Working for the ATC: An Inside View

At Mountain Crossings, supporting the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is very important to us because they are the ones who work endlessly to support the Appalachian Trail. They help round up volunteers and resources to maintain the trail. They seek to educate users of the AT in an effort to protect the future of the trail for all. And they work to solve the major problems facing the Appalachian Trail all along its nearly 2,200 mile length. What they do is absolutely amazing and understanding their work better is one step in supporting and appreciating this amazing group of individuals and all their associates (every volunteer up and down the trail!) Check out this Question and Answer below with the ATC’s Central and Southwest Virginia Regional Office Director to get a better sense of how this non-profit organization is keeping the Appalachian Trail alive.

In further support, Mountain Crossings will donate $1 to the ATC for each purchase of an ATC Topo T-Shirt. This synthetic hiking tee sports the old timey, original metal trail marker plaque with a topographic background and the AT slogan, “A Footpath For Those Who Seek Fellowship With The Wilderness”, all on the back and a small, simple version of the metal trail marker in the center of the chest on the front. 

Working at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy: A Question and Answer with Andy Downs

MTX: What is your job title for the ATC and what kind of work does that include?
Andy: I’m the Regional Director for ATC’s Central and Southwest Virginia Regional office. I personally work on land protection, external threats, volunteer development, trail design, visitor use management and sometimes rabid skunks, full privies, broken shelters, friendly bears, crazy hikers, etc. etc.

MTX: How does this compare to former positions at the ATC?
Andy: From 2007-2013 I worked in the Southern Region, mostly in the Smokies. My job at the time was about 65% in the field and I worked more closely with the Trail Crew Programs and the Ridgerunners.

MTX: How did you come about working for the ATC and what lead you there?
Andy: I went back to school at NC State with the specific intent of working for the ATC.

MTX: What was your experience with the Appalachian Trail before working at the ATC?
Andy: 2002 Thru-hike, numerous shorter sections but like most hikers, I had no idea who managed the trail or what it entailed.

MTX: Did you see yourself working for the ATC one day as you were thru hiking?
Andy: No, but I did soon after I started my first “real job” as an Archeologist.

MTX: What is your favorite thing about working for the ATC?
Andy: The Trail

MTX: What is the hardest part of working for the ATC?
Trying to explain to hikers when they are ruining the whole thing for everyone.

MTX: How have your feelings about the Appalachian Trail changed over time from when you were first acquainted with it, to now, after working to help protect it for years?
Andy: I love it more, much more than I ever have. Also, over the past couple of years I’ve come to realize how fragile the Trail experience is. We could lose the whole damn thing if were not careful. I mean, in 25 years, the A.T. will still exist BUT the kind of experiences that are available on the Trail could easily and irrevocably be limited through the actions of the people who love the trail the most. I don’t think most visitors know how close we are to that cliff’s edge.

MTX: Tell us one of your favorite stories from the years you have worked for the ATC:
Andy: I’ve told the story of the closest I’ve ever been to a bear a few times (which is very, very close) so maybe I’ll tell the story of the New River Relocation. I’d heard about this relocation since the first day I started with ATC, it had been on the books for about 25 years. It was the last major section of the entire Trail that was not protected, required land acquisition and about 6 miles of trail relocation. Along with the Rocky Fork project (which is another great story), the New River Relo was one of the last of the original big relocations.

About a month after taking the Regional Director job in Virginia, the word came down that the land owner, in this case the Celanese Corporation in Pearisburg, VA (yes, that factory) finally wanted to talk about providing an easement over their land for the long-preferred route up to Rice Fields. The catch was that we had to flag, clear and build about 3 miles of trail in just less than two months. I think volunteers came from around the state to help out on that project and the moment that sticks out to me was when all-star volunteer Trudy Phillips showed everyone the tuff stuff that she is made from. At the end of a hard summer day of clearing brush and trees from the trail route, at about 4pm, a group of guys sat on a log and started to take their gloves off. Trudy, at about 5 foot 1 and roughly 85 pounds immediately popped out of the woods in full chainsaw regalia – chaps, hardhat, long sleeves, earmuffs and went down the line like a General on a battle field, willing these tuckered out senior citizens onto their feet for one more shift. She banged her hands together and shouted, coercing every last ounce of energy out of the crew. The sight of Trudy, after she’d run a chainsaw all day in the 90 degree heat marching down the front lines and pulling the crew back into the woods for one more push will always stick with me.

We finished that relocation and, although it’s not the prettiest section of the trail, no one can put a fence across it and shut down the whole thing.

Mountian Crossings would like to extend a HUGE thanks to Andy Downs, the Regional Director for the Central and Southwest Virginia Regional Office for agreeing to help out with this blog post and taking time out of his day to participate! We would also like to thank ALL staff at the ATC, ALL the members who keep making contributions, ALL the ATC volunteers and ALL the trail crews and clubs to help maintain and protect the AT as we know it! THANK YOU!

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