ALDHA OutreachIf there's a trail festival that celebrates the Appalachian Trail, ALDHA tries to be there with a display and at least one volunteer member to plug and promote the benefits of the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, the only membership group on the trail devoted solely to the hiker. The ALDHA display can be seen at biennial conferences of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Southern and Northern Rucks, smaller trail festivals in towns like Hot Springs, N.C., Millinocket, Maine, and the A.T. Kickoff in Georgia, and at the Appalachian Trail Museum's festival in Pennsylvania for National Trails Day. Our biggest event for outreach, of course, is at Trail Days in Damascus, Va., where we set up a huge pavilion-like tent to show off our organization to the public. We also host a hiker feed in the Rock School to meet and greet (and feed) the hikers.
Now shepherding ALDHA's outreach efforts will be a new outreach coordinator, who will continue to expand our reach so we have a presence at some major outdoor exhibitions, including one held in Minneapolis, where ALDHA has set up its exhibit at the Outdoor Adventure Expo for a few years now.
If you have any questions about our outreach efforts, contact the coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Front and center at hiker events
If there's a major trail event happening somewhere, chances are ALDHA will be there with an exhibit and a couple of folks talking up the organization and the benefits of attending our annual Gathering in the fall.
It's a mission that was formalized in 2011 with the appointment of Judy Young as ALDHA's first outreach coordinator. It's her job to make sure folks hear about ALDHA at events like Trail Days and the A.T. Kickoff.
The ALDHA exhibit and/or the ALDHA Store have hit just about every festival from Georgia to Maine since about 1996, when a new traveling display was created to spread the word.
The Hiker Feed
ALDHA's presence at Trail Days has since been expanded to a very important role: Feeding hungry hikers. The Rock School becomes a lunch room of sorts as a host of volunteers, like Mark Suiters ("Stumpknocker") above, lays out a spread of sandwiches, deserts and drinks, all for hikers.
If there's a trail event you'd like to have ALDHA attend, let us know. Contact the ALDHA Outreach Coordinator by email at email@example.com.
Just a portion of the ALDHA exhibit that was set up at the Northern Ruck at Bears Den Hostel in Virginia in 2014.
(Crooked Sticks photo)
The ALDHA trailer
In 2016, ALDHA purchased a storage trailer that can hold our growing inventory of merchandise to be hauled to various trail events like Trail Days and the Gathering. It was detailed with the ALDHA logo as well as the logos of several of our other programs, like ALDHA Care, the new Search and Rescue team, the Endangered Services Campaign, our Trail Aid work trips and our thru-hiker recognition awards. It also plugs the Companion with an image of the 2019 cover. (There's no mention of our award-winning newsletter, but maybe next time.)
The point is that it's a traveling billboard for all things ALDHA, and people do notice it while it's being hauled to a trail event, often for hundreds of miles. Dubbed Sherpa, it is becoming a well-known symbol of ALDHA wherever ALDHA has a presence.
The Endangered Services Campaign
For more than 20 years now, the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association has led the way on hiker behavior on the trail.
P.S. If you have any questions about the program, contact the ALDHA coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The origins of the 20-year program
The following story appeared in the winter '95-96 issue of The Long Distance Hiker, explaining ALDHA's Endangered Services Campaign, as illustrated by the copy of our original campaign poster, below.
At the 1994 Gathering in Hanover, N.H., a workshop on this very subject filled a room to capacity. Ron Keal, then coordinator, appointed a group to look into the subject and report back at the 1995 Gathering.
There were loads of concerns from all perspectives. On one hand, many people do a thru-hike for the express purpose of trying to get away from society and all its rules. On the other hand, people who provide services to these hikers have been getting burned, abused and downright ripped off by that small percentage of hikers who ruin it for others by their behavior. How do we address that without destroying the "Thoreauian spirit" of the trail? Are we our brother's and sister's keeper, even in the woods?
Some folks quoted popular phrases, others went right to Scriptures. "Treat others the way you'd want them to treat you," we heard. But also heard frequently by all of us: "Hike your own hike, man." Or: "Get off my back, I've already got a pack."
Let's face it. Without public support there would be no trail. Agreements with private landowners, arrangements with local, state and federal government agencies, compacts with the public over the stewardship role we all play when we lace up those boots . . . all of that will evaporate if the public continues to become disgusted with our worst behavior.
The trail will wither and vanish without public backing. And without the trail there will be no long-distance hiking community called ALDHA. It's simply that simple.
Something needs to be done. So, taking a positive approach, with perhaps a little humor, we dubbed our efforts the Endangered Services Campaign. Just as some plants and animals along the trail are endangered, so, too, are some hiker services. Already we've lost the pavilion at Shea's Pine Tree Tavern in Sheffield, Mass., and the O'Lystery Community Pavilion in Ceres, Va. Some businesses no longer welcome us, and some hostels are reconsidering staying open.
We've even heard horror stories about thru-hikers kicking other people out of shelters because they believed -- incredibly -- that somehow they were entitled to shelter space solely by virtue of being thru-hikers.
All of these incidents show hiker disrespect for the rights of property owners and other hikers. Present trends will continue to take their toll unless we begin to act responsibly.
At the Pipestem Gathering in the fall of '95, we set aside a block of time with nothing else scheduled except a groupwide discussion on what we came up with. Many of you had excellent suggestions, some of you complimented us on what we developed. Others were rather skeptical.
So, with a little fine-tuning based on those comments, we've come up with a poster (reprinted here, in reduced form) to help get our message out.
For starters, we're in the process of getting these notices posted at hostels and some businesses that have complained in the past about certain hikers' behavior. We've also asked the Appalachian Trail Conference to include a copy in the packets they send people who are planning thru-hikes.
Our hope is that hikers will eventually adapt the "Leave No Trace" camping ethic to their activities in towns, not just to their behavior in the woods, and do it without even thinking twice about it. Just as you wouldn't leave behind a burning campfire, so, too, you wouldn't want to leave a hostel in ruins because you didn't think that "no smoking" sign applied to you.
Or, more importantly, this endeavor will encourage you to speak out when you see someone else threatening yet another endangered service on the trail.
(Note: Working on this project were Monica Cook, Dania Egedi, Noel DeCavalcante, Al Sochard, Cindy Ross and Bill O'Brien.)