Appalachian Trail

JILLY BURNS / Lead Story Producer
SAM GINSBURG / Story Producer
KRISTEN OLDIGES / Videographer
TAYLOR FEENEY / Infographic Designer

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.

Community Angel

Duncannon, Pa.

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.

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Originally from Vermont, Karine "Blister Sister" Kelleher thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail as her second long distance trail in 2000. While on the trail, Kelleher met the crew that calls themselves Billville and has been a member ever since.
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After becoming a member of Billville, Tim "Chomp" Scott deems himself the group's sheriff tasked with making sure all members stay cohesive and drama free. Scott thru-hiked the trail in 1999 and continues to go to regular hiker gatherings, like Trail Days in Damascus, Va., with the group.
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Shane "Jester" O'Donnell is known as the mayor throughout the Billville family. When he thru-hiked the trail in 2000, O'Donnell was part of the group that discovered the infamous red "Bill" shirts and ultimately created a following that still gathers today.
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Keith "Wolf" Kimball thru-hiked the trail in 1999 and has since hiked it four more times. Kimball became a part of Billville after meeting some of the members at a hiker gathering.

Conservation Angels

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.

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Although she has never hiked the trail, Midock is passionate about the conservation efforts of the trail.
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Ron Tipton has been the Executive Director/CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy since 2013. For more than 30 years, he has built a career as an advocate for public land preservation and national park protection.
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After hiking the whole trail in 2007, Judy McGuire knew that she had to find a way to give back to the trail. As a retired international development expert, McGuire volunteers weekly at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's visitor's center.
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Tenny Webster is the trail information specialist for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Webster's role at the ATC is answering any and all questions from current hikers, future hikers, or just people interested in the trail.

Compassionate Angels

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.”

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Cynthia Post and Jeff Wilson own and run Creekside Paradise Bed and Breakfast in Graham County, North Carolina. “We really started in earnest February of last year (2015),” explains Jeff.
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In a basket near the dining table, free maps of local attractions and hiking trails are on display for guests at the bed and breakfast.
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Cynthia visits her neighbor Steve Tague to discover why his dog, Duke, had been limping for the past week. Before retiring and moving to North Carolina, she owned a private Veterinary practice for 30 years in the country an hour outside of Toronto, Canada. “I am licensed in North Carolina so I provide services for a charitable pet rescue organization as well as working at vet clinics occasionally,” she said.
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Jeff and Cynthia display a “hiker box” on the island in their kitchen. The box is an exchange system to allow backpackers to drop off unnecessary weight and pick up items left by others.
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Jeff Wilson works on one of their motorcycles. Bringing them to the region, US 129, called Tail of the Dragon, is a huge attraction for motorcyclists and sports cars because of the tight twists and turns. After taking a tour on the winding road, Jeff and Cynthia fell in love with the landscape and found themselves moving to North Carolina, only 20 minutes from the highway.
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Jeff traverses a river along Burgin Creek Falls Trail, an approximately one-mile hike to a waterfall in the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness area. Jeff and Cynthia participate in guided hikes to meet others in their community.
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Jeff, right, admires a tree after talking to Barb Bonnette, middle, and Jim Baker, left along Burgin Creek Falls Trail in Graham County.
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Using a rake to clear the Appalachian Trail, Cynthia Post helps with maintenance during a workday with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club on Sat, March 5, 2016. During the day, the club focused on building new features such as steps and water run-offs on the section of the trail that Jeff Wilson and Cynthia Post are responsible for preserving on a regular basis.
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