November 2014 Volunteer of the Month
Gene Whitaker has been a trail overseer in Shenandoah National Park since 2007, on the Corbin Mountain Trail and for several years also on the Indian Run Trail. His appreciation for trails and hiking began in his youth, often exploring the wooded hills around the small dairy farm in southwestern New York State, where he was raised.
Gene majored in environmental sciences at Cornell University and at Humboldt State University in California. He went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in 1974, he transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior, retiring in 1992.
Throughout his career, Gene worked on environmental assessments and a variety of environmental issues. After retiring, he worked for another 15 years for a private conservation organization.
Orange, Va., where Gene lives, is not far from Shenandoah National Park, so it is natural that he has been hiking there for many years, but he also takes a two- to three-week backpacking trip each year, usually in the West. In 2010, he hiked the Muir Trail.
Several years ago, Gene began leading outings of the Tuesday Vigorous Hikers. After a while, he decided that if he were going to use the trails, he should help maintain them. That’s when he became an overseer.
However, taking care of his trail isn’t all that he does. He usually does a loop hike so he can inspect and help maintain other trails on the way to and from his own. He also inspects and reports issues on trails that he covers with the Vigorous Hikers.
Gene is a model hiker. He says, "Maintaining trails for the enjoyment of everyone is something that every hiker can do, even if they don’t have time to be responsible for a trail segment. Many small branches can easily be flicked off the trail with a hiking pole or just picked up and tossed aside without even having to slow down."
Slowing down is not something that Gene often does, as those who accompany him on the trails can attest. In addition to his routine work, Gene has been volunteering to help out when a trail finds itself without an overseer. He goes wherever he is needed helping to keep conditions from getting out of hand until the job is filled or an ailing overseer recovers.
Hikers should follow Gene’s practice of reporting trail blockages and other issues to PATC. He says it is easy to do so, and it alerts trail volunteers so that they can quickly turn their attention to the correct spot and bring the needed equipment.
PATC expresses gratitude to Gene Whitaker for his volunteer efforts.
—Submitted by Mel Ellis
Know a PATC volunteer who goes “above and beyond”? Nominate them for Volunteer of the Month — they’ll be featured both on the PATC website and in the PA. Send nominations to Rick Canter at firstname.lastname@example.org