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In Favor of Small Hiking Clubs

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has released their annual financial statement for 2009. If you’re a member of this organization, the good news is that the value of the AMC’s endowment has bounced back despite the muted market recovery and the organization has a lot more cash on hand than last year.

Small Backpacking Club Logos
Small Backpacking Club Logos

Despite the publication of their audit reports, I still have a problem with the transparency of the AMC. I am a member and while I am friends with many other members and AMC volunteers, I really can’t understand what the organization stands for or does anymore. The only face of it that I ever see are the unstoppable fund raising emails I receive (do they know what an opt-out is?) and the phone calls at night seeking donations beyond my membership fee.

I really have no idea where my money goes in this organization and frankly, if I could specify that it can only be used to cover volunteer expenses or trail maintenance, I’d do it in a flash. Instead, it feels like my dues disappear into the borg. For all I know I’m paying some marketing agency to spam my email box.

That’s why I also give donations to small hiking clubs. Their expenses are do few and their impact so obvious that I feel like my money is being put to good use. For example, I frequently hike on trails maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club, The Wonalancet Out Door Club, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, The Cohos Trail Association, The Randolph Mountain Club, and Friends of the Wapack. Their presence and hand print are a tangible, visible thing for me that I can readily appreciate when I’m in their territory. Thanks to you all and the other small New England Hiking Clubs that I haven’t mentioned here.

What small hiking clubs or trail maintenance organizations do you support, in the states or abroad?

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  1. Is it really true that "the only face" you ever see is a the fundraising side? I get a magazine and emails with the trips being offered, along with ones about conservation activism. I'm not really you're being fair here.

  2. I completely agree with you and this is why I don't give a penny of my money to the AMC. I have nothing good to say about the AMC so I will refrain from commenting any further on them.

    My donations will continue to go to the smaller clubs which really do make a difference. Such as the RMC and many of the ones you've listed in this entry.

  3. Brian – If the winter committee was the only face I saw of the AMC I would be happy. Heck, I'd even donate more money if I knew that you and your students would benefit from it. Honestly, I'm not paying for the magazine or The MUD. I couldn't care less about them, but the accident reports in Appalachia are interesting – but not free.

  4. I belong to the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference (http://www.nynjtc.org/). At some point, when my kids are grown, I will happily do volunteer work for this great organization.

    A clip from their website:

    * the Trail Conference is supported by 10,000 individual members and 100 member clubs representing 100,000 trail users;

    * more than 1,600 people from across 20 counties in two states annually volunteer for trails;

    * these volunteers create, maintain, and protect 1700 miles of trails and 38 shelters;

    * they produce the maps (10), books (9), and web publications that help guide the public onto trails and open space throughout our region.

  5. Where to begin…


    – The AMC huts were an important stepping stone to backpacking for me and my son.

    – The AMC huts and backcountry sites play a critical role in concentrating use in the backcountry.

    – Trail Maintenance

    – Pickham Notch Center


    – Endless requests for money

    – Pricing structure that is very regressive, I would like to see them set aside many bunks for thru-hikers and lower socio-economic groups

    – Maine Woods Initiative, that should be a separate organization

    – Volunteer Trail Opportunities – pay to volunteer?

    – Highland Center, what a different vibe from Joe Dodge Lodge

  6. I learned a lot of what I know about the outdoors from AMC volunteers over the years. All I'm saying here is that BIG is not better. After a while BIG is only interested in growing BIGGER or is funding BIG. Locality, transparency, and dissidence are all valuable. That's really what I'm saying. I'm still going to be a member of the AMC for a few more months, but I'm going to put my $50 to use elsewhere next year.

  7. Out here in the Pacific Northwest, it's the Washington Trails Association (www.wta.org) and the very new, still fledgling, Trail Keepers of Oregon (www.portlandhikers.org).

  8. That does it! Granny, you've inspired me to start a new blog section dedicated to small clubs. Coming soon…

  9. Ya know,small groups of local people have very loose ideas about what they need to do. Some of them is maintain trails, build shelters, and, keep the kids actively learning, besides just plain cleaning up. Big groups simply provide a more active and supported politcal activity. I know, this has been said. The point is that the two groups have different points of view and different goals even though they support the same trail(s). Both types are really needed in our economic environment, perhaps any. Trouble is, hiking is a much more private sport than many others. If the choice was joining a large group or a small one, most would join the small one, leaving the large political groups starved. No politics…no big funding…ouch.

    Don't think that joining a large group is a waste of your money. But don't deprive small groups of your knowledge, either. State, national, and, small & large organizations work together and compliment each other.

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