Winter Thoughts

For a trail crew, winter is our “off-season,” though. It’s really useless to go out and dig on a construction or reconstruction project, what with the soil turning to muck in no time flat.

There’s the chance, of course, that a blizzard or an ice storm will come blasting through, creating havoc on a trail or trail section. Then, PATCers will be called out to help remove the deadfall and blowdowns so that the trail is clear again for winter hikers. I don’t look forward to such a storm; I’ve lived through and dealt with too many of them. Winter is a beautiful season, or it should be. It is a time to reflect on the passing year with an “eye” toward what we can and should do, as a crew, in the coming year.

Winter Woods

A Season of Extremes

2008 certainly threw at all of us a dizzying set of extremes. Many of us began the year with good jobs and continued relatively good income. Real estate continued, apparently, to rocket higher, albeit at an almost imperceptibly slower rate than in 2007. Still, the values of our homes seemed certain. The price of fuel burst on us: one month, we were paying around $1.80 per gallon of gasoline, a month later, the cost was upwards of $3.00 per gallon. And, costs climbed even higher. I don’t know, but I suspect the explosion in fuel costs had a less-then-salubrious effect on participation in our various projects, Especially those on The Biby, being as that’s “way out” in western Virginia. Chris, who drives in from Delaware, admitted as much to me. I had to really budget my funds and time, seeing as how I have to drive up from Richmond to our project areas.

I am also somewhat involved with PATC in the South District of Shenandoah National Park. In January of this year, we were still clearing the 48 miles of the Appalachian Trail that lie in that region from damage caused by an ice storm on Thanksgiving the previous November. Given our nature to make wild predictions based on little evidence, many of us were convinced that the winter of 2008 would be a “hard” one, with plenty of ice and snow storms.

Of course, we suffered, instead, a very mild winter and a resulting drought in the spring.

Considering this…

The women and men who participate in our projects provide professional-quality work constructing or reconstructing a public hiking trail. We are not, however, professionals. We are volunteers, and our ability to serve is affected by the fickle fingers of fate, including:

  • Family
  • Work
  • Personal finances
  • Personal inclination

Our compensation lies in the satisfaction we individually draw from our experiences with the crew. So, when a trail overseer, district manager, or the Supervisor of Trails (himself a volunteer of a different scale and scope) contacts me about a project, I cannot promise any number of volunteers.

Whether or not you are a member of the PATC, I hope you’ll consider your hiking experiences and give strong consideration to coming out on at least one of our projects in 2009. You will work, and you will have the opportunity to have fun, too. You’ll meet some fine people, and that’s a reward in itself, even if you are unable to participate ever again with us. You won’t find that all, or any, are living caricatures of a stereotypical “tree-hugger;” we do cut trees that impede the trail, after all. (No, we do not clear-cut the woods just to put in a trail.) We are not all of the same, or similar, political stripe, and we do not care. We just like to do something useful and to be in the woods. That makes us strange enough, in these days. My final thought?

A Day in The Woods = A Day in Paradise! —Anon