Thru-hikers pass through peaks and valleys literally. And they can have their share of highs and lows physically and psychically, as well. That's where "trail magic" can make a difference.
Some hikers feel the "magic" when a vista pops into view after miles of forest, or maybe it's a fawn nestled near the edge of the Trail. Maybe it's a stream crossing just repaired by volunteers or a fallen tree moved out of the way. Maybe it's supplies left with a trail center caretaker for hikers in need.
The Round Hill A.T. Festival is collecting bits of "trail magic" to share with this year's thru-hikers at Bears Den and Blackburn trail centers. If you want to contribute something, we'll be collecting items at the Round Hill Hometown Festival (May 28) and our A.T. fest on June 11.
Here's a list of some things hikers have told us they'd appreciate:
If you're an aspiring "Trail Angel" (provider of trail magic), there are other ways to help, of course:
Acts of "trail magic," while always well-intentioned, can sometimes go askew. Here's a great ATC article about preserving the magic of the trail.
Getting ready to hit the trail? Set up camp? Maybe there's a little something you're looking for first.
Our "Trail Angel" sponsor REI Co-op is setting up our silent auction with loads of gear. Here's what you can bid on to support our festival:
This year, Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) will be joining us at the festival for the first time. We asked the organization to tell us a little more about their work, and we got this reply from PRKN intern Madison Upperman, a rising junior at Shenandoah University. Thanks, Madison!
Did you hear about the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) at your school?
I was introduced to PRKN by a professor at Shenandoah University who told me about an internship opportunity. Before that, I had never heard of the group. I did a little research and learned that PRKN is run by people working to protect the public's right to clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and their tributaries. This is a goal I share, so I applied for the internship. Within 36 hours of applying, I heard from the president of PRKN. I've only been in the program for a short time, and I hope to learn more about how to advocate for clean water—for drinking, for wildlife and for recreation.
What is the history of the group?
Celebrating its 50th year anniversary, the Clean Water Act is a federal law enacted to restore the nation’s waters back to their prime biological, chemical, and physical states. PRKN was founded in 2000 by local members of the community who saw a need for more enforcement on all levels of government for clean water protection. PRKN relies on the “citizen suit provision” of the Clean Water Act, which allows an organization to file a lawsuit against a polluter who has allegedly violated the clean water act.
PRKN members are thought of as the “eyes, ears, voice and experts of the rivers” as they protect the public's right to access clean water. The organization relies on the knowledge and talent of many individuals from volunteers to scientists to fishermen to law officers. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, PRKN is hosting events throughout 2022—from paddling to snorkeling and tubing.
What area does PRKN oversee?
We have three full-time rivekeepers; one of them oversees the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry to Point Lookout, MD, where the river empties into the Chesapeake Bay. This means protecting aquatic life (including bottlenose dolphins that visit the river every summer), as well as monitoring the quality of the river as drinking water for millions of local residents and as a recreational place where people come to boat, fish and hike.
Another of our riverkeepers, oversees the Upper Potomac River's north and south branches that converge in Greenspring, WV. This section of the river is a popular spot for trout fishing, hiking, whitewater kayaking and other outdoor adventures.
Our third river keeper, monitors the Shenandoah River, with its two north and south branches running 100 miles before they meet in Front Royal. Then, the river continues to join the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry. This watershed not only provides rich soils for farming, but also supports a wide variety of species, including white-tailed deer, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, eastern brook trout, red-tailed hawks, and the endangered Shenandoah salamander. It's also known as one of the best destinations for small-mouth bass fishing.
Why are you attending the Round Hill A.T. Festival?
Walking on the Appalachian Trail in this area, hikers can see the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in different spots. We want these people to be able to look out on the water and see waterfowl and other wildlife enjoying clean water, not suffering from pollution. At this A.T. Festival, I want to help spread the word about PRKN and its work.
How can others get involved in supporting PRKN’s work?
