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AMC: Appalachian MOUNTAIN club or Appalachian MONEY club?
The discussion about the high cost of maintaining the AMC operated areas comes up every now and then. People wonder why it costs so much just to put up a tent on a platform in the Whites. It often costs nothing to do the same in the Adirondacks or Maine mountains, or even other parts of the Whites.
Here's another perspective...
While the Adirondacks, Whites, and Maine all have mountains, trails, and shelters, I believe the White Mountains of New Hampshire backcountry see a lot more users concentrated in a smaller area than either the Adirondacks or the Maine mountains. Unfortunately, just because one set of maintenance practices works in one area, does not mean it works in other areas. Use plays a role in maintenance practices.
That being said, according to the AMC website, "Wages vary according to position and individual qualifications. Average weekly pay is $250 to $340 after deductions for room and board (provided for many positions) but before taxes." You can check out more at http://www.outdoors.org/ .
The caretakers are not just taking money. They do a lot of shelter/tent site maintenance and also a trail maintenance in areas near the shelter sites. I've been to some of these areas when there has been significant overuse and without the caretakers around, many of those areas would turn into a cesspool.
Caretakers are also responsible for composting the waste. Compare this attitude to the maintainers I met somewhere "down south" who had never heard of the "pee in the woods, poop in the privy" concept. They were digging a new latrine. There wouldn't be room enough to constantly dig new privies every time one filled up in the Whites.
Caretakers do a lot of work educating the masses... Just try explaining to a bunch of new hikers who want a campfire why areas off the path are off limits in an area where there is NO dead wood on the ground because it was ALL burned at a campfire. It is only through the caretaker's vigilance, that the areas in and around shelter and tent sites are slowly being restored to their natural state.
If it was at all easy to find true "backwoods" tent sites off the trail in the Whites, I would probably advocate just getting rid of shelters, huts, and tentsites and forcing people to find their own sites. But, given the environment and given the number of users, that would just make for a horribly pockmarked trail where every single backwoods site would be horribly overused.
I've only been actively hiking since 1989. Since then, the number of backcountry users has grown significantly. The condition of the backwoods in the Whites has also IMPROVED significantly. Much of that improvement can be directly attributed to AMC's efforts (and probably the NFS and others, too) to protect and maintain trails as well as their efforts through the hut and shelter systems to educate the users.
You rarely see people wandering off the trails above treeline anymore. That used to be common practice until the trails were well delineated and the public educated about the fragility of the plant life in the area.
People used to have campfires at each tent site in the shelter/tent areas. Now, it's unusual (but not unheard of) to have even one small fire at a central fire ring near a shelter.
In the day to day running of the shelter and tent sites, it may seem expensive to have a caretaker on site all the time. However, in the long run, for the Whites, that expense may prove necessary to prevent further degradation of the backcountry experience for all users.
Like I said, this is just another perspective from someone who spends many weekends every year in the Whites...
Last updated, January 11, 2005.
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