Why pitch in? One trail volunteer shares her story

Trail maintenance has an obvious benefit: it’s darn good exercise. But for Becky Smucker, a volunteer trail crew leader in the Pisgah National Forest, it carries a deep satisfaction.

“Those of us who work in jobs that produce abstract results, trail work is a concrete, immediate result that you can see,” Smucker said.

It’s also gratifying when other hikers happen by, profusely proclaiming their appreciation for the volunteer trail workers. After the small talk, Smucker is often pressed into service as a trail concierge.

“Especially in the wilderness areas where trails aren’t blazed people can be misplaced, so we pull a map out of our pocket and help them with where they are going,” Smucker said.

Smucker, 60, who works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Asheville, has been a hiker for much of her life before making the jump to trail maintenance four years ago. She is now the leader of her own Saturday crew that works in wilderness areas, including a lot of time in Shining Rock and Middle Prong in Haywood County.

“I just love being out there no matter what I am doing,” Smucker said. “I just truly love the outdoors.”

But, the camaraderie with fellow trail nuts is a close second when it comes to what motivates her to give up two Saturdays a month.

“As much as it is an outdoor experience, it is a social experience. There is not a much better way to get to know people than being out on a trail getting tired and sweaty and working through problems together to accomplish something,” Smucker said.

Some tasks are more of a chore than others, however.

“Some trail work is just plain tedious. Lopping rhododendron, lopping dog hobble, lopping blackberries are the worst,” Smucker said. “Clearing a downed tree is a whole lot more challenging and fun.”

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