Editor’s note: Throughout October, our #hikeOctober guest writers share what hiking means in their lives. Today’s guest is Ron Tipton who recently retired as President and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
The Appalachian Trail has been an important part of my life for the past 45 years. I have enjoyed the Trail as a hiker; helped maintain sections of the A.T. as a volunteer; lobbied Congress and multiple administrations for land acquisition money to protect the Trail corridor and the surrounding landscape; served on the Board of the Appalachian Trail Conference; and recently retired as the President/CEO of the re-named Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
All of this happened because I hiked the entire A.T. 40 years ago in 1978. This adventure of a lifetime changed the course of my professional career, and gave me the opportunity to lead the ATC in a critical period of transition from trail management and land acquisition to becoming a true conservation organization. For me it was indeed my “dream job” at the end of four decades of environmental advocacy.
Men, women and families are motivated to hike the A.T. end-to-end for many reasons. However, it has been my experience to meet many “thru hikers” who are facing challenges in their lives, whether it be recovering from a war experience in Iraq or Afghanistan; the loss of a loved one; the end of an unhappy marriage; or simply looking for their next step forward. The Appalachian Trail has restored both physical and mental well-being to many hikers
My life was also transformed by my A.T. journey. I remember vividly a day I was hiking the A.T. in the western North Carolina mountains early in my thru hike and pondering next steps in my professional career and personal life. The experience of walking nearly 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine through 14 states and a beautiful mountain landscape allowed me to the time and place to make important life decisions.
I decided my mission was to spend the rest of my career protecting national parks and wilderness areas and other special places in the American landscape, including the Appalachian Trail. When I hiked in 1978 more than 200 miles of the Trail were on public roads and more than 600 miles were in private ownership. Today the entire A.T. is publicly owned, permanently protected and managed by federal and state conservation agencies. I am proud to say I had a role in that historic achievement.
Equally important, the year after my hike I married the love of my life who waited patiently at home while I walked through 14 states because she realized how important this journey was to me. Today we are close to our 40th anniversary, and hiking together more than ever. How lucky I am!
– Ron Tipton
Click here to learn more about #hikeOctober, an annual program to raise awareness of the challenges of mental illness, fund mental health research and conserve wilderness trails. #hikeOctober is free to join, open to hikers with all experience levels, and an easy way to have your walk in the woods, or around the block, make an impact!