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.

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Kelly Perkins on the Appalachian Trail

Intern Aspirations

Kelly Perkins on the Appalachian Trail//Photo courtesy of Kelly Perkins//Text by Maxwell Roeske, public relations intern

Meet Kelly Perkins, former Membership & Development intern at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). She’s also one of our newest Trail Guardians, better known as our monthly donors, and now she’s someone I look up to. You’re probably asking, “Max, so what?” Well hold your horses, I’m getting to it.

Kelly was connected with the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) for about three years prior to being an intern. She was part of the Appalachian State University Trail Crew which went out around the Boone, NC area and helped maintain local trails. The A.T. and her fellow volunteers had the most profound impact on her. Kelly said, “I was astounded at the passion these men and women had for maintaining the Trail.”

21723_273032986133233_177686589_nKelly accomplished a lot during her time at the ATC as an intern, including analyzing the membership database. She spent her time interpreting information about members and the best ways to communicate with our supporters. Kelly’s work helped grow the ATC’s donor support.  Best of all, the experience she gained during the internship helped her go on to secure a full time position analyzing business data for a North Carolina logistics company following her graduation from Appalachian State University.

She wanted to give back to the Trail and the ATC, but how was she supposed to do this and balance her new job? Kelly set the bar high for us interns by becoming a monthly donor. Kelly said, “[Donating to the ATC] gave me an option of giving back to the Trail in a different way than physically maintaining it. My choice to donate really came from a snowball type series of events from working on the A.T. with Trail Crew, working on trails during my summer season working at Grandfather Mountain State Park and then being an intern at the ATC. Working at the Conservancy gave me the opportunity to learn more about an organization that focused on what I already enjoyed doing: hiking and just being outside.”

Why does this make Kelly someone I admire? Well, I’m currently in college and the thought of losing out on money allocated for ramen and cheap light beer is horrifying. I know I’m not alone in that fear. I also know that one day I’ll move beyond that phase of Red Bull and corn flakes for breakfast and I’ll find a career and hopefully settle down and start a family. I won’t be an unpaid intern forever.  That’s when I’ll be thinking about Kelly and her induction into the ranks of the ATC’s Trail Guardians. If she can find a way to give back through her monthly donations, I’ll be able to as well.

And that’s an intern aspiration.