Monday, November 10, 2014


Now that I have spent the last year working as the manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners, PA, I thought it would be nice to reflect back on the last few seasons and talk about my latest journey in this thing called life.

My story starts back in the Fall of 2011.  I had just started my obsession with the Appalachian Trail (AT) and was doing my first extended section hike.  This hike ended at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  I had read a few press releases about the new AT Museum and was hoping to visit.  On this day, I would be out of luck as the museum was closed during the week in the fall, so I had to content myself with looking into the windows to see what I could see.  I vowed to return some day when the museum was open.

Trail Halfway Marker, first section hike.
My next chance came at the beginning of another section hike in 2013.  I had just retired from a nice 30 year career in the Coast Guard and my wife and I were traveling up and down the East, visiting special spots along the trail and hiking a few days at a time.  We had decided to hike in the area of the AT Museum and when we parked our car in the State Park, I popped into the museum to take a quick look around before we headed out and got to meet two very nice Docents, Georgia and Joan.  I hardly had any time to look at the exhibits, but seeing what I did, I knew I would be back in two days to take a better look.
LoGear and EarthTone at Fontana Dam
McAfee Knob
When we hiked back to the park, my wife and I went into the museum for a little longer visit, this time meeting Howard the manager of the museum.  We enjoyed reading about the history of the trail and checked out the gear used by the early hikers of the trail.  It was very interesting and rewarding to see how the trial came to be and to learn a little about the people who made the Appalachian Trail a household name.  

A rainy day north of the AT Museum
A few weeks later, I was reading one of the many AT related newsletters and I saw an advertisement for a new manager at the AT Museum.  Since I was still thinking about what I was going to do with the next stage of my life, I decided to submit a resume.  As I wrote a cover letter for the application, I recalled that I had repeated to my co-workers, that I was hiking the trail after retirement to find my next job.  It was only half in jest that I said that, because the trail had become a part of me after hiking small parts of it over the years.  Finding a job along or on the trail would be perfect for me.

Well I think it was about 20 minutes after sending the resume to the museum, that I had a reply back from the President of the Appalachian Trail Museum Society, Larry Luxenberg, asking if he could call me.  Our first conversation increased my interest in the job and I decided it was time to get involved with the museum to see what the job entailed and to volunteer my services.

I spent the next few weeks traveling up to the museum to act as a Docent and greet the visitors to the museum.  I quickly found that talking to the visitors was a very rewarding thing to do and before long, I accepted their offer to become the next AT Museum Manager.

My tenure started November 1st, 2013 and I have been serving in that capacity for a year now.  I tell everyone who will listen, that I have found my dream job and have really enjoyed working with the volunteers, the park crew and the visitors of the museum.  Talking to the hikers who pass by on their epic journey is especially fun.  

The AT Museum has changed my life for the better and I look forward to being a part of the Society for many years to come.  

So, reflecting back over the last year, I have had a great time being the manager.  I try to continuously find ways to bring in the much needed funds that we require to keep on flying and to expand the museum to the other three levels of the Old Mill.  I added some retail items that I thought our visitors would enjoy and they have not disappointed.  

Me on day two of the 2014 season.
Photograph by Robert Sutherland
The one challenge I have is the two hour drive needed to get to the museum when I have to be up there.  I can do a lot of the work of organizing the volunteers and retail from my home, but I do need to be up at the museum from time to time.  This makes me plan my visits carefully to get as much done on each visit.  Sometimes I will spend a few days at a time up in the area, working during the day and heading up onto Piney Mountain to spend the night in a nice mountain top camping area.  I will also hike out to one of the nearby shelters and spend the night there with all my gear.  It gives me a chance for some good dirt time.  I feel a sense of freedom and contentment as I build a nice campfire and relax in its glowing warmth.  My hammock is always cozy and I love the exercise a seven mile hike will give me.  Some of the volunteers have also offered the use of their cabins in the area, so I enjoy taking them up on that and seeing some really nice local cabins.  

To sum it up, I'm still having fun and as long as I can get out on the trail from time to time, I am content to see that white blaze right out the front door of the Museum.  

As Bilbo Baggins reflected on his travels, I offer his song The Road Goes Ever On as a parting bit of advice.  (with some minor changes to a word)

The Trail goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Trail has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

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