Building the Next Generation of Trail Conservationists

2022 Emerging Leaders’ Summit

On August 5-7, 2022, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) hosted its Emerging Leaders’ Summit centered on young leaders aged 18-30.

Summits are designed to provide career and professional development skills, connections for participants to build community and share stories through creative expression.

The 2022 Summit strengthened connections between young leaders and their networks, sparked momentum for conservation youth movements, and provided a space for artistic creation and performance utilizing the outdoors and the Appalachian Trail as a muse.

Cultivating Connections and Building Community
at the Emerging Leaders’ Summit

By Julie Judkins

It was a sticky, hot August day in New Jersey. At the Mohican Outdoor Center, the warm air was buzzing with anticipation of the weekend — in addition to the mosquitos, frogs, and crickets. Twelve new adventurers were arriving, curiosity and creativity packed into their bags and ready for a new experience. From August 5- 7, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) hosted the Emerging Leaders’ Summit,(ELS) a gathering for rising leaders in environmental conservation. The Summit strengthened connections between the group, sparked engagement with Appalachian Trail (A.T.) managers and stewardship, and provided a space for artistic sharing utilizing the Trail and outdoors as a muse.

Photo by Julie Judkins

The goal of the Summit was to provide an empowering, educational experience for a diverse cohort ages 18-35 looking to expand their skills and stewardship for the outdoors through connection, action, and expression. Participants came for a variety of reasons. One participant looked to “share [their] passion for accessibility and sustainability of the outdoors with other passionate individuals.” Another aimed to “connect with like-minded folks who share the same intentions of building an inclusive community… inviting people of all different backgrounds to get involved in the outdoors and conservation efforts… Building and/or expanding a community that shares resources and common goals, despite distance and time, is a treasure that can benefit everyone.”

The Summit kicked off with a porch gathering overlooking a mountain lake, hearing life stories and getting to know each other as a group. The group had come from five different states and many different lived experiences and backgrounds, yet were all engaged in meeting A.T. leaders and discussing the history of the Trail, the work and mission of the ATC, and expectations for the weekend. As stuffing marshmallows between crackers and into your mouth often does, s’mores around the fire helped everyone connect in a more personal way that evening. Sara Rose, a participant and Trail Volunteer from New York, brought the presence together with a reading of The Invitation, by Oriah.

Photo by Julie Judkins

Photo by Julie Judkins

Saturday morning’s focus on workshops and skills allowed participants to learn the essentials of trail maintenance, tools, and safety, and visitor use monitoring. That afternoon, the group took a dive into place with a special speaker, Stephanie Sherman-Barr, Director of Education for the Pocono Environmental Education Center. She spoke about the Delaware Water Gap’s history and the place-based education the Center does in sustainable living and appreciation for nature through a variety of programs and partnerships with communities. The day wound down with a paddle on the beautiful pond at the Mohican Outdoor Center, where several participants shared readings of their poetry and creative writing.

Photo by Julie Judkins

Photo by Julie Judkins

On the final morning, the group was joined by Amath Diouf, a writer and storyteller who shared models, actions, and his own powerful stories. “When we tell stories, we learn who we are,” he said. We helped the group weave together personal stories, explore creative experiences, and discuss the need for nature as a way to bring people of all backgrounds and life stories together. The invitation for this creative group to share their own thoughts, writings, and creative expressions gave way to even stronger connections as the group departed.

For the majority of the group, this was their first time on the A.T. They were inspired to travel and create connections, increase their comfort and confidence for more hiking adventures, and increase their knowledge of effective stewardship. All held strong values in creating inclusion on trails.

Photo by Julie Judkins

Photo by Julie Judkins

The Trail can provide transformation in many different ways. It can serve as a connection to a source of gratitude for experiences both by ourselves or with others in nature. Our aim for the Summit was met, with friends made and new trail enthusiasts ready to return to the A.T., and to advocate for its protection and the opportunity to share it with all communities. We have at least one participant bringing their stewardship back to the Trail by joining an ATC Trail Maintaining Crew, and others are sharing their experience through storytelling. Conservation stewards and leaders are in the making, thanks to the Summit and the impact the Trail has on us all.

2022 Summit Stories

Discover More:
The 2021 Emerging Leaders’ Summit

View recorded sessions and read stories from Summit participants during this entirely virtual event, which took place on August 11-13, 2021.

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