[at-l] article Laurie Potteiger

RockDancer rockdancer97 at comcast.net
Sat Sep 11 11:28:16 CDT 2010

Here's an article about Laurie published on Sept. 9 by the Shepherdstown Observor. The link is at http://www.wvobserver.com/2010/09/on-the-trail-with-laurie-potteiger/
It includes some interesting facts and the perspective of the view from HF. --RD

On the Trail with Laurie Potteiger
by Claire Stuart

The Appalachian Trail is our nation’s longest public footpath. It winds 2,178 miles from Georgia to Maine. More than just a hiking trail, it provides a safe haven for birds, wildlife, and rare plants.

Management is shared by the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), a volunteer-based private nonprofit organization. The main office of the ATC is in Harpers Ferry, with a visitor center providing maps and trail information.

The Observer visited with Laurie Potteiger, ATC information services manager. ATC has 45 employees, 25 in Harpers Ferry, with the others in four regional offices, but the backbone of the organization is made up of over 6,800 volunteers.

“We have about 50 volunteers here,” she says. “Some come for a week at a time. Wendell Odgen is the longest-serving local volunteer. He’s been volunteering once a week since 1996. Sometimes ‘thru-hikers’ stop for a day or two and volunteer.” She adds that retirees comprise the largest number of volunteers. “The desire to give back increases as people get older.”

Potteiger, originally from Arlington, Va., saw a slide show on the AT that inspired her to hike the trail in 1987. “I asked people how to have a successful hike, and they encouraged me to become a member of the ATC and to come up and volunteer,” she recalls, “so I did. I spent six months on the trail, fell in love with it, and hoped to get a job there.”

She landed an entry-level position in 1988, and now manages the visitor center and part of the group’s communications. She also reviews the ATC magazine and sometimes does radio and TV interviews.

Since her initial hike, she has repeated 1,600 miles of the trail. “In a good year, I get in 200 miles,” she says. Some thru-hikers traverse the trail in one long hike, while others do it in sections, and most hike south to north. “They start in March,” says Potteiger, noting that the trail is at over 6,000 feet elevation in North Carolina. “This year there was eight feet of snow in the Smokies. The mildest climate is here at Harpers Ferry.”

She reports that 90 percent of the thru-hikers stop at the Harpers Ferry headquarters. “This isn’t the geographic halfway point, but it’s the psychological halfway point because it divides north and south. We take pictures of the hikers.”

People have come from 30 countries to hike the trail. Last year, they saw the first hikers from Italy. By mid-April this year, four thru-hikers from Georgia had already stopped in.  Potteiger produced a notebook full of photos of hikers and their comments, most signed with their colorful trail names.

A pair of hikers ambled in. Tim, a thru-hiker, was helping 87-year-old Bald Eagle hike the trail. Bald Eagle intends to hike the middle third of the AT this year, then the southern third, then to finish by age 90 at the northern terminus.

“Bald Eagle will be the oldest thru-hiker, if he completes his goal by age 90,” says Potteiger. “The oldest section-hiker so far is 86, and the oldest thru-hiker was 81. The youngest were two boys, six years old, with their parents.”

Potteiger observes that the easiest part of the AT with the gentlest terrain is around here. Maryland and Northern Virginia are fairly level, but most of the trail is higher. “Hiking the whole trail is like hiking Everest 16 times from sea level to summit and back,” she says.

Many people with physical disabilities have hiked the AT, including a double amputee. “Part of it is the challenge,” says Potteiger. “We’ve had several blind hikers. One is out there now.”

She notes that hiking the AT gives people a sense of renewal, recharge, and confidence, and that it often leads to a more adventurous lifestyle after the hike. “I feel like this feeds people’s souls. Some even make career changes—they think about what they really value.”

She says that some people actually move out of cities to small towns near the AT. Some start little businesses near the trail—outfitters, restaurants, and bed-and-breakfasts.

Even love is sometimes found on the AT. Potteiger mentioned a volunteer who decided to do a thru-hike. She put an ad in the AT magazine, looking for hiking partners. She met several interesting people and one became her life partner. They were married on the AT.

The AT is a big part of Potteiger’s life outside of work as well. She and her husband volunteer to maintain a mile-and-a-quarter section of the trail. They cut brush, repair erosion damage, put in rock and log water diversions, cut fallen trees, and paint blazes on trees to guide hikers. According to Potteiger, there are about 80,000 blazes in one direction on the AT, each one two inches wide by six inches tall.

Potteiger loves wildflowers and enjoys day hikes. But, she says, “I like to go out for at least a week or two. With all the packing it takes to prepare for a hike, you might as well.”

She adds that hiking and trail work keep her in shape. “I have a gym membership, but it’s easier to get aerobic exercise on the trail.”

For more information about the ATC, visit www.appalachiantrail.org.

RockDancer (Arthur Gaudet)
Rockdancer97 at comcast.net
"The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true."

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