Celebrating 90 together

Randall Brooks, now and then//Photos courtesy Randall Brooks//Text by Olivia Pridemore, summer events intern

As many of you know, we are currently celebrating 90 years of protecting and managing the Appalachian Trail. But 2015 has ushered in an additional 90th occasion. June 19 marked the 90th birthday of one of our dedicated members, Randall Brooks. In his 90 years, Randall has led an eventful and adventurous life, in which his experiences have fostered a deep passion for protecting the place that has become a sanctuary to him, the Appalachian Trail.

Randall Brooks is the youngest of eight children. Sorrow struck the Brooks family mere months before Randall’s birth with the passing of his father. Therefore, Randall and his siblings bore the brunt of responsibility. Just a year before he graduated high school, Randall’s mother passed as well, leaving the children to fend for themselves. However, Randall’s hardships were far from over.

Randall BrooksIn the midst of World War II, Randall was required to register for the draft as soon as he turned eighteen. Four months later he was sent to infantry training in Alabama, and found himself stationed in Italy within the year. Before his 19th birthday, Randall was serving in combat along with three of his brothers. Times were hard, and some of them incurred injuries. But thankfully, all four of the Brooks Boys made it safely home to the U.S. After returning from the war, Randall attended The College of William and Mary under the GI Bill. He later went on to do graduate work in history at George Washington University and McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Randall’s hiking experience began when joined the Wanderbirds Hiking Club, an organization established in the 1930s that is still active today. Many of the Wanderbirds were also members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). Thanks to the exposure from his friends, Randall became a life member of the PATC in 1986 and a life member of the ATC in 1989.

The spirit of adventure has driven Randall to experience the world. His travels have taken him to all fifty states and more than 40 countries. Yet of all the wonders he has seen, it is the Appalachian Trail that holds a claim on his heart. Despite his persistent back issues, Randall has hiked in 13 of the 14 states represented on the Trail. Randall’s favorite hike involved scaling Mt. Washington, a feat he described as both his greatest challenge and joy.

Over the years, Randall has come to learn the importance of protecting the Trail he holds so dear. He has consistently prioritized volunteering and giving in a way that is truly inspiring. His numerous contributions include hands-on work clearing the trail corridor and years of faithfully manning the Information Desk at the PATC headquarters. In 2001, Randall established a generous Gift Annuity of $100,000, and is proudly a Steward Level member of the Benton MacKaye Society.

Although he has no children, Randall Brooks strives to leave a legacy within the community. He recognizes the importance of engaging today’s youth. In his words, the Appalachian Trail is brimming with “natural beauty and cultural heritage. It is our world, and we must do what we can to ensure [the Appalachian Trail’s extraordinary scenic, spiritual and educational qualities] for centuries to come.” Randall also believes that there should be “more diversity among members and hikers.” Randall’s views are directly in line with our Five Year Strategic Plan, and what better advocate for this lofty goal than a man who has seen the Trail grow and develop across the span of several generations.

When celebrating our 90th anniversary, it is important to remember individuals like Randall Brooks who helped us get here. Without the support of more than 43,000 members, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy would not be where it is today. And consequently, the A.T. would be far different from the lush, natural sanctuary so many have grown to love.

Want to get involved in our 90th anniversary celebrations? Find out more here.