AMC Volunteer Trail Crew on St John!

Many travel to St. John in the USVI to enjoy the sun, the surf, the sand, the hiking, snorkeling, the idyllic weather and stunning scenery, but for 15 AMCers, their week on the island in March was all of that and more. What more could you ask for from an island vacation? Well, how about the camaraderie of a hard-working trail crew, the savory tastes of well-earned meals like crepes and fajitas, cooked with love by some new friends, or the satisfaction of taking 300 yards of the island’s most popular trail and transforming it from an eroded problem area to a well-graded masterpiece worthy of its ocean-side views? Yes, for AMC’s first St. John Volunteer Trail Crew in decades, I dare say we took the time-honored island vacation and improved upon it. I know from my perspective as leader, I would much rather the experience of getting to know a group of like-minded folks spanning sixty years of age and the rewards of working together as a team to, say, laying in a spa lathered in some cucumber spread. I’d take Mike and Todd’s fajitas at camp and the enthusiasm with which they were prepared over a 50 dollar steak in Cruz Bay any day.

And what about Jeff Chabot? Jeff has built Friends of Virgin Islands’ volunteer program up from scratch and throughout the week we enjoyed the tent platforms, tents, cots, stoves, camp gear and even snorkel gear that Jeff had procured for trail volunteers through donations to his program. In Jeff, we also had the best island tour guide and naturalist we could ask for, filling our free afternoons (we only worked each day until lunch) with tours of ruins, the island’s best snorkeling, and a wealth of information on the island’s rich history and ecology. Jeff is a volunteer himself, and bringing together his burgeoning program with AMC’s long tradition of hard work and camaraderie made for a simply perfect collaboration and volunteer vacation, and an experience I hope AMC members can participate in for many years to come.

Following is testimonials from our tremendous group. Hopefully this reminiscing will get us through to next year when I know many of us will be eager to do it again!

-Matt Moore, Crew Leader, Great Barrington, MA

This crew went above and beyond my expectations, as this group worked incredibly well together to build quality trails while also having a blast. Our crew was quite diverse; we had members ranging 60 years of age, seasoned trail workers to fresh faces. However, this crew only affirmed the notion that people of all different ages and experience levels can make positive impacts on the trails if they put the time and effort. It’s hard to pick out specific highlights from such a fantastic crew, but here it goes:

Christian’s crepes, Cathy’s peanut sauce, and Sully’s quesadillas (this crew took campground cooking to a whole new level).
Exploring Drunk Bay: never before had a seen people made out of coral!
Completing a crazy long section of trail
Exploring incredible ruins and enjoying fantastic views after Jeff drove the 15-passenger van up a hill no 15-passenger van would want to drive up
The often scary but fascinating wildlife
Our fabulously eccentric, entertaining, hard-working, fun-loving crew!

-Leah Demetri, Crew Leader, Stanford, CA

Volunteer trail work at the Virgin Islands was a wonderful example of “Life Begins Outside”. We had a fantastic experience of meeting, working, having fun, interfacing and living for a week with people who enjoy the outdoors. Not only enjoy, but love working to improve the existing conditions for others that will surely hike the improved Anneburg Trail. For fifteen people to work and live together who had never met before is truly remarkable, what a great experience!

I have never had so much enjoyment shoveling dirt and cutting stumps, while at the same time looking at some of the finest scenery in the world. The swimming and snorkeling was amazing in the warm blue/green water. Mealtime was a lot of fun everybody cooking their favorites and finding the out the best method for cooking. If we had not worked so hard we all would have gained a few pounds!

Remember……same time, same place next year.

-Al Blankenship, Dunnellon, FL

The sun was hot. The water was a shimmering, iridescent blue. The work was hard. But the result was very satisfying. We all took great pride in the 1/4 mile or so of flat, wide trail that we had spent the week reconstructing.

The greatest pleasure was the people. It was a diverse and interesting group. (60 years separated the youngest from the oldest.) But we worked well as a team and enjoyed each others company in the off-hours. And then our leaders - Matt provided excellent, soft spoken leadership and Leah showed great maturity. (It was a shock to learn that she was a mere college freshman.) Last, but not least, our host, Jeff. He was always considerate, thoughtful as well as being an entertaining teacher. He taught us a lot about St John's history, geology, flora and fauna.

I came with high expectations for the week. My expectations were greatly exceeded.

-Jonathan Mercier, Hartford, CT

before and after

The weather was awesome!!! Besides the weather, Jeff went above and beyond my personal expectations. He doubled as a tour guide especially when he made sure that we saw the culture of St. John. The whole crew worked hard as a team to make sure that everyone enjoyed themselves. It was a pleasure to work on the trails and be able to accomplish this goal. I look forward to being able to go on another volunteer trip to St. John through the AMC in the future. It was a blast, the friends that I met were great, life is good, and I look forward to next year!!!

-Todd Flagg, Naples, ME

Working along the Leinster Bay Trail, the scenery was tremendous, the work fun and satisfying, and the outcome highlighted by the appreciative (and even envious!) audience. The sunburned visitors in flimsy flip flops toted coolers and kids as they carefully picked their way along the shoreline and the old washed out trail. They looked on with curiosity at our hand saws, picks and loppers, and they peppered us with questions...what are you doing? did you have to have special training? how did you get to participate in this? And over and over again, they exclaimed “Thanks for doing this!” Later in the day, these same visitors easily strolled back over our newly completed sections of trail, marveling at how much we accomplished during their leisurely day of snorkeling and sunbathing. A path that looked brand new, yet like it had been there all along. What a difference in a few short hours.Our camp life and group dynamic had a similar metamorphosis. At first it felt like walking the rougher trail...shared meals, tools and tents with folks whose names I didn’t even quite remember, peppering them with questions, full of curiosity and anticipation, and knowing that the traveling would soon smooth out. By the end, we had the look and feel of the path that’s always been there, with some marvel at how this collection of strangers so soon became a cohesive group, having learned so much about each others’ strengths, quirks, cooking skills, humor, interests, and working together to make terrific use of it all. What a difference in a few short days. What a week. What an experience.

-Becky Blumenthal, Brooklyn, NY

In the midst of blue sky, blue and turquoise ocean, lush plants of St. John's Island, a glorious team of joyous companions attended to the creation of a new trail. Team members from both the United States and Canada became a strong community upon meeting one another and worked and played together harmoniously. The shared tasks both on the trail and sustaining the camp site and preparing meals was delightful. The embrace of our leaders, Matt, Leah, and Jeff, was always affirmative with great directions in learning new skills for trail construction. The experience was fabulous in every aspect and will remain a very special treasure and memory in my life.

-Kathy Orchen, Highstown, NJ