Krisdin Diehl, 27, has an enviable job for a hiker.
Now in her second year as a ridge runner for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, she works by hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. It’s her job to patrol her assigned length of the trail from her base camp near the West Branch of the Pleasant River.
It’s a busy place that includes her patrol on the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail, one of the most heavily visited side trails of the AT. On any given day she informs hikers about Leave No Trace backcountry ethics, picks up trash left behind by others and answers questions about the trail.
She works a rotating shift that varies from five days on duty, including overnights in her tent, and two days off; to 10 days on then four days off. The season started last weekend and continues through mid-October. I met Diehl on the banks of the river last Wednesday to talk about her upcoming season and the work she does.
“Usually on the busier days, I’ll stay close to ‘the gulf,’ between the parking area at the trailhead and all the way up to the Head of The Gulf. It’s about eight miles, round trip to the Head of the Gulf and back,” she explained. “It’s a popular place for day hikers on the weekends and holidays.”
She spends the overnights in a wall tent on a wooden platform near the trail, when she’s on her shift near the gulf.
“Then on weekdays I’ll go on longer ridge runs up and down the AT. I’ll go as far south as Monson, (33 miles), or up as far as Jo-Mary Road, but those are the extreme ends and I may only get there once a season,” she explained. “Usually I’ll go out as far as a shelter or two on the AT, like Logan Brook Lean-to to the north about 11 miles one way with an overnight, then return the next day,” she said.
“The past two days I went as far as Cloud Pond to the south, which is 12 miles, then turned around and came back the next day,” she said. That range is known as notoriously rough by through-hikers. Diehl is a former thru-hiker, having completed her end-to-end hike of the AT in 2009. “My legs are very sore today. That section is rough, you have to pay attention to every step, because there are rocks and roots, even if you’re not going up and down, which you usually are,” she said.
But, hiking up and down the trail is only one part of her work. “Informing visitors about Leave No Trace is my primary responsibility out here,” she said. “Most people are very receptive, because they are out here to enjoy nature, and they want to keep it nice and enjoyable,” she said. “A lot of the trash I find is accidental; a candy wrapper blows out of your hand, for instance. Lately I’ve been trying to explain to people to pay it forward and pick up trash you find, even if it’s not necessarily yours.”
From talking with Diehl it became obvious she loves what she does. Her position is similar to the other ridge runners that the Maine Appalachian Trail Club employs over the summer. There are three other caretaker-ridge runner sites located at the other high-use areas on the Maine AT; Piazza Rock Lean-To south of Saddleback, Horns Pond Lean-to on Bigelow and Abol Bridge just south of Baxter State Park. Like Diehl, all of her fellow ridge runners are former thru-hikers.
I’m not sure what to conclude from that, except to note that it figures that spending a summer outdoors by hiking and greeting fellow hikers is a task for which they are especially suited. Anyone who hikes from four to six months in all weather is a perfect fit for a job that involves doing just that.
Even though she grew up in Bethlehem, Pa., she spent lots of time outdoors with her dad, she said. She holds a degree in religious studies with and a concentration fine art and metalworking from Montclair State, hardly a natural transfer to an outdoor career. “Unless you apply a serious stretch,” she said.
While we sat there on river bank at the ford where the AT crosses, the scene was all about summer. The sky was gorgeously blue; the sound of the river was constantly present during our conversation and tiger swallowtail butterflies flitted in the morning sun. Just a few minutes passed before hikers arrived on the other side to change into wading shoes for the knee-deep ford.
Soon, they reached our bank on the north side and Diehl greeted them as they arrived. Friendly and engaging, afterward she said it was one of the skills she learned from her first year as a ridge runner, last year. “I learned how to work Leave No Trace practices into the conversation. When people see the uniform and insignia patches and want to know why I’m out here, I tell them I’m protecting the resource and can talk to them about minimizing their impact from there,” she said.
Prior to the creation of the caretaker-ridge runner program in the late ‘80’s, high-use areas were trampled to dirt by visitors whose backcountry practices were destructive. Since ridge runners have been established in those areas they have been returned to an untrampled state. Krisdin Diehl is a great example of a ridgerunner who sees their job as a labor of love. I’ll bet she never has a day when she doesn’t want to go to work.