The Appalachian Trail has a strong pull on the lives of those who experience it. Whether you live close and its a part of your community or you are a section hiker or former thru hiker whose life was changed by your hike, so many who experience the AT feel a need to give back in some way. For many, the first thought is trail magic. This is great fun for those who who provide it, as well as those who reap the rewards, but in many ways Trail Magic and Hiker Feeds can be unintentionally detrimental to the trail when Leave No Trace practices are not followed. If you are looking for a better way to give back, one that has a hugely positive affect on the trail, consider these ways below!
Give Back To The Trail
Trail Maintenance is THE BEST way to give back to the Appalachian Trail! It’s like giving your mom a spa day for Mother’s Day! Unfortunately, trail maintenance is not nearly as large on the radar as hiker feeds and trail magic because it requires a LOT of hard work!! It also takes a lot of knowledge and planning to properly be effective. Thankfully, there are groups out there that make the barrier to entry far easier for those of us who are willing to get dirty for anywhere from a day, to a week, to a summer!
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is obviously knee deep in trail management! The ATC heads up six major volunteer groups that take on large scale projects on trail and they also support 31 local trail clubs along the entire AT. Their trail management page gives an excellent rundown of what life is like for trail crews, a great breakdown of all the major crews along the AT and even has an online test to help you figure out which of the six majors trail crews is best for you!
Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (also known as SAWS) is a group who makes it easy to get involved in taking care of trails all throughout the beautiful southern Appalachian mountains. They not only employee year round folks to lead volunteer groups and ofter extended volunteer trail maintenance opportunities, they also set up trail work days in which you can grab a backpack full of snacks, a pair of boots and join them for a day of maintenance! Coming up on April 30th, they have a work day at Hemp Top Trailhead at Dally Gap in the Cohutta Wilderness in GA and on May 7th there is a work day at Rock Creek Trail in the Little Frog Wilderness in TN. SAWS provides all the needed tools for the work day.
Even current thru hikers can get in on giving back to the AT through trail maintenance by participating in Hard Core at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia! You can sign up with Bob Peoples at the ATC booth during Trail Days and spend a few days working in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. If you miss this opportunity and find yourself at the end of your hike and not wanting to go home just quite yet (a typical thru hiker problem), consider jumping on to the Rocky Top Trail Crew or the Mid-Atlantic Trail Crew, both of which start up work about the time many northbound thru hikers are finishing up.
Give Back To The Community
If digging in the dirt isn’t your cup of tea or if you can’t work it into your schedule, there are still tons of ways to give back to the trail! Donating to the ATC or becoming a member supports an awesome organization that is doing incredible things for our beloved Appalachian Trail.
Caring for the AT can even be as simple as picking up trash whenever you are out on a day hike. Whether you are hiking on the AT or not, the spirit of LNT is needed on every trail. This is a way current thru hikers can make a HUGE impact while hiking! Mountain Crossings employees have vowed to pick up trash every time we go out hiking this season and have collectively packed out over 300 lbs. of trash in an effort to keep our home healthy!
The Appalachian Trail is held together by 31 hardworking local trail clubs up and down the east coast. Even if you are unable to help them work on the trail, there is still much support that can be offered to help these clubs and in turn, help the AT! Consider looking up your local AT trail club and asking what their current needs are.
For those who live in or near trail towns along the AT, you have a unique opportunity to help individual hikers as they travel north. Paying for a meal for a hiker will blow their mind! Giving a hiker a ride into or out of town will make their day! For those specifically living near the parts of the trail that are currently experiencing fire closures, giving a hiker a ride can be a make or break situation.
For us all, whether thru hiking, section hiking, weekend hiking or day hiking, being diligent about LNT practices and speaking up against the abuse of the trail is the biggest and easiest way to give back to the Appalachian Trail. Speaking up against poor bathroom practices, burning trash, littering and other detrimental actions seen while on trail will go far to help correct poor behavior and educate those around you. Be nice! But be firm when you see misuse of the Appalachian trail!! We want this beautiful corridor of land to be healthy and open to the loving public for a long, long time to come!!