Ridgerunners and Caretakers
Ridgerunners and caretakers are generally seasonal employees assigned to hike and camp along high-use sections of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) or to remain at heavily used overnight sites. The ridgerunner and caretaker program helps promote a quality recreational trail experience by talking to visitors about the A.T. and its intended primitive experience, its location, regulations, and traditions, as well as ways they can minimize their impact on the Trail.
Each year, more than 30 Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) supported ridgerunners and caretakers are hired by the ATC, one of A.T maintaining clubs or one of the land managing agency partners. In the course of a year, A.T. ridgerunners interact with tens of thousands of trail visitors.
They are assigned to work on specific sections of the Trail, which can be up to 70 miles long. Some ridgerunner or caretaker seasons start as early as late February, as in Georgia or the Smokies, and many locations up and down the trail have ridgerunners and caretakers working into late October, as Trail visitation increases during fall foliage season.
Ridgerunners and caretakers spend most of their work day on the Trail, talking to hikers and other Trail visitors. At trailheads they may discuss hikers’ itineraries, potential campsites and the importance of using already impacted campsites in heavily used areas. At campsites and shelters they might talk about effective food storage in bear country or area campfire policy. On the Trail, they might point out the impact to natural resources of cutting switchbacks.
Ridgerunners also provide a valuable service to maintaining club volunteers and land managing agency personnel, by reporting back to them about the conditions they encounter while on the Trail. In some cases, they also perform maintenance. They make note of the condition of the Trail itself, campsites, shelters or other built structures and report any conditions that need immediate attention to maintaining clubs and agency partners.
While infrequent, ridgerunners occasionally become involved in emergency responses, including searches for lost hikers or efforts to provide emergency medical treatment to ill or injured hikers.
Ridgerunners receive training in minimum impact camping and hiking techniques, the A.T’s cooperative management system, first aid and the often distinct character of the trail section they will be covering. Supervision and support for them come from one or more A.T. management partners: either the ATC staff, maintaining club volunteers or agency partner staff.
The ATC recruits for the upcoming season during November or December of the prior year. Information and applications are found in the Job Opportunities section. Applications are usually accepted until January 31. More information can also be obtained by calling the ATC’s Ridgerunner Coordinator at (717) 258-5771 x203.