President’s Letter
President’s Letter
Sandra Marra hiking on the trail
Sandi on the section of Trail she and her husband Chris Brunton have been maintaining together for 25 years.
Recreation &
Sandi on the section of Trail she and her husband Chris Brunton have been maintaining together for 25 years.
THE VERY FIRST TIME I REMEMBER SETTING FOOT on the Appalachian Trail was in the pitch dark on a cold night. I was a new recruit to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and they had a work weekend scheduled at the Blackburn Trail Center. It was that kind of perfect crisp, fall weather and the cabin was rustic but welcoming with a lovely wood burning stove and warm cooked meal at the end of the day (I believe we were prefabbing privy boxes). After dinner (and a couple glasses of wine) the leader of the crew announced: “Time for a walk to the view” — after which the regulars quickly doffed coats and boots and hats and started out the door and up the path toward the outbuilding, called the Carriage House. The original trail from Blackburn to the A.T. was a quarter mile or so straight up, around rocks and trees, and not the easiest route for a total novice. But the biggest challenge wasn’t the trail up — it was the fact that Blackburn tradition dictated that the night hike to the view had to be done sans flashlights.

My memory has faded as to how much moonlight there was that first evening — but I know through my subsequent, early years there were many nights when you mostly relied on staying close to the person in front. The reward was always worth it. The rock outcropping above Blackburn looks over the Shenandoah Valley and on clear days you can see well beyond the river to the Massanutten’s and Signal Knob to the south. On those dark nights the sky was full of stars and the only ambient lights (in the early 1980s) was from the Charles Town, West Virginia racetrack. Folks used to joke we had to hurry up to the view in order to catch the first evening race.

My point in sharing this story is that while many people come to the Trail through hiking, my introduction to the Trail was as a working volunteer. And, even as I gained experience and fell in love with the idea of hiking and backpacking, I still spent (and spend) most of my time on the Trail working. I can hike to shelters such as Rod Hollow, Jim and Molly Denton, and David Lesser, and know I contributed to their construction and care. I can tell you which steps I helped build in sections from Front Royal, Virginia to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and quite a few spots in Pennsylvania. And I know that every blaze — both north and south — on the three-mile section I maintain with my husband was painted by my hand.

There are lots of stories about what brings people to the Trail and what keeps them coming back. The concept of recreation is as varied as the humans that undertake it. For some, it’s all about the long hike, for others it’s the day hikes to viewpoints and waterfalls, and for some, like me, it’s the joy of seeing a physical job well done at the end of a day in the woods. But in every case the joy that we find in recreating on the Trail also comes with the responsibility to ensure that the resource we so love and enjoy is there for the next visitor and the next generation.

As you think about your favorite activity on the Trail, also take a minute to think how you can ensure its continued protection and preservation. And then go outside and have some fun!

Sandra Marra / President & CEO
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