Trails do not maintain themselves; people maintain hiking trails. So every once in a while, I have to take myself out of hiking mode and do some trail maintenance.
Lenny and I have adopted 4.9 miles of the A.T. from the 92 miles that the Carolina Mountain Club takes care of. The distance is trivial, if you hike it but if you're trying to maintain it, it is considered a long section.
Our section is not a "top of the pops" location - it goes from Rice Gap to Devils Fork Gap in Madison County, NC and Unicoi County, TN. Its main distinction is that here, the A.T. goes compass south while it goes trail north. It also has a two-grave cemetery. A quiet section, very typical of the A.T., in general.
At least four times a year, we take two cars and place them on either end of our section. Then armed with clippers, loppers, hand saw, and garbage bags, we walk the trail. We clip overhanging branches and vegetation too close to the trail and clear the trail of blowdowns and random logs. We also pick up garbage and take apart fire rings.
The last two jobs rankle me. Branches and blueberry bushes are part of nature, part of the job but picking up cans and pie plates should not be. Also, there should not be any campfires on the trail itself. So we dismantle and disperse the stones. What a waste of effort but we do it.
Each time we go, we're bound to see several hikers. We introduce ourselves as "your happy trail maintainers" and they're so happy to see us. That's our immediate reward!
So if you can hike a trail, thank a trail maintainer.