While attracting young members has been a challenge for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a student program is a big hit.
Attracting young people to its volunteer corps has posed a challenge for ATC.
“If you try to recruit young families or young adults directly to do trail work, that doesn’t resonate very well,” says John Hedrick, volunteer president, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).
But what if you do trail work with classmates? ATC’s Trail to Every Classroom has trained 375 teachers to use tools that integrate the Appalachian Trail into their curricula. Launched in 2006, the program uses “place-based education” to reach almost 20,000 students.
Community Program Manager Julie Judkins can’t say if the program produces adult volunteers; ATC cannot track student participants. However, research shows that children greatly influence activity engagement levels of parents.
Georgia Appalachian Trail Club members took 600 students to the trail in 2012, working with schools; the Phoenix Boys Association, which primarily helps underserved African American children; and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, composed heavily of Hispanic youth. It also offers alternative spring break working trips for college students to repair shelter roofs and rehang “bear cables” to protect hikers’ food.
Similarly, PATC has launched the GPS Ranger Program, which uses members’ personal networks to invite local college students, staff, and neighborhoods to learn to use GPS to map and monitor trail conditions.
“It’s a wonderful way to let us know what’s going on out there,” Hedrick says, “and volunteers like it because it’s fun, interesting, gets them out in the woods, and has them doing something useful. … I think it’s going to be great for our club and the volunteers.”