Hey Bivouac Bob, we’ll miss you

Bob Proudman poses for a picture with a single-bit ax. Earlier this day at the 2015 Southern Partnership Meeting, he received an engraved pick mattock, a retirement gift presented by Pete Irvine of the U.S. Forest Service (on left)//Photo courtesy Bob Proudman//Text by Susan Daniels, ATC’s conservation coordinator

Bob Proudman has been my supervisor, my colleague, and my friend since I came to work for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) nearly 26 years ago.

My husband Bill and I moved to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in the late ‘80s for the beauty of the area, its history, and its hiking, cycling, and canoeing opportunities. Hiking in Maryland one day, we came across Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) volunteers, armed with loppers and saws and other implements, working on a short relocation. A revelation! The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) wasn’t just an old path that was kept passable by hikers tramping on it—it was actively built and maintained by volunteers. We signed on to help.

A couple of years later, as mother of a 9-month-old baby, I was looking for an alternative to spending three hours a day commuting via train and Metro from Harpers Ferry to a job in Bethesda, Maryland. I spotted an ad for a secretarial position at the ATC’s headquarters in Harpers Ferry. Working for a national scenic trail organization with a two-block commute sounded ideal. I interviewed with Bob and other staff members and took the job when it was offered.

8ed0585f7588c208cc1c163b6c990183I learned that Bob had literally written the book of standards for the A.T.—Appalachian Trail Design, Construction, and Maintenance—and other trail manuals. I learned that managing a “simple footpath” as it winds through 14 states and numerous federal, state, and local jurisdictions is not simple. Particularly in that first year, when the complexities sometimes seemed overwhelming, Bob’s empathy, gentle manner, and sense of humor made me feel welcome and part of a team. He is easy to talk to, always willing to listen and to provide support.

Managing and maintaining the A.T. requires the partnership and cooperation of many people—volunteers, federal, state, and local agency personnel, Trail neighbors, and the ATC. It requires cooperative agreements, policies, meetings, conference calls, and informal discussions. Bob worked closely with the NPS-Appalachian Trail Park Office, the U.S. Forest Service, Trail club leaders, and others partners to manage the Trail. He has always been a staunch supporter of the volunteers who work on and for the Trail.

Disagreements arise and achieving consensus can be difficult. Bob encouraged everyone to have their say, gently brought people back on track when things were bogged down, and could smooth tensions with an anecdote or self-deprecating humor. He believes in using the “bully pulpit” to encourage people to do what is best for the Trail.

Bob began his trail career at age 16, working on a pro trail crew for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). He remains an active member and the secretary of the AMC Trail Crew Association, often spending vacation time at the crew’s cabin in New Hampshire and on canoeing adventures with other crew alumni.

He went on to become AMC’s first supervisor of trails, served on the ATC’s Board and worked for the National Park Service in the 1970s, and joined the ATC staff in 1981. Bob helped found numerous ATC programs that continue today, including trail crew, corridor monitoring, and ridgerunner and caretaker programs.

Bob worked on budgets and contracting, cooperative agreements, local management planning, incident management, advocacy, external threats (such as power lines and highways), backcountry sanitation, and on other problems and issues as they arose.

He is also a great story teller and can regale a group with tales of his travels, outdoor adventures, and Trail history. He loves to read, sing, and wield a chainsaw.

Bob’s good humor and easy-going manner, his dedication to the Trail, trail-building expertise, and willingness to share his knowledge have won him friends along the A.T., across the country, and even as far as Africa and Asia.

In 2006, he traveled to South Africa with a group from Conservation International to help lay out a trail in a region with diamond mines and a sensitive conservation area known as the Succulent Karoo, where rare succulent plants receive most of their moisture from sea fog.

In 2013, Bob was invited to give a keynote address at the Beijing Tourism Mountain Festival on the development of the national trail system in the United States, and particularly the A.T. That invitation came about after Bob met with a professor from China Cultural University who visited the ATC along with staff from the Taiwan Forestry Bureau in 2009. Even on a whirlwind trip of only six days, Bob was able to visit the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square and other historic places.

2014-07-28 06.57.37A year ago, Bob traveled to north-central Mongolia, helping to lay out a trail system in Lake Hovskol National Park. That adventure included sleeping in yurts and tents, bouncing across 500 miles on rough roads and rivers in an old van with no seat belts, and a week of travel by small Mongolian horses. The area was so remote that he said he did not hear an airplane or see a flush toilet for a month. Sleeping under the Milky Way with no city lights to dim the magnificent sky made up for any hardships.

