Finding His Place in the Trail-Building Community
Tim Palumbo joined the Trail Conference Conservation Corps looking for skills and experience. He finished the season with a new perspective on his future.
Last spring I joined a program I admittedly knew little about. From hospitality worker to trail builder, living solo in an apartment on the West Coast to a group camp in the woods in New York, I knew some major changes were in store. Can I successfully get the job done? Would feelings of vulnerability and doubt seep in? Will I be tired and sore every day? Will I be able to build friendships with my fellow crew members? Will I be the oldest person there? The answer to all of these questions was indeed “yes,” however these six months will leave an imprint on me for the rest of my life.
The Trail Conference Conservation Corps generously teaches and houses a lucky group of individuals who desire to learn trail-building skills. Combining brains and brawn, determination and dedication, many of these seemingly impossible trails become reality. I was assigned to the Megalithic Trail Crew, working on one of the longest, oldest hiking trails ever constructed. We would be rerouting a section of the Appalachian Trail on the upper east face of Bear Mountain in New York; let the fun commence!
Any idea what a McLeod is? How about a rock bar or grip hoist? I had no clue before joining the Corps. However, with some phenomenal training and instruction, crew members utilized the tools of the trade in ways we never thought possible. Who would have guessed how easy it is to move a 1,000-pound piece of stone with a hoist and a line? Before long, the flow and routine of trail and camp life takes over and your hard work becomes more evident, you’re setting multiple stairs in a day, building 16 square feet of crib stairs, or walking 15 miles transporting materials. It was a blast.
Over the course of the season, you learn a lot. This is not the “sit at a desk and listen to a lecture” learning environment—it is very hands-on. As crucial as learning trail construction skills is, learning about yourself is just as, if not more, important. It had been a long time since I had been proud of myself and felt a sense of accomplishment. To be able to feel like you fit in, are making a mark, and leaving a legacy is something everyone should get to experience.
As dramatic as this sounds, building a structure that will last hundreds of years is something special. Thanks to the Trail Conference Conservation Corps and its dedicated managers, leaders, fellow crew members, and instructors, I find myself with less questions and more answers about my future. I now know there is a place for me in the trail-building community. I look forward to taking what I have learned around the country, improving, and returning next season an even better builder and person. Cumberland Gap Trail, here I come!