It’s early Sunday morning. The thermometer reads 27 degrees. A brisk wind is blowing. A heavy fog covers the landscape. And a few snowflakes are falling.
Despite conditions that might make most people roll over in bed and pull up the covers, there are 14 people gathered in a small parking area, eager to begin a hard day’s work building trails.
The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) schedules at least one work hike a month, and this day they plan to relocate a section of trail on Tinker Mountain. The goal is to replace a steeply graded and eroded portion of the pathway, located just a few miles south of Daleville, with several hundred yards of newly built trail that will better protect the land and enable hikers to ascend and descend at a gentler pace.
Work begins only after volunteers have lugged picks, shovels and other tools several miles uphill. At the target area, tasks include quarrying half-ton boulders, digging out Volkswagen-size rootballs, and moving hundreds of pounds of downed tree trunks and limbs.
The pathways that you and I use don’t just happen. It takes a lot of work for them to become a reality and, in the case of the Appalachian Trail (AT), most of it’s done by volunteers. Yet, there are rewards for this sweaty, dirty toil. Just ask the volunteers.
Kris Peckman started volunteering as an antidote to being office-bound all week, but now simply enjoys the work and chatting with others: “There’s no one looking over your shoulder and you can work at your own pace.”
Dick Clark, past president of the RATC board of directors, works not only on the AT, but also on the Mill Mountain trails. He’s been hiking all his life and feels it’s his duty to give back.
Homer Witcher says his family’s thru-hike of the AT was a veritable life event for them, and he wants to ensure others will have the opportunity.
“I also like that long after I am gone (and nobody will know it was me who did the work), someone will enjoy the woods because of something I did,” he says.
How does the RATC get a section of the AT built? Virginia Tech math professor and 30-year RATC Trail Supervisor Charles Parry says that the group identifies where the trail should be on a topographic map, then walks the terrain flagging the proposed route.
“Forest or park service personnel then walk it, mapping it with a GPS, and doing a full environmental assessment with possible opportunity for public comment,” he says. “If everything is OK, we’re finally given the go-ahead to build the trail.”
In recent years RATC volunteers have relocated more than half of the trail from Va. 311 to McAfee Knob; constructed a number of trailside shelters; dug outhouse pits and erected new outhouses; created dozens of rock steps to ease the ascent to Dragon’s Tooth; and built more than six miles of new trail near Pearisburg. So, you may want to utter thanks to those volunteers on your next outing. Better yet, give them a hand in their next work hike. Find out more at ratc.org.
Learn about Leonard Adkins’ hiking experiences at habitualhiker.com.