Letter to a Future Corps Member

January 25, 2021
Melanie Schuck
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Letter to a Future Corps Member
Trail Stewards educating hikers at Breakneck Ridge. Photo by Tori Finn.


Dear Future Trail Steward

“This experience will change your life.” That statement was said to me during training at the beginning of the 2020 Conservation Corps season. Sounds like something you would expect to hear in training or orientation, right? Especially if I told you it was the director of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference who said it to me. What if I told you he said it directly to me because I was having a moment of difficulty on the hike in that training as I was trying to keep up with the others? Sounds embarrassing? Because it was for me. I had been desperately trying to hide it until I pulled off to the side of the trail to catch my breath. He was one of the first of the few people around me, because I had fallen behind, to ask me if I was all right. When I told Josh that I was having trouble trying to do the hike, I thought it could be the end of the season for me right there. Instead, he told me how he had done the entire Appalachian Trail years ago, completely unprepared. He told me how that experience completely changed his life and put him on a course to become the director of the organization I was serving. To which he then said that being a service member for that organization would change my life, too. 

That moment was pivotal for me because it showed me that the management of the Trail Conference actually cared about me as a person and wanted to help me become the best version of myself. Prior to this season, I had become used to employers that saw me as a number, as well as being replaceable if an issue emerged. I have a feeling that you have had that experience, too. If you have had a supervisor give you a hard time for having an issue, no matter what it was, I can tell you that the supervisors in the Trail Conference are not like that. Take it from someone who overheated at trail maintenance more than once, struggled to keep up on hikes, and took last-minute time off for health reasons. Every time something came up, they helped me with such compassion and understanding that it blew me away. 

This experience did change me—in a way I didn’t think would happen. At most, when Josh said that it would change my life, I thought I would get in better shape or something. Here, at the end of the season, I see that my life has changed. I may not be in the best physical shape, but I’m a better hiker than that embarrassing moment in training. I am a more effective communicator by learning how to quickly connect with a hiker, figure out what information they need, and how I should say it to them so they’ll listen. I have handled emergencies and injuries with my fellow Trail Stewards to deal with the situation as quickly as possible. I have two new certifications that both came in handy throughout the season in different ways. I connected with people who understand how important it is to preserve trails because they are the gateway to the natural world for us. I have helped every level of hiker, from absolute beginner to thru-hikers, on the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain. I could keep going on how these experiences have changed me, but it still wouldn’t do it justice. 

So, future Trail Steward, this will be my parting advice: if you are on the fence about doing this service term like I was, take that jump. Because it will change your life. 

--Melanie Schuck, 2020 Hudson Valley Trail Steward 

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