Sam Ripley is "Mr. Appalachian Trail." A volunteer working the 88-mile stretch of the AT between Virginia 56 in Nelson County and Black Horse Gap in Montvale, Ripley, 50, has been Supervisor of Trails for more than five years.
If you see white 5-inch lines painted on trees, rocks or posts, on certain parts of the parkway, Ripley's probably been there although he sheepishly admits he hasn't hiked the entire trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. "I feel obligated to give back," Ripley said. "Volunteer work is very important to me. I choose my job around it." And his 8-to-5 job as a nurse in the medical clinic at Ericsson is only the beginning of his day. After work, he's either on the trail, or making calls about the trail.
"He's very dedicated," said Bill Foot, president of the Appalachian Trail Club. "He's out there almost every weekend making sure our trail is top notch."
Ripley and the more than 100 volunteers he supervises build bridges, shelters, cut weeds, clear away weather damage and help control erosion. "Sometimes we have to walk five or six miles to get to our work site," Ripley said. "We work 'til it's done or we're too tired to do any more." Ripley and his crews have been known to pack up weed-eaters, clippers, water filters and other supplies on a Friday and not come back, until Monday. They have no qualms about sleeping in the wild. They either put up a tent or camp out in one of the shelters along the trail. And they'll work in snow, rain or, during this time of year, the muggy heat. "We're never lacking in something to do," he said, which attributes to the more than 15 hours a week Ripley puts in on the trail. Ripley and his crews relocate parts of the trail, find areas near a water source to build another shelter and hack out side trails to scenic overlooks. "We try to make the trail as remote as possible," he said. "You're out in nature, you don't want to hear motorcycles or cars." And Ripley makes himself available whenever there's a job to do. He considers it his duty. "You can call me at the last minute and I'll go," he said. One of the reasons Ripley admits he's able to be so active is that his wife, Sharon, is as involved as he is. Sharon is a section leader coordinator, working mostly in administration, but as vice-president of the AT club, she's not opposed to spending her Saturday's hiking and helping with trail clean-up as well. "It's a personal satisfaction," she said. The couple has made outdoor work a family tradition. When their two sons were young, the family used to spend vacations clearing trails and working construction projects in different states with the National Forest Service. "We traveled and got a wide range of experience," Ripley said. "It was good family time." Now that his sons are grown, though, he and Sharon have continued to enjoy the outdoors. "It's not all work," he said. "It's nice to sit on top of a mountain in the evenings and have a glass of wine."
( The News & Advance , June 16, 1998, Reprinted by Permission)