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A ridgerunner acts as a guide, educator, and rule enforcer on mountain trails. The specific title of ridgerunner is almost exclusive to those who work along the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of the United States, but professionals who work for regional and national park services elsewhere in the world perform many of the same duties. Ridgerunners ensure that visitors enjoy their time on the mountain while staying safe and preserving the beauty of the surrounding environment.
When ridgerunners meet hikers on a trail, they will usually stop to make conversation and answer any questions they may have. A ridgerunner can explain the history of a specific path, describe trees and wildlife, and provide tips about interesting things to look for while hiking. In addition, a worker reminds visitors of the importance of preserving their surroundings, encouraging them to pack out their trash and resist the temptation of veering off of established trails.
In addition to helping hikers and tourists find their way around mountains, ridgerunners watch out for suspicious activity, fires, and other potentially dangerous events that could threaten visitors and wildlife. A ridgerunner regularly hikes his or her designated trails, observing and reporting hazards so they can be dealt with properly. If hikers are found breaking rules, the ridgerunner can issue a warning or inform law enforcement rangers of the problem. Ridgerunners are often involved in trail maintenance tasks as well to preserve visitor safety. They clear logs and debris, prune trees and bushes along foot paths, and pick up trash.
Most ridgerunners carry a lot of supplies and equipment when hiking their trails. They are equipped with first aid kits, emergency food and water supplies, radios, and cell phones. Many ridgerunners also carry global positioning system (GPS) devices to confirm their exact location in the event of an emergency. They can relay GPS coordinates to rescue teams if hikers are severely injured and cannot make it to ranger stations under their own power.
A person who wants to become a ridgerunner usually needs to hold at least a high school diploma and have experience working or hiking in mountainous regions. Previous knowledge of specific trails is very helpful in landing a job. A hopeful ridgerunner can learn about open positions and application procedures by contacting ranger stations or visiting government park service websites. Many people begin their nature careers in ridgerunner jobs, gaining the experience and knowledge necessary to advance to a park ranger or conservationist position in the future.