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Take a Hike: Student Gets Hands Dirty for AT Conservation Effort


Photo Courtesy of Brienah Gouveia

Article Written by Brienah Gouveia


Jane Rice likes getting her hands dirty.

Rice, a junior Environmental Studies ma-jor at Roanoke,is an intern at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, where she assists with the organization’s social media and communications work. But she’s also knee deep in recruiting volunteers for the Appalachian Trail’s flagship volunteer crew.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is an organization, one of a larger three-pronged team, maintaining the roughly 2,200 mile long stretch of land crossing through 14 Eastern states, in partnership with the National Park Service and Appalachian Trail Clubs. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy acts as a liaison between the Appalachian Trail Clubs, which according to Rice, primarily provides volunteers who carry out the grunt work of trail maintenance and the National Park Service, which handles administrative work.

Different trail clubs are assigned to different offices of the Conservancy. One of these offices is located in downtown Roanoke, where Rice interns as a social media and communications intern. In this role she has had a part in volunteer recruitment and campaign promotion.

She is currently heading the campaign, Trail Karma, with its motto “If you take care of the trail, the trail will take care of you.” Rice said that the idea of this motto is to promote “leave no trace principles,” adding that “while you’re out hiking, you should do your part to help the trail if it’s doing a lot for you.”

Another program that Rice is helping to promote is Konnarock, the Appalachian Trail’s flagship volunteer trail crew. From May 3 to Aug. 9, five days of every week are designated to particular trail work initiatives. This project’s base camp is in Sugar Grove, Virginia. Each week, two different crew leaders recruit up to 15 workers. So this summer Konnarock leaders are looking for as much help as possible.

The schedule of the outings are also meant to accommodate students who are 18 and older and the employed and who may not be able to become full-time members of clubs, but still want to give a few days out of their summer to maintaining the trail.

Projects conducted on previous trail outings include bridge building, log removal, and other cleanup or construction projects. Senior RC Environmental Science major Connor Martin volunteered for two weeks during June of 2016.

“My first week on the Konnarock Trail Crew was my favorite,” she said. “Three others and myself worked for five days to build a crib wall in a washed out section of the trail. To do this, we had to find around 70 rocks weighing from 60 to several hundred pounds, move them to where the washed out section was, and fit them like puzzle pieces to make the wall, sometimes having to chisel away edges to make them fit. We smashed just about as much to make gravel for the path itself. I found it rewarding because we were literally building a massive structure out of the natural resources around us, sharing stories and experiences in the down time.” Rice added that volunteers are responsible for their personal transportation to the basecamp in Sugar Grove, but from there the organization takes vans to specified trail locations. Volunteers enjoy camping, or as Rice called it car-camping/glamping. “Even if you’ve hiked the whole AT [Appala-chian Trail], or you’ve never done trail work before but are really interested, it suits everyone,” she said.

As for encounters with wild animals on the trail, Rice has not had any personal experienc-es, but added, “It wouldn’t surprise me if there have been some, but I don’t know. It might be one of those things like ‘what happens on the trail stays on the trail.”

Rice said that everyone working for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is dedicated and passionate.

“We get young people, retirees, and even veterans, who get the opportunity to bond over service in a way they probably wouldn’t have before,” she said.

The most fulfilling aspect of the internship, is that “every day in the office, people are so excited about new projects coming up…[and] the organization as a whole promotes such great ideals and values,” Rice said. “They are all about meeting new people, getting people more connected to nature, and preserving the land that we have for future generations.” In addition to Konnarock being a great resume builder, Rice said “it’s a free opportunity to get your hands dirty and meet new people” interested in preserving this historic American trail.

For volunteer sign ups with Konnarock, visit: http://www.appalachiantrail.org/crews