His background as a mountaineer and an adventurer (known to some as “Bivouac Bob”), and ability to sleep anywhere and eat anything, were good preparation for those trips, which included an encounter with feral dogs in South Africa, 10-course meals in China, and breakfasts of roasted marmot and fermented mare’s milk in Mongolia, of which he said, “Tastes like buttermilk with vodka, only different.”

After 50 years of trail building and management, Bob retired from the ATC on July 19. He and I have been a great team, so close we can finish each other’s sentences. I am glad to report that Bob will continue to work on specific projects as a contractor for the ATC, including writing for The Register, which I edit, and working on the nomination of the Trail to the National Register for Historic Places.

I will miss you, Bob, as will all of us at the ATC. Safe travels, and bring us back some great stories!

Have you met Bob? Share a memory below, or wish him well in the comments.

Taking a Look at the Big Picture

Text by Laura Belleville, Director of Conservation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Here at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a day does not go by where we, and our trail management partners, don’t hear about hikers engaged in activities that are not compatible with Trail values. That’s not to say that there aren’t thousands of hikers that are doing the right thing, but more and more it seems to be tipping in the other direction. And as Baxter State Park has called out, it’s time to wrestle this issue to the ground.

We need everyone’s help. When I think about inappropriate behavior on the Trail I recall the widely popular and effective anti-littering campaign in the 1980s. This campaign was effective because it depicted the extent of litter across our lands and asked everyone to take a hard look at what they were doing to contribute to the growing problem.

Let’s face it, we could all benefit from taking a hard look at how we behave on the Trail. Day hikers, thru-hikers, section hikers all have a responsibility to protect the unique experience of hiking a world-renowned National Scenic Trail. It’s a precious resource that should not be tarnished. Frankly, the last thing I want to hear is that a hiker chooses to hike elsewhere because the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is no longer the outdoor experience we have all come to revere.

So, here’s a message from all trail managers: please, help out the Trail. It would be great if GOOD trail behavior goes viral. Here are some ways you can contribute to the effort:

  • Know before you go. The A.T. is unique in that it crosses 14 state borders, eight different national forests, six national park units and numerous state park, forest and game lands. Those lands are all managed for different purposes, which means the way you enjoy those lands will vary. But that’s just part of the A.T. experience!
  • Remember respect. Respect the Trail and those who choose to walk it. It’s just good Trail Karma.
  • Help others make the right decision. With such a large amount of people choosing to visit the A.T., the chances are great that any one of us may inadvertently damage the natural area around the Trail. Brush up on Leave No Trace here, and remind others when necessary.

We welcome your ideas and suggestions to promote the good while minimizing the bad. Let us know your ideas by commenting below.

View our response to the Baxter State Park Facebook post about this issue here.

Reunions—Trail Days style

Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff display the organization’s 90th anniversary banner during the Hiker Parade at Trail Days in Damascus, VA//Photo courtesy of Dan Innamorato//Text by Anne Baker, marketing assistant

I remember very clearly the first time I visited Damascus, Virginia. I was clutching a paper coffee cup in my hand, riding shotgun in a rental car early on a Friday morning, admiring the fog as it burned away from mountain peaks that hovered in the 3,000s.

“I’m kind of nervous,” I told the driver of the vehicle, who happened to be my boss.

And then the car rounded the corner, and I saw the tents.

“Happy Trail Days,” he said.

I had heard all sorts of things about Trail Days, the annual hiking festival that attracts the weird, the proud, and the dirty. People told me about the hundreds that come back to visit with their respective hiking class; the people that line up hours early to sign up for the legendary Hardcore Trail Crew; the excited thru-hikers that walk or hitch into town; the partiers in Tent City and the barrage of water guns in the parade.

But most of all, when people learned I was going to Trail Days for the first time, I heard the phrase, “Have fun.”

This year, I again had the opportunity to represent the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at Trail Days. It has become one of my favorite parts of my job. I step away from my computer, my phone, and my email, and for a solid 72 hours I am able to interact face-to-face with those who share the same passion that I am consumed by. To say that it is inspiring is an over simplification.

