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.

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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.

Raising the next generation of Trail stewards

TTEC participants during a 2013 summer training session//Photo by Bob Ryder//Text by Kathryn Herndon, education and outreach coordinator

It’s estimated that children today spend about half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago, instead devoting an average of 5 to 7 hours a day staring at a TV, computer, or other screens. These statistics raise an interesting (and scary!) question: Will the next generation care enough about the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) to protect their national treasure?

Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum famously said:

In the end we will conserve only what we love.

We will love only what we understand.

We will understand only what we are taught.

For the children of today to become tomorrow’s hikers, trail maintainers, stewards and guardians of the A.T., someone has to introduce them to the Trail. And that’s exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish through our Trail to Every Classroom (TTEC) program, which is a unique professional development opportunity for K-12 teachers who want to connect their students with the natural environment and their community. What’s neat about this program is that it uses the A.T. as a living classroom—resulting in a memorable curriculum that students will remember for the rest of their lives.

So—how does this work, exactly? Through a cumulative workshop series led by national experts in Place Based Service Learning, each teacher will create an experiential learning curriculum based on the state or Common Core standards of learning for their discipline. Each hands-on curriculum integrates the study of A.T. resources in the local community, and is supported by strong teacher and student networks from Georgia to Maine. To see examples of what TTEC teachers are doing, visit the TTEC blog or browse the database of TTEC curricula.

If you know a teacher who loves the outdoors, we’re currently looking for a few outstanding educators in the 14 Trail states for this year’s TTEC program. Download the application here, and keep in mind that the deadline to apply is March 15.

From urban to rural, elementary to high school, and math and science to English, history, art, and physical education, teachers of all stripes are discovering the power of the Trail to engage and educate their students and invigorate their teaching practice. Please help connect students and communities with the A.T. by sharing this opportunity with a teacher!

TTEC is a program of the ATC in partnership with the National Park Service. To learn more, watch this video to find out what teachers are saying about the TTEC workshop series.