We arrived in New York after spending the first week of our summer tour exploring Vermont. Hosting a Volunteer Day with the NY/NJ Trail Conference Conservation Corps, we were staying at their base camp for the weekend. They had set us up in their boat house, a cabin that is seated next to a gorgeous warm lake. The hot humidity hit us hard as Geoff Hamilton gave us a tour of his crews, shared historical stories of Hudson River valley and showed us his love for the place he grew up and now works to conserve. Settling into our bunks, the skies clouded over leaving us sitting inside watching rain pour beat down into the once inviting, warm lake.
Returning to the Hudson valley after Geoff traveled around the world with the army, his stories are filled with the bonds he had made with his fellow soldiers, the skills he had developed and the need to feel like he belonged to a bigger purpose. Servicing his country did not end when his military term ended, it only continued by joining the conservation corps. The bonds he developed with his fellow soldiers are now replaced with the crews he manages in the conservation corps, serving his country is now expanded to also serving the natural world. His passion for the programs he manages, for the job opportunities the trail conference creates, for the participants who join the crews, for the Hudson River Valley shine through every conversation you have with him. Outside of the army, he has found his calling, his place in the civilian world.
Leaving the army with experiences, new skills, passion and a strong work ethic, he also was left with navigating the spectrum of changes in his hearing levels. But this also gave him a personal investment to engage in discussions and promote awareness of employment and volunteer opportunities geared toward the Deaf Community. Now working in the conservation corps world, he continues to advocate and push for inclusion and opportunities for Deaf, Hard of Hearing people and for veterans, bringing his own personal experiences and expertise to the conservation corps table.
The morning of our volunteer day, the skies threatened to send more rain. Kevin, one of the crew leaders, lead us in a safety circle, explaining in detail the scope of the project and how our work was fitting into a multi-year project. Bear Mountain sits just outside of NYC, close enough that you can easily take a train into the city, bringing thousands of visitors to this section of the Appalachian Trail. The five of us, hiked down with the small eight person Bear Mountain crew to the highway of trail they were building. When standing at the work site, you are left feeling that this project is as massive as the Egyptian pyramids or Mayan temples. Thousands of large stone steps, lead you up the mountain on an extra wide tread, that was build extra durable to support all the traffic it sees everyday. And now we were going to be helping build it.
We joined their crew moving around heavy stone and finding patience in resetting until it fit perfectly in place. Kevin worked closely with us all day and easily visually communicated his thoughts, making it easy to work together, safely moving the stones into place. That day our five volunteers placed six stone steps into place on the Appalachian trail. Some of us had experience working on trails before, some of us had never even heard of the Appalachian Trail and some of us didn’t even know any ASL that morning but we all worked together bringing our unique skills, perspective and motivation to the work site. We all ended the day with the satisfaction of hard work: working through the humidity, the rain showers, the re-setting of a heavy stone again and again until it was perfect, and the success of not giving up even when it felt impossible.