Celebrating Trail Stewards, Volunteerism, and 50 years of National Scenic Trails System

Being able to experience all that the mountains have to offer is an honor and privilege, but sometimes it can be easy to take for granted the forests that we walk through and the trails that we use to enjoy them. Trail cleanliness doesn’t happen all on its own. Sure, double checking to make certain to pack out what you pack in goes a long way, but there are other trail-related maintenance needs that require just a little extra help. And that’s where volunteers come into play.

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Since the inception of the Appalachian Trail, it was always a known fact that someone would need to take on the responsibility of maintaining and caring for the Trail regularly. It didn’t take long before a group of hikers decided to accept the challenge, tasking themselves with being the official caregivers of the Appalachian Trail. Now, there are thousands of volunteers — often referred to as Trail Stewards — who devote more than 200,000 hours of labor and love each year to taking care of the Trail so that future generations can continue to enjoy all of its wonder.

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Thanks to those who continuously donate their time, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is celebrating its 50th Anniversary of being one of the country’s first National Scenic Trails. Spurred by the National Trails System Act of 1968, the National Scenic Trails and National Recreation Trails were formed. And just a decade later, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that would create and protect National Historic Trails as well. Now, there are 11 National Scenic Trails within the National Trails System, the Appalachian Trail being the most iconic of them all.

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To celebrate this great success and quarter of a century long effort of preservation and conservation, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, along with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, will be hosting a virtual celebration that will be broadcast live on Oct. 2, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST. The broadcast will feature the author of the best-selling memoir “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed, as the headlining speaker and adventurer Jennifer Pharr-Davis will be hosting the event, along with guest talks from ATC President and CEO Suzanne Dixon, PCTA Executive Director and CEO Liz Bergeron, and Astronomer Dr. Tyler Nordgern. It’s promised to be an incredible event you won’t want to miss.

For more information about the celebration and the National Trails System Act, visit www.atpct50.org. 

And if you’re wanting to do more than just hear about conservation efforts and became an active participant in preserving the beauty of the Appalachian Trail, check out the ATC’s website   to find volunteer opportunities near you. Whether it’s removing trash from the trail by yourself, meeting up with a local trail club to keep tabs on area sections of the trail , or hopping on with a Trail Crew working on the barebones of the trail, every effort big or small is one step in the right direction toward preserving our public lands.

Shout out to all you already lending a helping hand out on the trails. We can never thank you enough. Keep on, keeping on!

Happy Trekking, Happy Maintaining!

 

 

 

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Basics of Safe On Trail Foraging

Being able to live off the land is something that everyone would love to be able to do, but very few people truly know how to do it. However, just like with everything else, there are dos and don’ts that you need to learn before taking on the task, full steam ahead. If you’re wanting to get into the art of foraging for your own food, whether as a hobby and as a supplemental food source, we’ve taken the time to outline some of the basics for you.

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On trail foraging 

First things first, stick with what you know. If you’ve never foraged a day in your life, and aren’t very familiar with anything beyond picking wild blackberries and blueberries, then maybe you shouldn’t go picking other wild berries to mix into your salad for supper. It’s important to know what’s edible and what isn’t. Never consume plants that you have to question whether it’s poisonous or not.

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Wild Mushrooms on the AT in Georgia

If you’re new to an area, or simply aren’t familiar with the types of plants you should be looking for, it would be wise to read up on basic edible plants in the areas you plan to forage in. For example, you wouldn’t want to be looking for ramps (an infamous cross between an onion and garlic found in the wild) anywhere but in specific mountainous areas.

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Red Currants

Along with knowing what grows where, you should be aware of plant look-a-likes. A lot of times edible plants and mushrooms will have nearly identical inedible twins that grow alongside them. Or, in other cases, there are simply non-poisonous but inedible plants, known as companion plants, that will grow in the same area as the edible ones. So, it’s very important to make sure that you know what you’re picking before you bring it home. It would definitely be a shock if you came home thinking you’re going to be whipping up some wild ramps and morel mushrooms, only to find that you instead foraged Lily-of-the-Valley and false morels.

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Morel Mushroom

Last, and certainly not least, is arguably one of the most important things to know when you start foraging. Only take what you’re going to use. Just like with anything else out in the wild, it’s important to be respectful. You aren’t going to be the only person out there looking for edible plants, so you need to make sure to leave some behind for the next person who comes along. Even if the population of the plant you’re harvesting seems to be abundant, remain mindful of how much you’re taking (and how much of it you’re actually going to be able to use).

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Fiddleheads

 

If you want to get into foraging, but aren’t sure where to start, check to see if there are any local foraging groups, or classes even, to help you get started. There’s always someone out there willing and ready to teach the ways of identifying wild eats. You just have to find them! Of course, these are just a few of the basics to get you off  your feet and out on the foraging trail.

