Elizabethton hiker donates care packages to hostels from Georgia to Maine
Published 10:47 am Monday, February 8, 2016
Delivering packages by hand to 41 hostels from Georgia to Maine is part of one Elizabethton man’s annual mission to give back to the Appalachian Trail community.
As the Care Coordinator for the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, Jim Chambers organizes, packs and delivers care packages to more than three-quarters of the AT hostels to help them accommodate hikers during peak season.
“I support all of the hostels on the AT with the primary focus being on the low-cost and donation-only service providers. I take a 3-prong approach to the program: support, outreach and preservation,” said Chambers.
The packages are each valued at around $21 and consist of the items that are most rapidly depleted like toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, dish washing liquid, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and new this year by request: hand sanitizer.
Last week, he visited all the hostels in Georgia, and in the next two weeks, he plans to reach all hostels in Tennessee and North Carolina. By the first week in June, he said he will have made it through to the end of the trail in Maine, and once there, he will work with Rock Crews maintaining trails.
Yes, he could mail the packages, but Chambers said delivering each is the key to letting each person know they are valued and appreciated.
“I don’t think it means as much coming in mail,” he said. “It requires me to drive from Georgia to Maine, which I would rather do so they know that we care and are supporting them. That goes a long way.”
Chambers took over as coordinator two years ago after serving on the Executive Board. He said at the time, the program existed on paper, but never really got off the ground.
“I was asked to take it over and make something out of it, so I took the ball and ran with it,” he said. “I’ve turned it into more than a package to the hostel – I’ve turned it into year-round program.”
His three-tiered strategy incorporates the delivery of supplies, outreach to the hiking community and trail preservation.
“The maintenance aspect of giving back to the trail ties in with other programs of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and has gotten a great reaction from service providers on the AT as well as from ALDHA,” Chambers said.
His outreach efforts have already yielded some powerful results. One hiking friend, known on the trail as “Flying Pork Chop,” but known in Iowa as 26th District State Representative Scott Ourth, donated hygiene packs for each care packages. Each contains small soaps, body lotions and hygiene supplies that hikers can either take with them or that hostel owners can distribute at the hostel.
“To me, this was a big deal, because it was the first really big donation I’ve received,” said Chambers. “After the success of last year, more people are reaching out and wanting to help, which is great. That was kind of my goal of getting more people involved, and it’s slowly coming to fruition. Scott’s donation was really big, and a lot of other people are wanting to jump on board.”
Chambers, a retired Marine, said he tries to cater to what each hostel needs, and during peak season that can come in many forms.
For example, at the Kincora Hostel in Hampton, owner Bob Peoples offers numerous services, like laundry, showers, kitchen access and shuttles to town.
“When Bob gets hit, he’s got 30 people in a 23-bunk hostel, so there are people on floors, in the wood shed, and queuing to get in showers,” explained Chambers. “We’re just trying to take pressure off during peak season. Thus, the care package has supplies they’ll blast through at peak time. It’s crazy, especially with Bob because he offers resupply rides to town, and he’s on the road constantly helping hikers.”
For all of that, Peoples only charges $5 per night.
“It’s not even a break-even proposition for him, but he’s obviously not in it for profit, he does it for love, he is a shining example of what and who ALDHA wants to help, and there are people like him all the way to Maine.”
ALDHA Care is designed to relieve some of the pressure, at least financially, for folks that do this out of sheer love of the Appalachian Trail and the people that use and maintain it, Chambers said.
Providing these services in Carter County, which includes more than 80 miles of AT, is especially important, Chambers said, because hikers bring tourism to the area and need to feel welcome. Peak through-hiking season in this area is from mid-April to June 1 and from mid-October to December 1. If Carter Countians want to get involved with the program, Chambers said to visit aldhacare.com. Help is needed with outreach, preservation and supporting the care package program.