Have you ever wondered how the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail remains a viable footpath? All along the trail, volunteers and agency partners engage in stewardship activities to maintain the Trail, its structures and its natural and cultural resources. This work includes keeping the footpath clear of natural overgrowth and blowdowns; fixing areas of erosion; building and relocating sections of the footpath; building and repairing shelters and other structures; and caring for overnight sites.
From May through October each year, six Trail Crews work on larger trail maintenance projects from Maine to Georgia. One of these groups, the Rocky Top Trail Crew, operates in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in some of the most rugged and ecologically diverse sections of the Trail. The group of volunteers sets up base camp and works for eight-day stints, backpacking in all of their supplies and tools for the week.
I recently caught up with several volunteers to talk about their experiences working with Rocky Top Trail Crew this past summer. Twenty-three-year-old Deshawn Johnson of Chicago had never set foot on the A.T., much less gone backpacking, but he was looking for a new and challenging experience. Jesse Smith, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wis., thru-hiked the A.T. in 2015 and was looking for a way to give back to the Trail. Ronni Gurwicz, a 24-year-old based in Jerusalem who dreams of hiking the entire Trail, was in an environmental internship in Chicago when he heard about the opportunity to volunteer with Rocky Top. And Katie Oliver — who, at age 22, is one of the youngest but most experienced of the crew members — served as one of the Rocky Top crew leaders, after first becoming involved in trail maintenance work when she was 19.
Check out the crew members' responses to my questions below — after speaking with them, I'm ready to join an Appalachian Trail crew next year.
Alyson Browett, At-Large A.T. Community Ambassador