A Better Way to Give Back

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!

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Our very own Zack “Blueyes” Finney worked with the Konnarock Trail Crew several years back.

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!

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Which trail crew is right 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.

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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.

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Bob Peoples, owner of Kincora Hostel, has been hosting Hard Core, a two day trail maintenance bash for 15 years!

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!

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Silent Bob weighs up his day’s gatherings after a hike!

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.

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Due to the low humidity and low rainfall so far this spring, there are several wildfires on the AT, such as the Rocky Mountain Fire in the Shenandoah National Park.

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!!

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Help Get Zack Hiking Again!!

A tragedy has struck Mountain Crossings. One of our own is in dire need of our help. Zack “Blueyes” Finney was in a motorcycle accident that left him hospitalized in Gainesville, GA. He was on his way back up to Mountain Crossings on the evening of Monday, April 18th when the accident occurred. Thankfully, he managed to not over turn the bike until he was off the pavement, saving him from serious amounts of road rash. He also narrowly missed a metal grate protruding from the ground as he was launched down an embankment. We are thankful for the narrow misses but Zack did not fair well altogether. He sustained a compound fracture in his right leg and was sent into emergency surgery as soon as he reached the hospital.

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Popcicles and the Gun Show at the hospital! His sense of humor is still in tact!

By an incredible stroke of luck, Zack was being followed by his friend, Jeremy. Jeremy noticed the absence of Zack’s tail lights up ahead of him on the road and turned around, back tracking until he found Zack’s motorcycle headlight shining out from down the embankment. He called 911 and gave them the nearest address he could find. Jeremy acted quickly and efficiently despite seeing a good friend in agony with a large splinter of shin bone protruding from his pant leg. He may very well have been the life saving factor for Zack that night. Jeremy even stayed with Zack in the hospital over night and called up Zack’s family and Mountain Crossings owners, George and Logan. They raced to the hospital at as soon as they got the call, a little after 2am. Zack’s mother and twin sister raced down from his hometown of Clarksville, TN to be with him.

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The rest of Mountain Crossings staff work up Tuesday morning to a very concerning text message explaining what happened. We waited patiently for updates, slowly learning that the surgery went well and Zack was set up with a room at the hospital. As soon as our day ended, we jumped in the car and drove the hour to Gainesville to go celebrate the life of our friend, co-worker and roommate. At Mountain Crossings we are a very tight knit group. We are family to one another and it broke our hearts to see our strong, tough brother bed ridden, struggling to drink and eat and suffering greatly from pain. Reluctantly, we left him with his mother and sister and headed back to the mountain, awaking the next day grateful to be well and healthy.

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A photo from the days when Zack worked with the Konnarock Trail Crew in Virginia.

The doctors estimate that it may take upwards of a year to get Zack back on his feet and fully recovered. We have more faith in him than that, being young and fit as he is. Still, he is facing a long road of recovery and physical therapy. Even more troubling, Zack doesn’t have health insurance. The quickly mounting medical bills will all have to come from his pocket. We have created a fund to help offset and ease the cost of his medical bills because of this. If you know Zack, you won’t need to hear another reason to give. You know well that he is the kind of guy you know is worth helping out. If you don’t know Zack, read this blog post from back in February to get to know him better. He has been a devoted friend of the Appalachian Trail, working as both a trail maintainer and a ridge runner after his 2011 thru hike. Let’s help out Zack in return for his help towards the AT!

Please help Zack get back on the trail by clicking here and sharing this page!!

Blue Ridge Trout Festival

At Mountain Crossings we LOVE to support our local community and there is always something fun and interesting going on in our area! Coming up at the end of the month is a new Festival that sounds like a great time and goes far to help protect some important land and wildlife in North Georgia! The Blue Ridge Trout Festival will be held downtown in the neighboring town of Blue Ridge in April 29th and 30th!

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In 2005, Fannin County was named the Trout Capital of Georgia. Many of the streams and creeks throughout the Chattahoochee National Forest provide ideal habitat for trout to breed and live. While most trout are introduced into the local streams by fish hatcheries, a healthy trout population can only be sustained by taking care of the creeks, streams and watersheds that are so pertinent to the survival of trout.

