Thoughts in Late Spring, 2009

On Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of people evacuated the cities and suburbs to go to beaches and mountains. Depending upon where each went, people swam, sunned, combed beaches, hiked, and spent some money in shops, restaurants, diners, hotels, and camp grounds. All of us drove.

Yes, I went out, too. I hosted a picnic for 20 of the 38 people who maintain the Appalachian Trail in the South District of Shenandoah National Park. (All were invited and encouraged to attend, of course.) Among those who came, ate, and conversed, several hiked nearby trails while a few came in after doing some work on their trail sections.

It was a beautiful Saturday, and I was struck by…how few we were, compared with the numbers of others who were at other sites at the Dundo Picnic Grounds that day.

One of the things over which I worry and fret—some say obsessively—is the fairly small number of people who volunteer their time to one of our crew projects. I know that numbers aren’t the main thing, but numbers is a very important aspect of any project. With few in number, the project takes so much longer to complete. So, I wonder, why do we attract so few? Could it be:

  • The nature of the projects?
  • The distance from our major metropolitan areas?
  • The recession?
  • Another manifestation of the so-called “me” generation (of whom Boomers are supposedly the originators)?
  • Me? (Could my bad reputation be so widely known that many turn away?)

I’m pretty certain that participation is not limited by a generational attitude or outlook (no “Me”-generation). And, although I possess a degree of arrogance, I am not quite so arrogant to think that most care enough about me to spread the word throughout the area of how horrid a person and leader I am.

Not For All—Or Most

No, I think that this avocation is not for all. To undertake it is to go out far from home and do stuff that most of us avoid doing at home. For instance, I mow my yard, but I don’t enjoy it. Forget those who claim that mowing the yard is “therapeutic;“ it isn’t. It’s drudgery. I wash dishes and clean house, too; but, I don’t enjoy doing those, either. So, I don’t do them as long as I can put them off.

I’d rather go up into the mountains and work my Stihl brushcutter over a mile or so of hiking trail than cut my yard. I am lazy.

Chris - skilled, dedicated; from Delaware

But, there are others who probably have exactly opposite opinions on these topics. People who prefer cleaning and washing and mowing the yard to going out into the backcountry to do similar things.

Imagine that.

No Sales Pitch

Despite my keenly defined (and refined) sense of histrionics, I don’t write this to mimic Marc Antony’s oration at Caesar’s funeral. Instead, I write about those superb women and men who come out and inspire me by their skills and leadership.

What would we do without such people? Those of us who hike depend upon trails to trod. Even before this recession (or depression), federal, state, and local governments had cut back parks and forest staff. Boots don’t make trails—People do. If I complain about the number of “boots on the ground,” imagine the quandary of the persons in charge of recreational trails in, say, Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area or South Mountain State Park! Such managers do not have the funds to hire additional staff, to say nothing about training them.

The Once and Future Trail


I’m honored—truly blessed—that those who come out, come out. Bob, for one, is retired. His wife, Jen, is working on her master’s degree and still, I believe, works. Bob has plenty to do at home, and he does it as he works with us: with grace and skill and patience. (Working with me occasionally requires a certain amount of patience, I’m afraid.)

Diane and George work and contribute strongly to their neighborhood association in Occupied Virginia. They are active in their own pursuits and the help they give their families, too. You don’t hear a cross word from either; you will hear the occasional sarcastic crack from either, but they never direct it at people or a person.

Chris has strong opinions but is not opinionated. You cannot question his commitment; he drives out from Delaware to participate. And, his participation is remarkable. (We often remark upon his work, trust me!) Who can complain about a good person who travels so far to be with you, whose work is so skilled, and who brings his own brewed beer? (Take that, Sam Adams!)

I’ve learned so much about treadwork from Tom, who has forgotten more about it than I have ever learned. Tom has consistently worked with me since 1993, and we’re still friends. Well, we’re old friends now, and getting older. But, that’s an entirely different matter.

There are others, of course—George and Melody, Kathy, Catherine, Liles, David, Susan, and Steve, for instance. Combined, and in tandem with those who comprise the other volunteer trail crews supported by PATC, they are those whom hikers silently, and unattributively, thank for the trails they hike. I do hope that you remember them, and those who preceded them, as you step out from the parking area at your trailhead.

Do not think of me; I only give voice and testimony to the accomplishments of those who really give us such gifts as the Appalachian and Tuscarora trails.