An Backcountry Education – Adirondack Explorer

trail work
Cal Seeley during his summer on the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society trail crew. Photo by Patrick Bly

Reflecting on lessons learned from summer trail work

By Cal Seeley

“That’s where I lived last summer,” says my friend Roan, pointing out the car window at a wooden platform sticking out of the snow in Keene Valley as we drove up Roaring Brook Falls in the winter of 2019.

He recalled a summer full of demanding work and a simple life, telling stories of rocks sliding downhill on a steel cable and clearing with axes as he walked through High Peaks. As a college freshman in an outdoor recreation program, he was mesmerized.

That spring, I applied to the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, or ATIS, an organization dating back to 1897 with deep ties to trails around the Keene Valley and in the Adirondack Mountain Reservation. The work provided “rustic” homes in canvas tents along the Ausable River. It was full-time, rain or shine, and nearly every work day was spent toiling on a bridge, in a shady forest, or on a windy summit.

As a job that physically changes the natural environment, there is a responsibility that comes with the job. This responsibility forces hyper-awareness and always thinking more than one step ahead. Spending time in this mental space allows communication with the landscape on a deep and intimate scale. The trees became individuals, each with a distinct personality. Feeling connected to the landscape is powerful and deeply reflective.

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