Today marks the end of my first week working as the new Centennial Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. And what a week it was. When I first accepted the position it took me long enough to remember the title itself, never mind explaining what my role was when people asked.
Speaking of which…
For those of you who don’t know, my position as a CVA is one of 70 internships through the Student Conservation Association placed in National Parks across the US this year. Generically speaking our goal is to help launch the NPS into a successful 2nd century by engaging the next generation of volunteers that our park system requires in order to thrive. How we go about achieving this goal, however, varies based on our location. Each job description is a little different depending on the needs and structure of the park we work with – which can vary greatly. In fact, I could probably write an entire blog about that topic alone…
But I digress…
As much time as I spent memorizing my job title and introduction (which, real talk, wasn’t actually that long) it did not prepare me for the overwhelming amount of information I encountered this week. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (henceforth AT) is a park system unlike any other.
In 1921 Benton MacKaye proposed the idea of a simple footpath linking the cultural, historical and natural resources along the Appalachian Mountains. Met with ample public support, the project of the AT began – and was completed – without government aid. That is what makes this site so special and complex. Everyday people, impassioned by an idea, freely donated thousands of hours of their time to make it a reality. The AT may not be the only example of such an accomplishment, but certainly stands out when considering the sheer vastness and logistical complexity of the project (trail clearing, land rights, etc…). The trail was completed in 1937; however, over time its continuity was threatened, and in 1978 a partnership was formed involving the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the NPS in order to provide federal protection to the land.
As I said before the park system is flexible and molds itself to fit the needs of each park. Although in most parks this serves to make regulation easier; in the case of the AT this adds another layer of complexity. One, however, that is welcome and necessary in order to preserve the spirit of the resource. The protection and regulation of the AT through a partnership requires a careful balance between each of the partners involved. It is often described as a three legged stool with legs consisting of government agency partners (federal, state, and local), trail clubs, and the ATC. Although the system seems undoubtedly to be the best for preserving the trail, the close proximity in which these organizations work certainly appeared to me as a tangled web of yarn as I first attempted to comprehend it and its intricacies. Now as I’ve begun to follow the yarn piece by piece I am beginning to make sense of the web, see the greater picture, and understand my role.
It is clear that in a position such as mine it will be important to strike another delicate balance in order to succeed. Making sure to fulfill the goals of all agencies involved while strengthening current tactics and bringing new ones to the table that will prepare us for the future. I hope to rise to the challenge that is forging and maintaining a strong connection with the incredible volunteer force that makes up the soul of this trail – although their various locations stretch a thousand miles in either direction from my little desk in Harpers Ferry. All in all, I find myself situated with a task that I find both daunting and inspiring. The chance to touch lives and work towards the NPS mission of conservation and protection – a mission that grows exponentially in importance each day. I look forward to the chance to make a positive impact on the world and I can’t wait to see what all this year has to offer.
Here goes nothing!