Tazewell churches serve hikers on Appalachian Trail

By Kathy Kish
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BASTIAN, Va. – Members of three United Methodist churches in the Tazewell District have found a new way to reach out to those passing through their little community – namely, those who are hiking through via the Appalachian Trail.

Throughout the summer months those who have decided to take the ultimate adventure – hiking across the United States from one end of the east coast to the other – often find themselves low on food and supplies at some point along the way and need to venture into a nearby town.

The Rev. Alan Ashworth, pastor of Round Mountain Circuit, said the churches have formed a ministry called the Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry (A.T.O.M.), which offers to feed hikers breakfast as they are passing through. They also offer rides into town so hikers can take care of any necessary business while they are in the area. Round Mountain Circuit includes Green Valley, New Hope Union, and Pine Grove UMC.

Ashworth said the usual chosen route for the hikers is from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katadin in Maine. He said it can take anywhere from four to six months to hike the full length of the trail, so every Monday members of the ministry offer to feed trail hikers and assist them in running errands.

"We started several years ago with the desire to reach out to hikers," Ashworth said. "We began by putting a trash can on the trail, and then we asked some hikers what would be beneficial to them, and we added picnic tables. Last year we began feeding them once a week on Mondays for eight weeks."

He said they have started the same feeding routine this year and have held several meals so far this year.

"We've found that offering a breakfast meal really helps," he said. The churches post notices in shelters along the trail, letting people know that they will be serving breakfast down the road a piece. They then meet the hikers at one of the shelters and transport them to the church where they serve breakfast, offer to take them to grocery stores, and run other errands before returning them toat the shelter to continue their journeys.

The number of hikers varies, Ashworth said. Church members served six people at their first breakfast, three the next and 23 the third.

Ashworth said the opportunity to meet the hikers and enjoy their fellowship is one of the reasons they do this. Hikers come from all over and the variety of people hiking the trail is diverse and interesting.

"We enjoy meeting them," he said. "That's why we do it. We saw this as an opportunity to meet people, exchange dialogue, and communicate our faith by reaching out to their bodily needs."

Ashworth said the eight-week period in which they offer the meals seems to be enough to accommodate the majority of the hikers, because those hiking the trail from Georgia to Maine usually reach Bland by June, otherwise it will be difficult for them to reach Maine before it turns cold.

Reprinted with permission, Bluefield Daily Telegraph


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