In Defense of Undetectable Maintinence by Ridgerunner Michael Wood

Here at the Southern New England Office of the AMC, we have been bombing the trails blog with news of our energetic and photogenic Berkshire Teen Trail Crew. However, we run another equally important program out of this office, one which has not had nearly the spotlight of our teen volunteers and their leaders. The Ridgerunners, aside from having one of the coolest job titles you could think of, play an important role in maintaining the wilderness character of the Appalachian Trail. Whereas our trail crews storm in for a week using 18 pound rock bars, pick mattocks, and axes to install durable structures to maintain the trail, the Ridgerunners use subtler tools like education, outreach, and the gathering of statistics to help manage the impact of thousands of visitors in the wilderness. The Ridgerunners certainly engage in their fair share of hard and tangible work like breaking up dozens of illegal firerings, clearing blowdowns, and removing countless 10 gallon bags of trash. But I am grateful to Michael for illuminating the "undetectable" management of the committed volunteers of the AMC's Connecticut and Massachusetts Appalachian Trail Committees, whose decades of stewardship leave a silent legacy, as does the hard work of our Ridgerunners.
-Matt Moore, Southern New England Trails Coordinator

Without working for the AMC you might actually have very little reason to believe that anybody runs the trail. I'm often impressed by just how invisible we seem to be. Granted, there are the few occasions when hiking a work party of some variety sets itself in the middle of the trail, but overall any managers are undetectable.


This is as it should be, and I'll explain why.
I believe what makes the Appalachian Trail such a wonderful monument of achievement is its very humility. Unlike the great western monuments of Mount Rushmore or the marble palaces of memory in Washington where the landscape has been so altered as to present at every vista a testament of human greatness, the trail offers a setting of man diminished. Or rather, enhanced by the greatness of an environment in which he offers no greater part than the oak, or the deer, or the millipede.

I have heard several hikers bemoan the trail's many PUDs (pointless ups and downs) and derisively use the term "green tunnel" in their description of the trail, but I feel that it is the very humility of the trail, that it does not offer waterfalls and overlooks at every turn, that is such great proof of its purity. The hiker who grows impatient with a section in which he imagines he is never at a spot deemed sufficiently photogenic is likely to be the same person who behind an automobile demands at least one gawk spot per hour of driving on the highway, one Civil War monument per town when off.

Let me clarify: To be sure, there are many great attractions along the entire length of the trail, but they are spread in such a way as to invite exploration rather than brief, passive observation in the manner of the Youtube generation. And, more preciously than the marbles of the Capital, this monument is impermanent. If left for just a few years, perhaps as little as one, the trail would very well vanish, leaving an archipelago of shelters with no one to navigate between.

No one thinks of the work that goes into building and making the trail. No one should. In the thousands of thru-hikes completed this year I've had a hand by removing a downed tree, or helping clear a drainage, or moving stones for an access. But it's always been in such a way that I've never heard anyone comment on how easy the trail was this particular day. And I hope that invisibility on the part of the caretakers stays maintained. It is a valuable aid to the illusion of solitude in a too-crowded world.

One hiker best expressed it to me when I bumped into him outside of Ten Mile River.

"Isn't it amazing," he genuinely gushed, "how the trail fell where the stones just stuck out like steps."

I agree entirely.
~Michael