Monitor, or Overseer.) It’s very unusual for so many sections to be available at once, so the Club and ATC have put together an expedited process for new folks to join the Club, learn the ropes, and be assigned a section—all this fall! See the end of this blog post for the details.
Maintaining a section of the A.T. is incredibly rewarding. You may think you want to reserve all your hiking time to bag new peaks and would get bored returning to the same place, but I haven’t found that to be the case. I enjoy the simple and satisfying work of clearing a blowdown or cutting back seasonal growth, but most of all I love getting to know “my” section intimately. This was my third season of visiting Sinking Creek Mountain every two months or so, and still, every time, I discover amazing things and fall more in love with the mountain.
I can tell you where the chantrelle mushrooms will pop up when we get a good rain and where to find wild grapes. I’ve got a pretty good idea which tree will be the next to fall in a windy storm. I’ve noted where the sun sets and the moon rises in different seasons from my favorite overlook. Last weekend as I was hiking back to my car at the end of the day, lugging a weedeater and wishing I had brought more snacks, I looked up and a perfect small green apple dangled in front of my face. I looked around and realized the understory was full of gnarly apple trees, planted by the family that settled this land before it was part of the National Forest. How’s that for Trail Karma? You never hike the same trail twice.
Obviously, I think my section is the best one—every maintainer does. But even I have to admit that caring for an A.T. section in the Mount Rogers High Country would be pretty special.
If you’re an A.T. enthusiast in Southwest Virginia, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you’re not in Southwest Virginia, you don’t have to move to Damascus to give back to the Trail. Visit appalachiantrail.org/volunteer to explore other ways to volunteer on the A.T. And help us get the word out on social media—someone you know might know someone who knows someone who would make a great MRATC Section Monitor.
Click here for all the details about MRATC’s recruitment campaign this fall. New members must attend an information meeting, join a Club work hike, and attend a Trail Maintenance workshop. New Section Monitors will be assigned their sections November 19, during a special celebration at Damascus Brewing Company.
There will be SNACKS!
Be a hero to the High Country and #lovethehighlands this fall.
Kathryn “Dinosaur” Herndon is ATC’s education and outreach coordinator in the Virginia Regional Office in Roanoke, VA. She thru-hiked the A.T. in 2006 and the PCT in 2010. From 2008-2013, she worked seasonally as a Backcountry Caretaker in Vermont and then a Crew Leader on the Konnarock and Rocky Top Trail Crews. Dinosaur is excited to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her Katahdin summit day at the Info Meeting in Marion on September 15!
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If I didn’t already have my own section of A.T. to maintain in northern Virginia, I would move down to southwest Virginia right now and grab a section in this gorgeous area. Even if I lived in Roanoke or Winston-Salem I would jump at the chance.