We have many opportunities for volunteering, including helping to monitor water quality or participating in a stream cleanup. You can also help just by joining as a member. You can find information about becoming a member and volunteering on our website, www.potomacriverkeepernetwork.org.
With nine Appalachian Trail thru hikes and nine section hikes under his belt, Warren Doyle has hiked the A.T. again and again—and again. One obvious question comes to mind: Why?
Why does anyone set out to hike 2,190 miles, even one time? Perhaps would-be thru hikers want to see if they can go the distance. Probably, they’ve heard about the wonders of the trail. OK. Do it once. But why travel the same 2000+ miles 18 times? You know you can do it; you’ve seen all the sights.
Ask Warren Doyle why he has walked the A.T. again and again over decades, and he’ll tell you it’s as much about all the time he’s not hiking as it is about the hours he has spent hiking. Doyle believes the Trail can "show the way." He believes hikers learn to better navigate the "real world" from their trail days in the woods. The Trail makes people “questioners, diggers, seekers of truth,” according to Doyle.
“I trust the Trail,” Doyle says. “I trust what the mountains have taught me.”
Doyle, who is believed to have walked the A.T. more than any other person, will participate in a Q&A “Why Hike?” session at the Round Hill Appalachian Trail Festival. Doyle’s 3 p.m. talk will run for an hour, with time for questions.
Added bonus: Our friends at Good Wolf Gear will be giving away more than $100 of hiking gear in a free raffle at Doyle's talk.
Want to try out camping without investing a fortune? Want to see if you like hiking with poles? Good Wolf Gear has you covered.
This Herndon store sells some new gear, but it specializes in selling used outdoor gear that's still in great condition. That can mean big savings for one person at the same time it gets perfectly good gear out of the back of someone else's closet. Buying second-hand gear and clothing has massive environmental benefits, because less items need to be produced and less products end up in landfills taking decades to hundreds of years to break down.
Good Wolf Gear will be vending at this year's festival. They'll also be raffling off hiking and camping gear at the end of Warren Doyle's talk. Doyle will likely inspire you to get on the trail, and Great Wolf might just get you outfitted for adventure.
Author/adventurer, hiker/historian Jeff Ryan returns to the festival to share tasty tips for campsite cooking. We asked him a few questions about his evolution as a trail gourmet.
Did you figure out how to cook better food after some less-than-stellar eating on the trail?
Thankfully, my mother was an exceptional cook (so much so, that she tested receipts for cookbooks). It didn’t take long in my hiking career to realize that most of the popular choices of the day could use some serious upgrades and that I’d need to get creative with my trail menus to eat the way I wanted to.
Regarding low points, one really stands out. When I was on the PCT my hiking buddy, Mick, made what has become the enduring “low point meal.” Decades later, we still talk about his mac & cheese with dehydrated carrot and turnip. It was so inedible that we buried it and hiked three miles off trail to get to a cheeseburger.
A memorable trail meal you remember?
Breakfast burritos for sure.
I had bought some dried chili mix at a health food store to make as one of our dinners. I had also packed some freeze-dried scrambled eggs to eat one morning to break up the “oatmeal every morning” routine. We had also packed some whole wheat wraps to eat during the first few days (they pack really well).
As I was making the chili for dinner, I realized that if we saved a bit of the mix, we could have breakfast burritos for breakfast (wraps, scrambled eggs, chili and cheese). It’s become a trail favorite.
Anyone on the trail teach you a few tricks of the trade?
Not yet. I think most of the breakthroughs I’ve had have been adapting kitchen cooking to the trail. When I make something delicious at home, my first thought is, “How would I go about making this on a one-burner backpacking stove?”
It’s not just the recipes, but also the condiments and spices. Years ago, I found a tiny, super lightweight plastic pepper grinder in a gourmet shop on Cape Cod. I’ve been packing it for 30 years. If it ever broke, I’d be really bummed. I’ve never seen anything like it since. It’s such a neat final touch.
Any idea how many meals you've cooked on the trail? (You do have your 28-year A.T. adventure, plus all the others!)
