Dipping and weaving through 14 states, the Appalachian Trail spans a total of 2,190 miles, making it the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of adventurous souls flock to the Appalachian region to make their tread marks on a section of the trail. Along the way, these backpackers experience trail magic, which can be defined as random acts of kindness from past hikers or local residents deemed Trail Angels.
In 2001, Mary Parry found herself living in a campground on the outskirts of Duncannon, Pa. While living in a tent, Parry encountered hikers that would set up their temporary homes in neighboring spots. This led to friendly conversations and eventually a helping hand from Parry. Finally, a hiker deemed her Trail Angel Mary, which launched her passion for trail magic, and led her to Billville, a ragtag group of men and women that identify themselves as Hiker Trash.
Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
After completing her lifelong dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in 1987, Laurie Potteiger knew she had to remain near the mountains. Starting with an entry level position at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., Potteiger eventually landed her dream job: Information Services Manager. After meeting an equally passionate thru-hiker, Dick Potteiger, they built a life together around the trail. Dick and Laurie are enthusiastic trail maintainers who strive to give back to the Appalachian Trail and its community.
Graham County, N.C.
Entering North Carolina, the narrow road of route 129 twists and winds its way deep into the Smoky Mountains, slowly making its way up a ridge only to go right back down the other side. A 40-minute drive along this road sits a 3-bedroom bed-and-breakfast with a babbling brook cutting across its 21 acres, creating a sense of isolation from nearby homes. Two dogs wrestle in the yard near blooming Bradford Pear trees while another sleeps inside, protected by the wraparound porch and wood structure of the house. The Creekside Paradise B & B sits in a valley of trees with the melody of birds from all directions harmonizing with the rush of water crashing over rocks.
For 30 years, Cynthia Post, a veterinarian, and her husband Jeff Wilson, an aircraft mechanic from Canada, lived in rural Ontario. When the couple retired four years ago, they bought the cabin in Graham County, North Carolina. After moving, the couple realized they lived down the road from a trailhead on the Appalachian Trail. Feeling a responsibility to the community, Jeff and Cynthia joined the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club to help maintain the section of the trail near their home. Through their volunteer work, shuttle services, and B & B; they have become trail angels to thru-hikers on the trail.
Originally, Creekside Paradise was not meant to be a B & B, After running into financial problems, they found a way to provide a cheap services for hikers in need, while also being available for non-hikers.
“It's working out the way that the property is laid out and we’re able to supplement some of our income with it,” said Jeff. “The downturn in the price of oil has compromised our stocks and so our savings have been a little bit reduced in the last couple of years.”
The couple maintain a 3.5 mile section north of Yellow Creek Gap where they cut fallen trees, define trail edges, prevent erosion, and clear trash and debris. Along with supporting the trail community, Cynthia also provides veterinary services for a local vet clinic and charitable pet rescue organization called Graham County Animal Advocates.
What started as retirement in a community far from their previous home became much more through their volunteering with the hiking club and animal rescue. Those combined with running their B & B gave Jeff and Cynthia a sense of community and purpose in their new home.
“I didn’t really know what the Appalachian Trail was…I’m quite surprised at how many hikers there are that do the whole thing,” said Jeff, remembering his first impression of hikers. “They’re not just taking a two week break from work, they’re taking a six month break from life. We had one fellow…. he’d done the trail three times… every once in awhile he’d take six months and go hike.”