Trails Volunteer of the Month - July 2008

Marvin Swartz

My early hiking career was disjointed, and so is my memory of it, though a few recollections remain firmly fixed. I first visited the White Mountains of New Hampshire with two friends in June 50 years ago. We camped out two nights and drank from the streams. We climbed Mt. Washington in fog so thick above Gem Pool that we had to descend along the cog railway trestle. I now advise hikers not to emulate my early example. In the 1960s, I camped at Dry River Shelter #1, now gone, though I bet the descendants of the no-see’ums which wrecked my sleep are still there. I remember hiking along Webster Cliff and over the Franconia Ridge, much of its vegetation trampled by numerous herd-paths. In the 1970s, I joined the AMC and needed references from two members to do so, did some hiking, and let my membership lapse when I spent some years abroad and my personal life intervened.

My modern era–ancient of course to almost anyone who blogs–began in the 1980s, when I rejoined the AMC and began spending a week or two each summer at Cold River Camp, where I have been leading hikes now for going on a quarter-century. During the same period I have worked with the Chatham Trails Association, which maintains some 40 miles of trails in the vicinity of CRC. For the AMC, I have also been a hike leader for the Berkshire Chapter and August Camp and an Information Volunteer. In addition, I am a member of the Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Team. I could have done none of these things without the understanding of my family. I am grateful to my wife, whom I met on an AMC bike trip, and my two sons, both now grown and great outdoorsmen, for sharing my love of hiking and sharing me with my volunteer activities.

I am in my sixth year in the Alpine Steward Volunteer Program, run jointly by the AMC and the U.S. Forest Service. About a dozen stewards take turns on weekends in the spring, summer and early fall hiking along the Franconia Ridge between Lafayette and Little Haystack. We are involved in education, preservation, and safety on this heavily traveled stretch of the AT. We emphasize the importance of hikers remaining within the scree walls so that vegetation can continue to grow back; report on the stages of growth of certain plants at three locations; give advice on trails, weather, and clothing; provide first aid or radio the hut in case of emergency; chat with visitors and take their photos when requested; and give explanations of our program at dinner in Greenleaf Hut on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Having retired from my day job in June 2008, I have more time to volunteer. When Jocelyn calls (actually e-mails), I try to answer. So in addition to my regular stints–ASVP at the end of June and InfoVol at the beginning of August, I agreed to substitute for a hike leader at Cold River Camp and to lead campers at Highland Center in July. I enjoy sharing my limited knowledge and experience with other people. At the same time that I am contributing to the AMC, the AMC is contributing to my life. It has allowed me to pursue activities I love and improve my skills. I have applied those leadership and organizational abilities to other parts of my life. So I must thank the AMC not only for honoring me this month but also for enriching my life. I encourage readers to think of volunteering in similar terms, and I would be glad to welcome your joining me in any of the activities in which I am involved.