Peter and Sally (with Peter’s cross-cut saw) on the section of Trail they maintain on Blood Mountain

A Beautiful Balance

By Beth Griffin

Peter and Sally (with Peter’s cross-cut saw) on the section of Trail they maintain on Blood Mountain

In 1998, fully six years before

Peter Parsonson retired from his position as professor of engineering at Georgia Tech, he sent a letter to the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) to inquire about becoming involved on the Trail with the club. The letter Peter received in response, and which Peter has never forgotten, told of the depths of pleasure Trail maintainers derive from their work. The letter writer spoke of the esprit de corps when working as part of a crew on bigger projects, as well as the satisfaction of looking after one’s own, “Trail section,” often alone.

For the next six years, Peter dreamed of working on the Trail while he wound down his teaching responsibilities. Finally, in 2004, the dream was fulfilled, and Peter, with two others, took on responsibility for the south face of Blood Mountain, including the installation and maintenance of the privy there. In 2010, when his wife Sally retired, they took on the maintenance of the north face of Blood Mountain, which is heavily used by day hikers.

While they share a love for the Trail and surrounding lands, they bring very different perspectives to the work. Sally, a lover of poetry and literature with a Ph.D. in English, has made it her business to know the tree, plant, and bird species found in North Georgia and has shared her knowledge by giving talks about local wildlife to area groups. Peter’s approach is rooted in his training as an engineer. He likes to move rocks around, devise better ways of doing things, and cherishes his antique cross-cut saw and the “old-timey” forestry methods employed in wilderness areas.

The couple are world travelers and hikers — and have trekked in many countries including China, England, Spain, and Venezuela. Peter grew up in Massachusetts and hiked in the mountains of New England as a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spent his early career in South America where he continued exploring. Sally was born in the flatlands near Memphis, Tennessee but spent summers with family in Colorado where she got the “nature bug.”

Rooted in their deep commitment to the Trail through volunteerism, the Parsonsons are also generous financial supporters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). They are particularly focused on encouraging new volunteers and introducing newcomers to nature by supporting the ATC’s education and outreach efforts such as: Teacher Summits — training hundreds of teachers, Trail-wide, to use the A.T. as a place-based learning center; the ATC’s partnership with Georgia Mountains Children Forest Network; and the ATC’s Trail crews. Their energy, combined talents, beautifully balanced perspectives, and immense generosity are a true gift to the Appalachian Trail.