The Appalachian Trail experience is more than the approximate 2,180 miles that span from Georgia to Maine (or Maine to Georgia, depending on your perspective). It is something that involves perseverance, dedication, and heart. It requires adaptation. It involves both self-reliance and the ability to embrace those that make up your Trail family.

And during Trail Days, you are not only able to see all of that in action, but you feel it, too. I shared hugs with Rosalie “Gweem” and Daniel “Pop,” Trail Angels and ATC volunteers in the Roan Highlands, a couple I had chatted with last year during the event. I laughed as Scott “Flying Pork Chop” handed out buttons that read “I heart Bob Peoples,” and I saw the look on Bob’s face when he finally noticed the swarms of people proudly wearing them. I talked to countless volunteers and supporters who have helped maintain and protect the Trail, and I excitedly thanked those who became ATC members or who renewed their commitment. And I watched as hikers put their packs back on and hit the Trail for the continuation of a grand adventure.

The generosity of the A.T. family will always astound me. I can’t wait to see everyone again next year.

Want to see more pictures from Trail Days? Check out our gallery here.

The ultimate post-thru-hike re-entry program

Rocky Top Trail Crew members show their enthusiasm along the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokies//Photo courtesy the Rocky Top Trail Crew blog//Text by Leanna Joyner, Trail Resources manager

Near the end of a thru-hike, or just afterwards, there’s a flood of mixed emotions: pride, elation, and for some, there’s confusion about what comes next. The camaraderie, present-moment focus, the healthy physical exertion, and time outdoors doesn’t have to conclude when your hike finishes.

RockyTop_LogoSeveral thru-hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) are already planning to join the Rocky Top Trail Crew once their hike ends. Rocky Top Trail Crew enables hikers to experience the Great Smoky Mountains from a different perspective by working and camping on the Trail during 8-day sessions.

Here are the top 10 reasons why a hitch on crew is the perfect transition into life after the trail.

  1. Retrace part of your hike: The Smokies are beautiful, but early spring thru-hike starts often means missing the views and expansive perspective gained from some of the highest and most remote sections of the entire A.T. You’ll get to return to the Smokies in time to see the fall colors in their full effect in September and October and squeeze out the very last bit of good weather before the snow flies and puts the Trail to bed for the winter.
  1. Camaraderie: Live and work with the salt of the earth. Whether reuniting with Trail friends or other volunteers on the crew, you’ll forge the kind of memorable relationships that will last a long time.
  1. “Repair the Rut”: If you ever found yourself frustrated with a trench of trail, this is your chance to make it better for those who come behind you. Be part of improving the type of trail conditions you were annoyed by the most.
  1. Get a behind the scenes look at the management of the A.T.: The Trail doesn’t just exist. It’s constantly evolving and shifting, and it requires a host of management partners, from volunteers, to Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) staff, and land management agencies. Get a glimpse of how all the pieces and partners fit together by being a valuable piece of the puzzle to protect the A.T.
  1. Learn new skills: By the end of your hike, you’ve stepped over, on, or around thousands of steps or waterbars. They are the corrective action for the number one enemy of the trail: water. These erosion control features repair entrenched trail by slowing the flow of water or by getting off the trail. Learn the “how” and the “why” behind these structures. You’ll know it well enough by the end that you can teach someone else.
  1. Continue your outdoor experience: If your experience hiking this year makes you feel like you may only ever want to live and work in the backcountry, trail crew provides a great job skill training opportunity and resume builder. Add conservation, natural resource protection, and teamwork to your skill set as you ease your way back into the workforce.
  1. Get all you can eat without tacking on those post-trail pounds: Keep your trail physique and gain upper body strength and conditioning while enjoying all the food you can eat. Did we mention you don’t even have to carry that food up the mountain to the backcountry site? Our equestrian volunteer and partners help us carry some of the heaviest equipment and supplies to the worksite on this rare horse-accessible portion of the A.T.
  1. Put your worrying mind at ease: With your backpack on, your focus is solely on the trail ahead. On crew, you can focus just on the task at hand: crushing this rock, lopping this brush, or placing the most perfect stone step. With concerted focus, your mind releases unnecessary chatter and your body produces measurable results.
  1. It feels good to give back: Altruism releases all kinds of fabulous feelings. Bring yourself and your contributions of sweat and effort to Rocky Top Trail Crew to leave a lasting impact. Plus, you’ll be delighted to plan a return visit long into the future.
  1. Earn a free t-shirt: While no one on crew cares a bit if you’re stinky as you work alongside them in your hiking gear, at the end of your crew session, you’ll appreciate having a fresh t-shirt to slip on. You’ll walk away with a t-shirt in acknowledgement of your effort and making you as a great guardian of the A.T.

