My own experience with trail magic has been seeing it vicariously through my sister and her husband, trail angels on the Pacific Crest Trail. Trail magic abounds on hiking trails throughout the country, even on one of the oldest and best known trails – The Appalachian Trail (AT).
The AT, technically the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, is a 2,200 mile hiking trail that extends from Georgia to Maine, through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Thirty one trail clubs and partnerships maintain the path. It’s managed by the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, and a nonprofit organization, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
An AT thru hiker, Mariposa, blogged about some trail magic she experienced on her 2014 northbound hike. She writes:
Never before have I been so blessed by so many strangers. These acts of kindness completely blew me away, for they certainly exceeded basic rural southern hospitality.
It seems like the kindness on the trail just multiplies as it touches each of us. Every hiker wants to “do trail magic” when we finish. In fact, my dad was so touched that, when he went back to civilization after hiking with me two weeks, he started planning trail magic for the next time he meets up with me!
Zach Davis thru-hiked the AT in 2011. He blogged about his hiking experiences and later wrote Appalachian Trails: A psychological and emotional guide to successfully thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. His blog, The Good Badger, tells about several of the trail magic experiences he encountered is entertaining and is evidence about how much trail magic is appreciated by the hikers. In 2014 Zach was named the Top Hiking and Outdoor Blogger by USA TODAY.
Being a trail angel and providing trail magic to hikers, on any trail, is fun and satisfying. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind so that the magic continues to be a positive act for everyone involved, and for our earth. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has an informative document, Suggestions for Providing Trail Magic. They suggest:
Locate events in developed areas on durable surfaces. Large gatherings in the backcountry can lead to trampling of plants, soil compaction, and disturbance of wildlife habitat. Trail towns and local parks are better locations. Keep events small. Consider whether your event may be contributing to an overabundance of trail feeds in the local area or region. Some hikers come to the Trail to seek solitude and contemplation.
Prepare and serve food safely. If you will be cooking or preparing food, check with the landowner to find an appropriate area and learn what food-safety or other regulations apply. Permits may be required. Charging a fee or asking for donations may not be allowed.
Be present if you provide food or drink. Unattended items—including their packaging—can harm wildlife that consume them, or hikers, when unrefrigerated products grow bacteria or become contaminated. Unattended items are considered litter and their presence detracts from the wildland character of backcountry environments. Dispense food and drink in person, and carry out any trash or leftovers.
Restore the site. Leave the site as you found it—don’t create a burden for Trail volunteers whose time is better spent in other activities.
Advertise off-trail. Advertising—even noncommercial—is prohibited on the A.T. Publicizing a “feed” in advance can lead to clumping of long distance hikers, causing overcrowded conditions and avoidable impacts at shelters and campsites.
Forgo alcoholic beverages. Don’t risk the legality and liability associated with serving minors, over-serving adults, or the safety issues associated with intoxicated hikers.
Whether you hike or not, whether you live near the AT or another hiking trail, we hope that you’ll consider being a trail angel. And if not for a hiker…maybe you can pass along an act of kindness to someone else in need.
Trisha Faye, along with her trail angel sister Sue Holman, wrote Trail Angel Mama. After the Holman’s experiences with sharing trail magic to thru hikers in the Wrightwood area of the Pacific Crest Trail, the whole family now advocates sharing magic with others – whether they’re on a hiking trail or just on the journey of life.