Five Questions: Bob Peoples

John Thompson • Mar 19, 2019 at 8:16 PM

HAMPTON — Not many natives of Massachusetts are honored by the Carter County Commission, but that honor was given Monday evening, when the Commission called former Bostonian Bob Peoples to come forward for recognition of all he has done to promote the Appalachian Trail through the county.

The commission thought it was the appropriate time to honor Peoples. During April, his hiking hostel, Kincora, will be playing host to its 25,000th Appalachian Trail hiker since Peoples and his late wife, Pat, founded it 25 years ago. Peoples has also recently been recognized for his 10,000 hours of trail maintenance work provided to the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoe Club.

When Peoples retired from the Air Force, he did not plan to spend his retirement in East Tennessee, operating a hiker hostel and maintaining the Appalachian Trail, but things changed for him after he settled in Vermont and began doing trail work on the Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath that runs the north-south length of Vermont through the Green Mountains and includes 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

When did your interest in hiking and trail maintenance begin?

“After my retirement, when I started hiking on the Long Trail.” Peoples said the trail forced him to change the priorities in his life. “When you are on the trail, some things that seemed so important in your life don’t seem as important, but things like making sure you have enough water become very important.”

But there were some aspects to his life that did not change at all. In the Air Force, he was involved in aircraft maintenance. When he discovered a maintenance problem with an airplane, he brought in a group of maintenance personnel to fix it, even if it would take all night.

He said it was a great feeling to have the problem corrected in time for the plane’s scheduled flight the next morning. Seeing it climb into the sky and continue on its mission was a satisfaction he would feel when he became involved in trail maintenance. “It’s called task accomplishment,” Peoples said. “When I see a problem with the trail, I work to fix it.

Just like the Air Force, sometimes the problems are so big it takes a team to fix them. The Eastman Hiking Club had a plan to accomplish the big jobs by taking advantage of the annual gathering of through hikers for Trail Days at Damascus, Va., every year. They called it the Hard Corps, with through hikers volunteering to give back to the trail by working on some two-day projects for several dozen workers.

“What was you favorite Hard Corps project?”

“That was in 2001, when we took out the 103 locust logs that once led up from Carvers Gap to Round Bald in the Roan Highlands. We built a new trail with switchbacks and used 600 tons of gravel.”

The job done by the through hikers has held up exceptionally well. Although this is one of the most heavily traveled sections of the entire Appalachian Trail.

The Roan Highlands have continued to be a key target of Hard Corps, with many changes to the trail to make it better and less affected by heavy foot traffic and some of the heaviest precipitation in the East. Trail maintenance has certainly played a key role in keeping Roan Mountain a popular hiking spot.

“This section of the AppalachianTrail has benefitted from your 10,000 hours of trail maintenance. Why did you choose to move here from New England?”

“My wife and I wanted to build a hiker hostel and we were looking for property to buy near the Appalachian Trail. The property had to be within a quarter mile of the trail, because hikers won’t go further. We found the property in Dennis Cove and it was two-tenths of a mile from the trail, so it was what we were looking for.”

“After all these years, do you now have a favorite part of the Appalachian Trail?”

“I guess I am prejudiced, I have two favorite spots, Round Bald and Laurel Fork Gorge,” Of course, the Laurel Fork Gorge is in the very back yard of Kincora and contains one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the Appalachian Trail. Round Bald is a part of the bands of the Roan Highlands, as well as the successful scene of one of the first Hard Corps projects, discussed in the paragraphs just above.

“You are well known to be an international hiker, hiking the trails on several continents. What is our favorite trail?

“That is difficult because different trails provide completely different experiences. Some trails provide incredible scenery, some trails provide intensely spiritual experiences, others provide a perspective on history.

“But in the end, it always comes down to the people you meet on the trail, because you have time to get to meet them and get to know them. You can’t do that when you are going 60 mph.”

Peoples then answered with a trail that provided all of these experiences and more to this world class hiker. “The Jesus Trail to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee,” Peoples said.

He said part of the trail ran on a 2,000-year-old Roman road. “This was a road that Christ walked on, you are following in his footsteps,” Peoples said.

The history of the place didn’t stop with the life of Christ. Peoples said the trail continues up to the Horns of Hattin. He said that distinctive double hill was the site of the turning point in the Crusades, where Saladin defeated Guy of Lusignan and Raymond III, Count of Tripoli. Jerusalem fell to Saladin a short time later.

But repeating his emphasis on the people he met along the trail, Peoples said the local Middle Easterners he met were extremely kind and hospitable. “Why can’t CNN show these people?” he asked.

But People’s world travels are over for this season. Thousands of through hikers are on their way north to Mount Katahdin in Maine and he is awaiting the arrival of his 25,000th guest in April.

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