Happy hiking and happy foraging, y’all!

Linda Strader: Interview With A 1970s Wildland Firefighter

It’s no secret that a lot of the outdoor industry has historically been a male dominated field, the U.S. Forest Service fire crews included. And while women have been fighting fires for longer than most people realize (since 1815 to be exact, but these women were not recognized until the 1920s), it wasn’t until the early 1970s that women began making their breakthrough into the business of wildland firefighting.

Enter Linda Strader: one of the first women to be hired by the U.S. Forest  in the mid 1970s.

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Linda Strader

When asked why drew her to work on a fire crew, and how she got her break as a wildland firefighter, Strader shared this story with us:

I’m often asked if I always wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was a kid. Maybe that would make sense, but it never, ever crossed my mind. In fact, I never gave wildfires any thought until my family moved to Prescott, Arizona, from New York in 1972. When we drove through a charred forest one Sunday afternoon, I remember feeling sad about the destruction, but didn’t think about a job that entailed putting them out.

The year: 1976. Early March. About ten p.m. I walked in the door to find my mom waiting up for me, reading the paper. She let it drop to her lap. “How was the trip?”

“Fun!” I tossed my purse on the chair, removed my coat, and headed toward the closet.

“Oh, the Forest Service called while you were gone,” she said, lifting the paper back up to read.

I froze. My heart leapt into my throat. Every ounce of my soul danced. Please let this be a job offer. “They did? What’d they say?”

The newspaper again dropped to her lap. “It was the Nogales Ranger District. They said they would call back tomorrow to discuss a job offer.”

I’d been looking for work since I graduated from Prescott High School three years earlier, but in this small Arizona town, jobs were scarce, especially for a young woman who did not want to work in an office typing letters or answering phones, or schlepping food trays in a diner. What did I want? I didn’t know. But I did love the outdoors, and spent a considerable amount of time hiking among the pines of the Prescott National Forest. However, my job search had proved fruitless. Reluctantly, in ’74 I tried Tucson. There, an acquaintance connected me with the Fire Control Officer on Mt. Lemmon, who offered me a fire timekeeper position at Palisades Ranger Station. Okay, it was an office job, but it was an office job in a ranger station, in the middle of the Coronado National Forest, deep in ponderosa pines. I worked two summers up there, where I met the Catalina Hot Shots. They introduced me to the world of firefighting. I decided to give it a shot. A very big deal for a twenty-year-old me.

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Linda Strader, 1980

Because I now had a taste of working in a national forest, the “forest” aspect was quite important to me. I loved having nature right outside the back door. But, were there pine trees on the Nogales District? I had no clue. When the Nogales District official called the next day, it’s embarrassing to admit that I boldly quizzed him about whether there were any pine trees. Would I have turned the job down if there weren’t any? I’m not sure, but fortunately, the man assured me that pines did indeed grow there.

What I didn’t know at the time was how determined the Forest Service had been in keeping their agency male-dominated. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Act had passed in 1972, the agency had resisted compliance, especially toward the hiring of women, until they were forced to in 1976—the year I applied.

I’ve never forgotten my first day at work on the fire crew. After introductions, my supervisor inspected my palm for calluses, and squeezed my upper arm for strength. At the time, I figured he was teasing me, and just smiled. Maybe you couldn’t call me Ms. Muscle-builder, but I wasn’t afraid of hard work, and, although I wasn’t positive I could handle the job (self-doubts and all of that), I knew I would do my best.

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Alaska, 1980

And there I was—the only female on a suppression crew of ten. I don’t think I even noticed. Unfazed, my determination to excel at this job grew with each challenge. I fought small fires, medium fires, up to huge, monster fires. I maintained trails and helispots, built fences. Whenever a guy gave me a hard time, either because he considered me as someone belonging barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, grabbing my tool out of my hand, or because I’d said ‘no’ when propositioned after we’d just met…I laughed off the silly men with silly attitudes. I’ve got this.

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What I learned is that when you love what you do, it’s not called ‘work’. And, unfortunately, what I learned while researching for my memoir about my times as a firefighter, is that the struggle for women on fire crews is still that—a struggle—to be accepted, respected, and treated fairly. When will changes happen? That’s hard to predict. I can only trust that eventually things will change. And for the women like me who loved (love) this career, this change can’t come too soon.

If you would like to learn more about my Arizona to Alaska challenges and adventures, you might be interested in my book, Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love, and Courage, available on Amazon.com, and in select Barnes and Noble stores as well as their website.

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Thanks for sharing your story with us, Linda!