Convinced that you are a good fit for the Rocky Top Trail Crew? Access the crew schedule here and email Leanna at ljoyner@appalachiantrail.org with any questions.

The start of a great A.T. tradition? I think yes

Ryan Seltzer in 2009//Photo courtesy of Ryan Seltzer//Text by Maxwell Roeske, public relations intern

The classic line “April showers bring May flowers” is being rewritten by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). The ATC is welcoming May with the Inaugural Flip Flop Kickoff Weekend at its Harpers Ferry, WV Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3—and from now on, you’ll hear people in the town of Harpers Ferry saying “April showers bring May Flip Floppers.”

A flip flop thru-hike is an alternative to the old school definition of a thru-hike. Today’s Appalachian Trail (A.T.) hikers ought to know that thru-hiking the world’s most famous long-distance footpath doesn’t mean they have to start and end in Georgia or Maine. In fact, more and more thru-hikers are finding out that Harpers Ferry is an ideal location to begin or end their hike. The allure of visiting the town twice then tips the scales toward a flip flop hike.

When flip flop hikers triumphantly return to the area for a special version of a “half-time” celebration, “They have a chance to to explore the C&O Towpath, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the Potomac Heritage Trail and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park,” said Laurie Pottieger, the ATC’s information services manager and organizer of what is being dubbed as the FFKO Weekend. “It’s a jumping off point for flip floppers and day hikers alike that offers a wealth of hiking opportunities and more.”

Flip flopping visitors get a chance to take some down time not usually afforded to those thru-hikers who are focused on Katahdin and its October 15 summit deadline. Many take advantage of the leisure time to wait for their southbound (SOBO) compatriots and join them in the A.T.’s southern migration from Baxter State Park towards Springer Mountain.

Joseph "Bellows" and Catherine "Watermelon" summit Katahdin during their 2014 flip flop thru-hike.

Joseph “Bellows” and Catherine “Watermelon” summit Katahdin during their 2014 flip flop thru-hike.

ATC’s Flip Flop Kick Off Weekend is a chance to celebrate and learn more about this new movement. The festival schedule is jam-packed with everything from giveaways and games to live music and hiking workshops to an official bon voyage for this year’s flip flop hikers. ATC’s Trail Information Specialist Tenny Webster, who is leading a workshop during the event, said, “We’ll be demonstrating bear bag hanging techniques including the latest and greatest tricked out variations. We’ll show various bear bag hanging systems and all of their components, from the ideal equipment for a hang (and what you will actually have on the Trail), to knots you need to know, and of course, the importance of troubleshooting as you go. It will be hands-on, so people should bring their throwing arm for some ‘Spring Training’!”

Eighty percent of hikers who set out to complete the entire A.T. in 12 months or less start in Georgia and end in Maine. Talk about a crowd! Flip flopping offers a relief from the large groups of Northbound (NOBO) hikers not only to the flip flopper, but to the Trail itself. The ATC is encouraging this conservation-minded thru-hike.

Ryan “Castanada” Seltzer, the ATC Corridor Stewardship Coordinator, is also a FFKO workshop presenter, and after successfully completing a flip flop in 2009, he’s been a flip flop advocate from the start.

“The A.T. is here to stay,” he said. “As the Trail’s popularity continues to grow, users must consider the impacts they cause and spread them out so that nature has the opportunity to heal itself. And to not just follow the crowd, spread out, take as much time as they can.”

Who wouldn’t want to soak up as much of the Trail’s beauty as they could? Flip flopping lets you slow down and enjoy more of the little things.

“That’s really why people should consider a flip flop hike,” concluded Seltzer.

The Flip Flop Kick Off is about more than the awesome temporary tattoos you can get during the festival (whice are seriously cool). It’s about celebrating the men and women, young and old alike, adopting this new version of a thru-hike. We’re gathering to celebrate the traditions of our beloved Trail melding seamlessly with new alternatives that are only going strengthen the A.T. for generations to come. That’s why there’s no doubt in my mind, that the answer to the question, “Is this the start of a new A.T. tradition?” is a resounding YES!

