Trail Maintainers Sarah and Glenn Collins: Stewarding the Outdoor Experience for Thousands

Author: 
Lenny Bussanich
Date: 
09/01/2010
Source: 
Trail Walker
Sarah and Glenn Collins on the AT. Photo by Daniel Chazin.

Long-time hikers and trail maintainers Sarah and Glenn Collins have an unmistakable exuberance for the outdoors. It comes across the phone line as they talk about their recent accomplishment of reblazing the new section of Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain in time for its grand opening on National Trails Day, June 5th. Glenn proudly states, "It was just a thrill to have that responsibility."

For almost 10 years, starting as volunteers with the Woodland Trail Walkers club (now disbanded), this couple from Montclair, NJ-she is reference librarian at the Foundation Center in New York and volunteer coordinator for the Paper Mill Playhouse, he is a reporter for the Dining section at the New York Times-has maintained the 3.2-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail that runs from the Bear Mountain Bridge to Perkins Tower on Bear Mountain. They refresh blazes, pick up trash, remove fire pits, and notify certified chain-sawyers to clear away blow-downs when handsaws prove to be inadequate. They savor the section's historical significance as one of the oldest segments of the AT and its role, in Glenn's words, as the "point of the spear in the introduction of urban American people to the outdoor experience and nature."

So they were honored when the request came for help in reblazing the new trail section in time for its grand opening. As the trail crew raced to complete the heavy rock and surfacing work of the first phase of the relocation, the Collinses got acquainted with the new route and methodically developed a blazing plan. Sarah emphasizes that their focus throughout the spring was on "getting the blazes correct."

Glenn notes they "did not want to have too many" of the AT's signature 2 inch-by-6 inch white blazes, "yet enough to minimize confusion." He reports that he and Sarah "lived on the trail for a week", asking hikers and other users for recommendations, and that they are "still studying" the trail in order to maximize its "directionality."

Their diligence paid off. When the trail opened with much fanfare on National Trails Day, Sarah and Glenn were rewarded with "some nice comments from users and other maintainers." Among them was trail maintainer (and Trail Walker editor) Georgette Weir. She reports that while hiking the trail that day with Gary Haugland, former Trail Conference president and current chair of the Highlands Trail committee, the sparkling white, sharp-edged rectangular blazes drew their admiration. "We jokingly worried that a new standard for blazing was being set and that we would be held to it," Weir says. "Then we met the Collinses on the trail and had the opportunity to praise their work in person. It was great that, even as we admired the extraordinary work of the trail builders, we had with us the maintainers who not only had helped get the trail ready, but who would carry on, protecting and maintaining the trail in the future."

Asked what kinds of challenges they have encountered during their years of service on the AT, Sarah quickly says, "The main issue is the sheer volume of people" on the trail. The park puts the minimum number at 200,000. But, Sarah adds, those numbers also bring advantages. "We get to meet so many people enjoying the trail." The two take great pride in their "opportunity to be stewards of the outdoor experience for thousands and thousands of people."

Sarah and Glenn have hiked in faraway places such as Hong Kong, Martinique, and Banff National Park, where they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. But they also enjoy their weekends hiking and volunteering on the trails of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area.

When asked for words to encourage potential volunteers, Glenn answers that taking care of a trail "gives you much more back than you give to the trail." Sarah states her belief that volunteering is "part of the core of American history," it "speaks to the need for a balancing force against fierce individualism," and is an opportunity to "give back to a group larger than yourself."

Thanks to the Collins' extraordinary dedication and cherished ideals, present and future users of the Appalachian Trail will better enjoy the outdoor experience for many years to come.