Volunteer Voices

It’s time for another volunteer feature! The bedrock of our stewardship programs is our dedicated and hardworking volunteers. We want to make sure their voices are heard and they remain the driving force behind the “on-the-ground” work that we are able to accomplish. In the upcoming months we will be featuring interviews with American Hiking volunteers, past and present, and hope that you are inspired by their stories as much as we are. Today, we’d like to introduce a long-time American Hiking volunteer, Brian Merrill!

Name:  Brian Merrill

Years volunteering with American Hiking Society: Many. 10 or 11.

What made you sign up for your first Volunteer Vacation?

brian-merrill-2During a family vacation to the Grand Canyon many years ago I met a retired lady who had volunteered for the park service to give talks to visitors, part of the Volunteers-In-Parks program. The concept intrigued me as I could see retirement on the horizon. I researched volunteer opportunities on the internet and coupled with my joy of hiking, found several organizations hosting volunteer vacations. I volunteered for projects with several of the groups but quickly narrowed my preferred organization to the American Hiking Society, given the variety of trips and their locations.

What is the most rewarding aspect of participating on a Volunteer Vacation to you?

The most rewarding aspect of a volunteer project is the immediate gratification of a job well done. Many times it takes weeks or even years to see accomplishments of your hard work. When building or rehabilitating a trail, the work is quick to see.

What is the most memorable/favorite experience you have had on a Volunteer Vacation?

Every trip has its own rewards and great experiences. One common thread with most projects is the ability to see more than most visitors are able to see. On a South Carolina project, a retired ranger took the crew on a tour of abandoned rice plantations dating from before the Civil War. While the buildings were all gone except for the massive stone stairways and chimneys, it was easy to see the grand boulevard that lead from the main road to the mansion, with massive Live Oak trees lining the approach. Likewise, at Mammoth Cave, the ranger took us into parts of the cave system not accessible to the general public.

brian-merrill-1What advice would you pass onto first-time volunteers?

Keep an open mind to the experience and be willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone; you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Also, be willing and eager to get dirty.

What hiking trail/location is currently on top of your bucket list?

I’ve enjoyed many parts of the country and world. One of my most favorite areas is the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Many people think of NY as only the city and don’t realize that the largest park in the continental US is in New York State; over 6 million acres and larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smokey and Everglades National Parks combined. The last few years I’ve been climbing the 46’rs as well as exploring many of the remaining Fire Towers.

For more information about our stewardship programs and how you can get involved, please visit HERE.