201 Trees Planted: Q&A with an AMC Backcountry Caretaker

August 23, 2016

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This month we will take a dive into the psyche of one Charlotte “Char” Copp, second year AMC Backcountry Caretaker. On her last full day in the woods, we sat down by the river and reminisced about her season and took a look back at how her mentality as grown, the life lessons she has learned, and what drove her to plant 201 trees in one season.

Joe: What made you want to apply to be a caretaker?

Char: I’ve always had an intrinsic sense of helping people and helping the woods. The backcountry caretaker program just seemed to speak to me. Between living outside, giving back to the trails, and managing my very own campsite deep in the forest, it seemed like an opportunity I wanted to get in on.

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Joe: What are some of the aspects of the job that you love?

Char: I love the independence. Every day I get to plan my own schedule. I love watching my work being appreciated by visitors. Watching someone walk through my freshly lopped corridor untouched by branches is pretty cool. Knowing I’m doing something not for myself, but for the greater good, the greater woods, and the people visiting the woods, that’s pretty cool. And of course one of the biggest things is I just love is to be in the nature.

Joe: How is living in the nature?

Char: I live outside more then I live in the inside. Oh, and this is cool, I wake up with sunrise and I go to sleep with sunset, no matter when is rises or when it sets, I just happen to naturally wake up. I can’t help but feel connected to nature through that. I think that’s one of the more interesting parts of the job. I think the White Mountains are grand and beautiful, but modest compared to the flashy mountains of the west. Hiking these mountains isn’t easy, they kick yea, they’re small, but they’re powerful.

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Joe: If you had to pick one aspect of the job that is your favorite, what would that be?

Char: For me, it’s the people. I get to meet a lot of cool people. I welcome them into my little trail family for the evening. I love seeing who will walk up that trail every day. Where they came from, how far they will go, what’s their story. Talking with people as they check in and while they eat dinner, answering their questions and sharing some stories of my own. I love talking with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers too; they are so down to earth. And we can relate about our similar life styles, living out in the woods, the isolation, the hunger, the food, the rewards. Those are some memories I will carry with me the rest of my life.
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Joe: What are some of the rewards of coming back for a second season?

Char: As a second year you have the reward of going back to your projects the next year to see how they’re doing, see them working, see them doing their thing.  If it was a rock staircase you can see how it has become part of the fabric of the trail. If it was a revegetation project, like transplanting young balsam firs to more heavily used areas, you can literally see new growth on the trees, reclaiming once-impacted forest. And I hope to continue to come back for years to come and see how it’s all doing!12804684_10204132879080963_3483728994404185966_n

Joe: Most caretakers plant between 30 and 40 trees. What made you plant 201? No one has ever done that? How did you do that?

Char: It all started with just one day of planting 7 trees. It’s something that can easily be done with a shovel and a forest.  It’s something I love to show people how to do because of how effective it can be. Teaching people how to do this directly impacts the site and you get that instant rewarding feeling. By mid-season I realized I had about 100 trees and that seemed like a great number. And I’m the type of person that sets goals for myself and 201 trees seemed like a great challenge for the end of the season goal. I wanted to make this summer about improving the site, as opposed to last season when I was working on improving myself.

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Joe: Talk a little more about the transition from your first season to this one.

Char: My first year I was struggling more with what to do. If I was lonely I would hike to clear my head that way. This year I have come to learn the importance of getting work done and the rewards that come with that. If I stay busy during the day, it’s easy to keep a positive head space. This season I truly learned the value of a campsite, and how they limit the impact on the forest, and I just want to make them better.

 Joe: It can’t all be sunshine and roses, what advice can you give to someone who is struggling a little?

Char: Not letting your bad days affect your visitors. Sometimes people come in a little unhappy, maybe it’s raining, maybe they didn’t get as far as they wanted to. If someone gives you a little attitude, not letting that rub off on you or anyone else at the campsite. Just chatting with these people, trying to make someone’s day just a little bit better, that’s what keeps me going. The job we do is hard, really hard, but the rewards are there, you just have to work for them.

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Joe: What have you hoped to have learned from the job?

Char: I hope that when I leave the woods, I have as much confidence as when I am in the woods. I feel like I have a lot of self-love and confidence in the woods, and I don’t know if I have that out there. I knew that when I left my site last season, I came out of the woods a different person, but I don’t know quite what I’ll be like when I come out this time…

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Joe: What lessons do you feel like you’ve learned in the program?

Char: I’ve learned how to be confident in myself; I’ve learned how to enjoy my own company, which I wasn’t always able to do. I feel like my confidence has sky rocketed from last year and even more this year. I have become self-reliant. I’ve learned how to small talk with anyone. Small talk, and real talk, the difference between the two and when I need to use each one. This season alone I hiked 309 miles with a 35 pound pack on. The rewards of that might not be apparent yet, but it feels like there’s nothing I can’t do.

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Joe: How do you think you will look back on this experience in years to come?

Char: I think this program and working for the AMC opens doors for anyone interested in working with the National Park Service, or the Forest Service. People now know that I can work by myself, be independent, do the job that I’m supposed to do. In 20 years I hope to work for the Park or Forest service and I feel like I am using the caretaker program as my stepping stones to get there.

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And there you have it. The insight into the mind of a young caretaker. As our society becomes more “connected” it takes a special person to pry themselves away from that and find it within themselves to give so much back to the forest. So next time your walking by a campsite stop in and say hello to your fellow caretaker, you might just make each others day.

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Joe Roman

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