Oh my gosh. Literally thousands.
The great thing about cooking (on the trail or at home) is there’s always something new to try. Whenever I grocery shop, I’m always on the lookout for packable meals, snacks and seasonings. Most often, I try them out at home first, but I don’t always have that luxury.
What I’ve found works best is combining old favorites, one or two new discoveries and taking along some versatile vegetables that I dry myself beforehand (kale, mushrooms, spinach, leeks) that can be saved with lunchtime soup or one pot dinners.
Do you have a trail cooking philosophy?
"Eat well, be creative.”
I believe that trail meals should be part of the fun of being out in the wild. I strive to pack lightweight meals that are flavorful and healthy, but also minimize prep time. I also make sure that I have some meals that don’t require much water to make, so I have the flexibility. A little extra planning really does go a long way.
Jill Jensen knows the Blue Ridge. She lives close enough to see mountain vistas every day; she has hiked mountain trails and often camps in nearby parks. She paints renditions of the Blue Ridge Mountains on fabric, carves printing plates of their trees and stitches their contours in her Lynchburg, VA, studio.
Jensen explains: "I find nature to be an important source of inspiration. Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I see beautiful vistas, striking sunsets and ever changing flora on a daily basis. Sometimes it is color, other times the stark silhouettes of bare trees catch my eye and move me to create."
Artist Jill Jensen will join us at the festival again this year. She invites you to create some nature-inspired art of your own at a 12:30 talk/demo.
Do you like birds? Then you’ll want a host of caterpillars hanging around your house. Do you like to grow veggies? Then you’ll need a few bees in your neighborhood.
Here in the U.S., we have a long history of importing plants from distant lands. Some to eat. Some for their looks. The problem is that these exotic plants and our vast expanses of lawn don’t support our bees, birds, butterflies or other wildlife.
Learn about "going native" from the experts at Hill House Farm & Nursery who will be joining us at the festival. Buy plants and chat with the Hill House folks all day, but don't miss their talk at 4:30 if you want to learn how to get started on your own native plant garden. (You might even go home with a free plant from our raffle at the talk!)
"Our gardens, like our lives, are on a journey—they evolve, change and grow just as we do," says Hill House owner Janet Davis. "Before, we were satisfied to fill our gardens with any plant that had a certain aesthetic quality, keeping our landscape tidy and overly maintained."
"Somewhere along the way, we discovered a connection between the native plants in our gardens and an increasing abundance of life—more butterflies, hummingbirds and other delightful critters," she explains. "Now, we know that native plants offer more than just a 'pretty face'; they support a whole ecosystem around us—a habitat diversity unmatched by the exotic plants that previously filled our gardens."
Hill House Farm & Nursery invites you to join them on the journey toward creating more ecological and sustainable landscapes.
Don Gravatt started "thinking outside the tent" 17 years ago. Until 2005, he had been a tent camper all his life. While doing research for a L.A.S.H. (Long A** Section Hike) adventure, he started reading about hammock camping—and he never looked back.
These days, Gravatt even owns a hammock company, Jacks 'R' Better. He'll be demonstrating and selling his hammocks and other backpacking gear at this year's festival. He'll also give a talk at noon about "finding the balance" when it comes to backpacking.
"Weight, comfort, and confidence are three key things to consider when choosing gear," he says.
"Focus too much on ultra-light weight and a piece of gear may fail, be uncomfortable, or you will have no confidence in it and stress over whether or not it is going to fail," Gravatt explains. "Focus too much on comfort and your pack can bloat and weigh so much you may not be physically able to complete your hike. Or you might just psych yourself out worrying about the heavy load."
The key, he says, is to have confidence that your gear won't fail, and it will keep you comfortable and safe. Gravatt has tested out this theory, with more than 1,200 miles logged on the A.T.
Round Hill AT: Join us in bringing together local friends and family to get outside. Let’s discover our amazing backyards — from national treasures like the Appalachian Trail to new local and regional parks.