My hands are still sore as I am typing this, and we put down our tools more than 36 hours ago. Saturday was National Trails Day. For us, it meant an easy chance to get involved in trail building and to camp out with other volunteers in the Allegheny National Forest in northern Pennsylvania.
We found out about the opportunity through the nationwide listing on American Hiking Society’s site. Using the directions on the project description, we made our way to the Amsler Springs Shelter just as it was getting dark on Friday night. There were already several people there and we were greeted by two dogs, barking at us with a mix of excitement and watchfulness. Keith, who we found out later was the Allegheny National Forest Chapter President, called off his dog, Bear and welcomed us to the site. The guys, Keith, Burt, and Jeff, were talking shop about the North Country Trail.
Annual service events such as National Trails Day are a great opportunity to bring people together and build a sense of community around the work that goes on all year long. The group that built trail on Saturday included dedicated trail workers such as Kay, Tom, and Patty, as well as people who are new to this group, like us and Jode. In addition, college students spending their summer on a Student Conservation Association crew joined us. As we worked side by side slinging pulaskis and McLeods, we shared stories about our favorite hikes. Jode was preparing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (over 2,000 miles!). He was getting advice from a thru-hiking alum, Burt. Meanwhile his stories about preparing for the trip were inspiring the rest of us to think big about our future adventures. We listened and laughed as we slowly chopped away at the hillside. Unfortunately we had to hurry off the trail early when an afternoon thunder and lightning storm blew in. An early exit just turned into an earlier dinner at Cougar Bob’s, the favorite (and only) restaurant nearby.
I haven’t thought a lot about my graduate course work since leaving on this trip, but sitting around the campfire after the trail building and sharing tips, stories, and laughs reminded me about what Mark had to say about how knowledge is shared. I don’t think anybody actually enjoys 5 hours of back breaking trail construction. The tools are heavy, the motions are repetitive, the work is slow. But the camaraderie is outstanding and it can only be created through working hard together and then celebrating and relaxing afterwards.