Hiker offers fond memories of Steve Longley
Here is a article I wrote for the MATC newsletter about Steve Longley that was published.
Hiker offers fond memories of Steve Longley
By Rick Towle (Troll), Class of 2010
It’s often true that something good comes out of tragedy. When Alice Ferrence drowned attempting to ford the Kennebec River while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in 1986, something good did come out of it. Steve Longley.
For twenty years, and with over 19,000 hikers safely transported, Longley was the face of the AT to thru hikers in Maine. To most, he was simply known as The Ferryman. Longley was a constant. Along with the mud, bugs, rain, and humidity, Longley was always at the river’s edge with his red Old Town canoe with the whiteblaze painted on the bottom when he was needed.
Longley was a natural for the job. Born of one of Maine’s most royal of political families, he took the traits that put his father James Longley in the Blaine House, his brother James Jr. in Congress, and his sister, Susan, in the state senate, and used them in a more natural setting.
"He came out of nowhere and proved you can achieve your dreams," Longley says proudly of his father in a 2001 DownEast Magazine article. "He proved you could be the underdog and win. I model myself after my father. He also said that no matter what you do, there's no substitute for hard work.”
Steve’s brother Jim (James Jr.) told me that their father took them both on a canoe trip when Steve was 16, and Jim was nine. Jim said he thought that was the defining moment in Steve’s life that led him in the direction he took. They canoed the Allagash Waterways in Maine and Jim said he remembers the excitement Steve showed. Steve went on to have his own River Guide service and Jim went into the Marines.
With the drowning, the ATC decided that something needed to be done regarding one of the most treacherous crossings on the entire 2,175-mile trail. Steve was operating a rafting business on the river and answered an ad for the ferry. The rest is lore.
There are always the numbers. 230 hikers ferried the first year. 1,146 in his last year in 2007. But there is so much more than that. There was the hiking family that refused his service, determined to cross the river the old fashioned way. Despite the rebuke, Longley crossed the river in his canoe along with each member, providing a safety net if needed.
But it was the intangibles that truly made him legend as The Ferryman. He could be there with cold sodas as a surprise, or a ride to the hospital if needed. He was plugged into the trail as much as anyone and had news and information for those that needed it. He always had a smile at the ready and really cared for his customers. With his home just a mile north of the crossing on Rte 201, he let hikers stay on his property and carried some supplies as well.
"I'm here to help," Longley said in a 1997 Portland Press Herald story. "My ferry service is regarded as a safety checkpoint that gives hikers and their families peace of mind. These people are part of a tight subculture, and I am part of the chain of people who help hikers."
In 2004, when I started the Whiteblaze hiker feed Steve helped me get it off the ground and he hosted it on his land. It was a huge success and continues to this day having moved to Monson in 2006.
People that knew Steve, whether for just the short amount of time in his canoe or for longer, knew he had the proper perspective about things. "I'm not out there hiking, I'm just out there observing," Longley said for the same DownEast article. "I have a lot of respect for someone who can put a pack on their back and be a self-contained unit."
Steve’s contributions to the AT community did not go unnoticed at the national level. "That crossing is synonymous with his name," said Lori Potteiger, an information specialist for the ATC in Harper's Ferry. Potteiger says Longley has given her office some of the most accurate hiker counts ever.
"He's at one of the few places along the trail where every single hiker will meet the same person," Potteiger continued. "He's not only The Ferryman, he's really tapped into the trail community. I can't think of any one person who would have seen a higher percentage of through hikers."
Potteiger’s comments were also for the August 2001 DownEast Magazine article.
In 2007, the Maine and New England Appalachian Trail Clubs named Longley the Agency Partner Of The Year for his service to the hiking community and his service at the crossing.
Many of the hikers never got to know Steve like I did. To most of the hikers he was just a friendly guy, a Mainer that helped them complete their dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Steve was a part of their dream and helped them to complete it. One of Steve’s comments was “I kind of look at it as helping people's dreams come true”.
With Steve’s sudden passing on March 2, it brings to mind his final quote in that DownEast piece. "I took the road less traveled, and now my road has become more popular, so maybe I should look for a different road," Longley mused. "I'm not going to be The Ferryman forever. When I move on, all that matters is I left this place in a little better shape than I found it."
Thank you Steve Longley.