Parting Thought
Service in all its Forms
~ By John Knapp

“Thank you for your service” is a sentiment that I hear — and say — often. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about service. This issue of A.T. Journeys comes to you around Veterans Day, a holiday that is especially meaningful to me. I am writing this, however, in mid-September when two events are dominating the news. This first is the anniversary of 9/11, which annually causes me to reflect on the service and sacrifice of so many people on that awful day. The second is the death of Queen Elizabeth II. She was no doubt a woman of privilege, but one who devoted her whole life to serving the British people. Each of these converging events remind me that there are many ways to serve.

The Appalachian Trail has a long history of being a place of solace, refuge, and healing for veterans. Earl Shaffer leads a long list of veterans who have used the Appalachian Trail to “walk off the war.” While some may proudly show their colors as they hike, there are many others out there just quietly using the Trail. As is so often the case, you may never even know they are veterans. I think there may be no higher purpose for these public lands than to be a resource for those who have served us all.

The A.T. couldn’t exist for veterans — or even exist at all — without a wide range of individuals performing their own public service. The Trail would disappear without thousands of volunteers maintaining the footpath, water crossings, shelters, and signage. But Trail maintenance isn’t the only way to serve. The A.T. is a complex system that needs many hands to make it work. It requires leadership and coordination from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Trail clubs, and government partners. Many of the heroes of the A.T. are unsung — like the members, donors, shuttle drivers, Trail angels, hostel owners, and other good Samaritans who hikers rely on every day.

Portrait of John Knapp smiling surrounded by trees
John on the A.T. in Shenandoah National Park
The point I want to leave you with is that you don’t have to be a queen, first responder, veteran, or member of the ATC Board of Directors to be of essential service on the A.T. or anywhere else. Service comes in many forms, and I think that quiet, selfless service is in many ways the most admirable. So, on this Veterans Day, let me say to all of you out there quietly contributing to and serving the Appalachian Trail – Thank you for your service!
John Knapp is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and member of the ATC Board of Directors.