Finding community in 2020

It wasn’t long after I accepted my offer to be a member of the 2020 Northern Forest Canoe Trail Stewardship Crew that it became evident that COVID-19 might end our season before it could even start. I was so excited to find out that we would be able to work, but I was worried that we wouldn’t have the same community experience that I had read about from earlier intern blogs. Would we be able to safely work with volunteers, or find places to stay on days off, because of the virus? Obviously, I didn’t know the NFCT community yet — a team of committed and considerate individuals. Volunteers still showed up, just as eager and willing to do the dirty work of maintaining the trail. Others stopped by to thank us for the work we were doing. Never once did I feel like the trail community wasn’t there with us, even if it looked a little different this year.

One of my strongest memories of the summer was from our week on the Saranac River in New York, staying on the property of a very generous member of the trail community in the Adirondacks. Every night we watched storm clouds across the valley pass over the mountains, and every night they passed us without a drop. As we finished up dinner on the last night of our stay, we watched the clouds roll in and we sat around the fire, assuming these would pass us like the rest. With very little warning, it became clear that we would be getting rain — and not just a drizzle.

As everyone scrambled to move their clothes, food, phones and, most importantly, a pack of Tate’s cookies, out of the pouring rain, the interns huddled into the back of the crew truck to watch the storm. From the truck, we could feel the thunder shake us while we laughed about the chaos of the sudden storm and ate cookies, all while squished on top of our crew tools and gear. I couldn’t help but think about how if I had been at home, I would have sat inside and paid no mind to this thunderstorm. It was exactly the sort of thing I was able to slow down and appreciate about living outside because of my NFCT internship.

Spending time outside is for everyone, whether you’re canoeing or building stairs, taking a dip in a lake or a rapid, or just sitting in a truck watching a thunderstorm. Right now, it isn’t easy to get outside and stay distanced, but it is still necessary. All of us are struggling to find the same sense of community we used to have on paddling trips or hikes outside. The NFCT has reminded me that our community is growing and strong.

If there’s one thing working on the NFCT has taught me, it’s that the best local spots — the best “hidden gems” — are on the water, and in the community that supports our work. I hope the projects we did this summer will help everyone connect with their own local waterways, and I cannot wait to see what else NFCT will do in the future!