Besides the fun of it (and beers provided by Sweet Water Brewery who is one of the sponsors of the festival), we are in full support for this because, at it’s core, this festival is really all about protecting the land we love and helping our local community! Proceeds from the festival and all donations given are benefitting several local groups who in turn pour great things back into the surrounding landscape and community members. Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited, which is a local chapter of a national organization, Trout Unlimited, is dedicated to protecting and restoring crucial habitat for trout and supporting healthy creeks, streams and watersheds in our area. Project Healing Waters is aimed at helping war veterans of the Blairsville VA heal physically and emotionally through the peaceful and fun experience of fly fishing. And the Trout Adventure Trail is a self guided hiking tour of the best trout fishing spots in the Chattahoochee National Forest and follows both the AT and the BMT! Our kind of fishing trip, right there!

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This map shows the Trout Adventure Trail along the AT and the BMT

On the evening of Friday, April 29th at 5:30 pm, take a train ride along the scenic Toccoa River, a true trout haven. The ride will include food, beer and wine, and a trackside auction at the train depot. Tickets are $60 and raise funds for the groups mentioned above!

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On Saturday, the 30th, from 9 am to 5 pm, there will be all sorts of festivities going on in the center of town including fly fishing lessons from the Atlanta Fly Fishing School, vendors of fishing gear, clothing and accessories, demos of many rods and reels, food trucks and beer and wine. The day promises to be a fun and educational one! Come check out the first annual Blue Ridge Trout Festival!
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Pacific Crest Trials is Here!!

It may be the peak of thru hiker season on the Appalachian Trail but a new and exciting event has occurred for our fellow long distance trail on the west coast! Zach Davis, aka Badger on his 2011 AT thru hike, has once again brought an invaluable knowledge nugget to the long distance hiking community!

In 2012 he published his first book entitled Appalachian Trials. This book went beyond the scope of gear and trail etiquette that many other AT preparation books cover and went deeply into the psychological and emotional aspects of a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail. It was a book that rocked the trail community and transformed the way prospective thru hikers prepared for their trek. Appalachian Trails, the book, turned into AppalachianTrails.com, the website, a place of knowledge sharing. The website quickly grew from a way to promote the book into a full fledged hiker think tank featuring copious former thru hiker writers/contributors, special guest writers and a plethora of current thru hikers blogging their experience each thru hiker season. Now, Zach has gone and done it again!

Introducing… Pacific Crest Trials!

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Pacific Crest Trials is much of the same except this time the trials are completely different. There are no Virginia Blues on the PCT but you do need to be prepared for desert, alpine areas and rain forest like terrain all on a single hike. Zach has paired up with PCT thru hiker Carly Moore to nail down the PCT specific trials thru hikers face on this unique trail. Liz “Snorkel” Thomas threw in an excellent and very through gear chapter in which she breaks down the benefits of and tips for traveling light on the PCT.

For those of you unaware of the philosophy behind Appalachian Trials, Zach formulated a collection of list that assisted him on his thru hike. The lists covered three topics: “I am thru hiking because…”, “When I successfully thru hike, I will…” and “If I give up, I will…” These three lists became the basis of his book and in urging prospective hikers to create their own lists and bring them along on their hike, mental and emotional preperation became wide spread among thru hikers.

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In 2013, before my AT thru hike, I read Zach’s bright yellow book and made my own lists. They came in handy sooner than I expected.

I began thru hiking the Appalachian Trail at the approach trail on March 3rd. On the morning of the 6th, I woke up in a snow storm just south of Blood Mountain to find my water frozen, my stove non-funtional and a blustery, white hell outside of my tent. I ate half a Clif Bar, stuck the other half in my rain jacket pocket and reluctantly started the hike to Neel Gap. I had never hiked in conditions like these before, particularly not alone. I was thirsty and frozen at the same time. I began down a side trail to a shelter and then remembered if was half a mile off trail. I didn’t have the energy to expel on a side trip but I needed shelter badly. I stood alone in the winter storm battling myself and my needs. I was unexperienced and up against more than I had bargained for. At last, I decided to make a straight shot for the hostel at Neel Gap, up and over Blood Mountain in a white, whirling blaze of wind and snow. When I finally made it hours later, I was left questioning my future on the AT. Was this what I had unknowingly signed up for? Tucked away down in the hostel, I reviewed my “lists”. I remembered the clean break I had made back home. I had left my dead end job, completed college, been telling my friends and family for over a year that I was doing this and had nothing to turn back for. After a hot shower and this little reminder, my mind was set on Katahdin again.

If you are looking to take on the life changing trek of a PCT thru hike, do yourself the favor of reading this book. At worst, you will glean a little idea here and there. At best, it will be the deciding factor that keeps you on trail and gets you to Monument 78.

Purchase your copy here!