February 9, 2013

Carey Kish: Because you've got a friend in the Appalachian Trail

The Maine Appalachian Trail Club has formed a new committee that's bound to capture the interest and enthusiasm of hikers and non-hikers across Maine, and provide a new and different path for engaging the general public and introducing them to the MATC and its myriad trail activities. 

click image to enlarge

Baxter Peak atop Katahdin is the northernmost point on the Appalachian Trail, which could use Friends for maintenance.

Carey Kish photo

The Friends of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, led by current and former club officers and a handful of volunteers, was created to help promote and support MATC's mission, which includes everything from clearing blowdowns and clipping brush to building bog bridges and lean-tos; from maintaining campsites and signs to trail corridor monitoring and a lot more. 

MATC was established in 1935 as an all-volunteer, donor-supported nonprofit charged with maintaining, managing and protecting the Appalachian Trail in Maine. No small task; this entails caring for 267 miles from Grafton Notch all the way north to Baxter Peak atop mile-high Katahdin, plus 40 miles of side trails. Last year, for example, hundreds of volunteers logged an astonishing 26,000 hours to complete the work.

MATC has done an extraordinary job as the chief steward of our beloved trail for 78 years. Recently, however, the club's leadership came to the realization that so much time and energy were being devoted to fulfilling its primary mission that precious little was being done to promote the club and educate the public about what it does. And that's when the idea of the Friends came into focus.

"The Appalachian Trail and the MATC are some of the best- kept secrets in Maine," said Lester Kenway, MATC president. "With the formation of the Friends of the A.T. in Maine, we intend to bring good news about the Club and the A.T. to the people of Maine."

Friends is not a separate group, but rather an integral part of MATC. Its goal is not only to attract new volunteers and supporters, but many old friends, too, as well as increase overall awareness of what MATC does, and how, where and why. 

Because MATC has been so closely focused on the serious work of maintaining the trail, it has never really had a significant social component, but that's about to change. With Friends as the crucible, trail supporters and enthusiasts of all kinds will now have a social structure for meeting and sharing information. 

If you don't know much about the A.T. in Maine and its history, how it is maintained and the many great opportunities available to care for the trail, then Friends may be worth a look.

And if you're a day hiker or backpacker who spends time out there, or someone who simply believes in the Appalachian Trail as a crucial natural resource, then MATC probably has a friend in you already. So maybe you'll want to become a Friend in a more formal sense and become personally involved at some level as a volunteer.

Friends will host a series of public events in the coming months, free and open to the public. The first of these will be Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Frontier Cafe on 14 Maine St. in Brunswick. There will be a social at 6:30 p.m., followed by the feature program, "An Adventurous and Inspiring Evening on the Appalachian Trail in Maine," at 7 p.m.

This hiker -- yours truly -- has the honor and pleasure of being the guest speaker at this inaugural Friends gathering. I'm looking forward to this special opportunity to talk about and show images on a topic that has been very near and dear to my heart for most of my life. It promises to be a fun night, so please come on along. For more information, go to www.matc.org or www.facebook.com/MaineATC 

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer, Appalachian Trial thru-hiker and MATC trail maintainer. Follow his outdoor adventures at:

www.facebook.com/CareyKish 

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