Friday, July 18, 2014

Reflections from Mountain Trail Monitors 2014


A happy trail crew poses at lunch, MTM Week 2
The Mountain Trail Monitors program provided by the Mountain Institute is an excellent program that I highly recommend. I was a part of the trail monitors group last summer, 2013, and twice this summer.

My first time in MTM, I had no idea what to expect. I knew how to make a fire, set up a tent, and identify plants and animals but trail work and backpacking were new to me. I had no idea how much of a culture shock it would be.
After we got settled into our backpacks, we were on our way. Almost immediately we were drenched by rain, which lasted the rest of the week. We spent the rest of the week tired, wet, smelly, and ready for a shower. Despite this, I realized more about myself.  One day, while we were out hiking and my feet were blistered, I looked up and stopped in my tracks. I was surrounded by forest next to a stream and, beyond that, a field. Closing my eyes, I heard rain hitting the leaves, birds singing, and the wind blowing through the trees. When I opened my eyes, the sun was peeping through the clouds and lit up the raindrops, making the field sparkle. Since that moment, I’ve loved being outside in rain or shine (preferably shine).
Trail crew ready to lop, Week 2
Trail work is hard but at times I didn’t even notice because of the good attitudes of my new trail family. Braja, our leader, always told us that attitudes are contagious and that is the truth. If anyone starts having a bad attitude everyone has a bad attitude. Luckily for me, all three times I went I was blessed to have incredible leaders (Braja, Mike, Katy, and Sara). I have made so many life friends. There’s no better way to see someone’s true personality than to spend a week with them in the woods, when they’re tired and dirty.
The second time I did MTM I was the only girl along with Braja and Katy (our instructors). That week it only rained half the time which made things a lot better. There were personal struggles for me along the way. One of the trails we hiked was uphill the whole way. It was very tiring and seemed to never end. I was struggling until we played a game where you would basically leapfrog the person and encourage them. This made the hike better and got your mind off of the hill itself.
The end of Week 1
Our last night camping in the woods, there was a full moon.  As I stood there looking at it, I thought to myself how amazing our world is. We were so small compared to everything around us. The moon, the vast forest, it seemed like you could relax worry free in the middle of the woods leaving your phone, stress, and everything that brought you down just out there.
The next day we hiked out relaxed and ready to look at life at a different angle.
I got back from my third trip a couple weeks ago and can honestly say it was my favorite.  The people I went with were hardworking and kind people overall. We made so many good memories and created a bond that we won’t forget. The weather this time was incredible, it didn’t rain once! My favorite part of that trip had to be the social aspect and how everyone came together and supported each other.
The Mountain Institute has incredible instructors who are so kind and friendly. As soon as I came to the Mountain Institute I was greeted by kind faces. They are so knowledgeable and I thoroughly enjoyed working with each instructor and getting to know them on a one on one basis. 
Trail crew, Week 3
They have inspired me so much I've started doing trail work in Dorsey Knob Park in Morgantown, WV and hope to eventually do more work in different parks. The Mountain Institute (TMI) is a place that I can come to relax and enjoy the hardworking and incredible people that are here. TMI is trying to figure out how  to continue to fund MTM now that its grant has ended. This is really sad to me and hits home because this program has made such a difference in my life and how I look at things now. Being out in the woods gave me an idea of what I want to do for college. I can’t describe how much something like this impacts teenagers. The Mountain Institute does a great thing and I will support them all the way.
Alyssa with a robin's nest
Happy camping! Alyssa Boback is a Junior at Morgantown High School in Morgantown, WV. She's also a great trail crew member! We just ran our last week of MTM for 2014. This summer, over thirty students participated in MTM to clear more than 15 miles of trail in the Monongahela National Forest. MTM is likely to continue in 2015, please keep an eye out for updates on our blog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Getting on Board

The Appalachian Program hosted The Mountain Institute's annual meeting this past week. Staff members from TMI's international programs traveled from the Andes and the Himalayas to converge with Headquarters staff from DC and board members from around the world. 

Each program works independently to address the needs of its local mountain communities so it's not often that we're all in the same place. It's fulfilling to come together and be reminded that each of these mountain ranges, as far apart as they are, share a startling number of similarities. In many ways, Appalachian communities have more in common with those in the Himalayas than they do with cities and towns in the American lowlands. Our portfolio of projects is diverse - watershed education, medicinal plant cultivation, glacial lake monitoring - but our mission is the same everywhere we work. We're all inspired by the mountains.