Appalachian Trail's new notch

Shelter: Volunteers are constructing a log structure, timber by timber, to be erected along the trail. It will honor the memory of Ed Garvey, a longtime advocate of the national hiking treasure.

Outdoors

May 10, 2000|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Before his death last year, Ed Garvey spent nearly a half-century teaching Appalachian Trail hikers about the path under their boots.

In his memory, admirers have been building a log shelter to give backpackers a roof over their heads at night.

Each weekend, volunteers gather in a field in Bowie to turn tree trunks into the walls of a two-story, 15-foot-by-9-foot shelter and a matching privy. When the work is done, they will dismantle the buildings and haul them to a site above the Potomac River across from HarpersFerry. There, the interlocking pieces will be reassembled, like a child's toy.

"The only thing easy about this is thinking about it," says project leader Frank Turk, laughing. "It looks neat, but it's an awful lot of work. A lot of people get disillusioned."

Daily progress is measured one log at a time. The timber is trucked in as 20-foot loblolly pine tree trunks. Workers peel away the bark and prepare the wood for the more-skilled volunteers with chain saws, who cut the notches in each end that will mesh with the log laid on top of it. Fine-tuning each notch is done by hand chisel.

It can take hours to get two logs to fit snugly together. Volunteers grunt and strain each time they have to lift the pieces for more chiseling.

"It's a neat guy thing, but women like to do it, too," says Turk, watching the action one recent Saturday. "It's a mixture of precision and rustic skill."

The shelter is being built in Bowie rather than near the Appalachian Trail, because it allows Turk to tap into a bigger volunteer pool and provides easier access to the construction site.

The project, which started in January, has attracted dozens of volunteers - students and faculty members from Johns Hopkins University, hikers who saw signs at outdoors shops and students from Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, where Turk teaches.

Turk, 43, never met Garvey, never hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Frankly, he wasn't ready to build a shelter, having just finished one for another part of trail in Maryland when Garvey died on Sept. 20, at the age of 84.

But Garvey's friends, and those moved by his books about the Appalachian Trail, felt no tribute could be more fitting.

And after Turk read Garvey's books and met the Garvey family, he agreed to take on the project.

"We couldn't have been luckier," says Sharon Garvey, Ed's daughter. "He is so enthusiastic. He's involved the family as much as the family has wanted to be involved."

Sharon Garvey, an artist, has designed T-shirts for the volunteers. She and her husband have lent a hand on the construction crew. Her sister, Kathleen Menendez, has crafted a sign for the shelter and another one for the cabinet that will hold the shelter's logbook for hikers to sign. A close family friend has built a small memorial marker.

"My father donated his body to science, so there isn't any grave site. We were thinking the marker could be set into concrete at the site," Sharon Garvey says.

Edward Bohan Garvey was a tireless advocate for the trail, which he through-hiked in 1970 at the age of 55. He wrote his first book about the experience, "Appalachian Hiker," that laid out in practical terms what someone needed to know and do to follow in his footsteps.

More than 50,000 copies were sold - an unheard-of number in the days before "Into Thin Air." The book spurred thousands of hikers to try the trail in segments or as a half-year adventure. Garvey updated it in 1978 and again in 1997.

But even before the book, Garvey was fighting to protect the trail. In 1952, he joined the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club - the group that maintains a segment of the trail from Rockfish Gap, Va., to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. He served on the Appalachian Trail Conference Board of Managers for almost a dozen years, pushed for a professional staff to run it and recruited new members.

He lobbied Congress for passage of legislation to buy land to permanently protect the trail.

After his death, hundreds of hikers wrote to the Appalachian Trail Conference and the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association to ask for a memorial.

Among them was George Cathcart, a 1982 through-hiker and now chief spokesman for the University of Maryland, who said his trek "turned my life around in 100 different ways" and called Garvey "a major inspiration to me."

The desire to honor Garvey drives Turk to be the first there every weekend and to race out to Bowie after school "at the drop of a hat to measure this and that" and get in a few hours of work before nightfall.

Some days, it's just Turk and Jim Skinner, a mathematician at the Naval Observatory in Washington who worked on the last shelter. Other days, he has more help than tools.

"You have to be ready to go with the flow," says Turk.

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