By Katie Demeria
Ben FitzGerald, 73, has never walked the entire Appalachian Trail himself. But he still benefits from the camaraderie within the hiking community, just from a different perspective.
FitzGerald is a trail manager with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. He and a few other managers maintain 2.5 miles of the trail in Warren County, near Linden.
The trail is busiest between late April and July, when hikers moving from Georgia to Maine pass through the area. Usually, if he is out working on the trail, hikers will stop to chat with him.
"You do have a bondage that is unique, and people who don't do it don't usually understand it," FitzGerald said. "It's extraordinary, that's true."
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains the portion of the historic trail that stretches from southern Pennsylvania to the end of Skyline Drive, FitzGerald said.
"If you listen to some of the hikers, they'll tell you that we probably maintain our trails better than anywhere else. PATC is well known for the quality of its trails," he said. "That's not just the Appalachian Trail, either, but all its side trails."
Sometimes the trail requires more maintenance after heavy amounts of snow or rain throughout the winter and early spring. FitzGerald and the other managers make sure their area is safe for the hikers despite the weather.
Trails need to be at least 2.5 to 3 feet wide and about 8 feet high to ensure there is enough room for travelers, FitzGerald said. Weeds also need to be off the trails, as well as bushes or shrubs and tree limbs that hang too low.
Water can become an issue, as well, when trail managers need to build barges or dam streams to shore up the trail, or reconstruct it for a short time when weather gets bad, he added.
"Anybody that likes the outdoors, that likes nature, who enjoys dealing with people would like this work," FitzGerald said. "It also can give you a time of solitude and time to think about things if you wish."
Originally from New York, FitzGerald moved to Virginia in the early 1960s on military assignment. He is now living in Ashby Ponds in Loudoun County.
He first went out on the trail 12 years ago, he said, and since then has hiked portions of it in several different states. He frequently attends Appalachian Trail Conservancy conferences, seeing parts of the trail throughout the country.
"I enjoy the camaraderie we have, but also just being out in nature, I enjoy that," he said.
Membership in the trail club is open to anyone, though requires a yearly membership fee. Though FitzGerald said he sometimes has to go out to the trail more often when the weather is bad, usually it does not require too much time.
"I always like getting out, getting the exercise, and being able to see nature and observe and be part of it," he said. "I would recommend it to everyone."
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org