For more information about the Flip Flop Kick Off, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/flipflop.

tHarmony provides a chance for ‘Love at First Hike’

Canuck and Happy Hipster on the Appalachian Trail//Photo courtesy tHarmony//Text by Happy Hipster

Below is a real-life testimonial from two hikers who met using tHarmony, a dating service offered in partnership with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. To learn more about tHarmony or to sign up to find your Trailmate, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/tharmony.

The timing was perfect. Back in July, a few days before my paid subscription to tHarmony was set to expire, a guy named Canuck who had a beard that melted my soul contacted me and asked if I wanted to go hiking. I thought, “Why not try one last time? Maybe this time I’ll find love.”

I have hiked with a lot of people over the years—including some guys who became my friends and some who became a little bit more. I have no regrets about those past relationships, though, because they helped mold me into a better backpacker and, ultimately, a better person. This means that by the time Canuck came into my life, I was pretty confident about who I was and what I wanted in a trail (and soul) mate. Coming from a good place emotionally allows me to bring more to the proverbial “tent,” so to speak, and enjoy what Canuck has to offer—both on and off the trail.

Canuck and I just fit, and it feels like we’ve been hiking with each other forever. People ask us how long we’ve been together, and it always surprises us to realize it wasn’t too long ago that we met for our first hike near Bear Mountain, New York. We do feel like it took our whole lives to find each other, though, and now we’re sticking together like mac n’ cheese (but not with that pouch of tuna mixed in, because tuna mac is so early 2000s).

Thank you, tHarmony, for matching us. I know we couldn’t have done it without you! On Friday, we’ll celebrate our 9-month anniversary, and we figured we ought to give credit where it’s due. To anyone doubting the site, anyone that is tired or having poor luck dating in the hiker community, don’t give up! Dating can be exhausting and hard work, but tHarmony makes it easier. Just keep on waiting for that little bit of magic to come along.

Canuck and Happy Hipster live in Bear Mountain, New York, and they hit the Trail together almost every weekend. Canuck still rocks the beard that attracted Happy Hipster to him in the first place.

Why we’re looking good at 90

ATC staff celebrate the organization’s 90th//Harpers Ferry, West Virginia//Photo by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy//Text by Anne Baker, marketing assistant

Today, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) turned 90. That means we’ve been around since the first issue of the New Yorker was published, the first film was shown on an airplane, and when the record temperature low was recorded in Maine (-48 degrees in Van Buren). We’ve seen a lot during our 90 years, including millions of other firsts.

But we like to think that we’re unique, and that our birthday is worth remembering. We’ve come a long way since that day in 1925 when Benton MacKaye and his team sat down to determine how to get the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) on the ground from Georgia to Maine. Yet throughout the years, the heart of the organization has remained the same: to protect and maintain an approximate 2,180-mile long footpath that is, to so many, a place of dreams, hopes and life-changing discovery.

If we had a guest list for a birthday party, it would be thousands of names long. The ATC isn’t made up of just staff, after all—it’s a volunteer-based organization that you choose to be a part of. Last year, for example, close to 6,000 volunteers helped keep the A.T. in top shape. That’s an extraordinary number, and that doesn’t even include our members, community supporters, agencies and corporate partners who have provided the funds necessary to support our work. We accomplish what we do thanks to you.

Because we’re an organization that relies so heavily on community support, we want the public to help us celebrate this year. We want everyone to get excited about who we are and what we do so we can not only relive our experiences along the A.T. together, but look ahead to what’s in store for the future.

And that whole “future” thing is key, especially because this year we began implementing a new Strategic Plan that will guide our organization through 2019. The plan will build on our successes, driving us to embrace initiatives that include managing and protecting the A.T. and surrounding landscapes; involving more young and diverse people with the Trail and volunteer work; and strengthening and expanding the ATC’s network of partners as well as our organizational capacity so that we have the resources to achieve all of our goals.

It’s a bold plan, but we believe that by the time someone turns 90, they’ve earned their right to take a few risks here and there.

Happy birthday, ATC.

Now do you want to help us celebrate? Learn more about what you can do by visiting www.appalachiantrail.org/90th.