John Fletcher, Friend of the A.T.

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John Fletcher, Friend of the A.T.

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‹‹Mystic 2006   The Maine Event - Aug 2013  John Fletcher, Friend of the A.T.  Stephen J Longley

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Article and picture submitted by: Laurie Potteiger

John Fletcher, a former ATC employee and a volunteer for both ATC and PATC, passed away unexpectedly last weekend. He was just 38.

If you sent emails to ATC, called, visited ATC, or had your picture taken there between 2003 and 2010, there's a good chance you would have interacted with John. John began his career with ATC as a full-time information volunteer in 2002, and was hired the following year as information assistant. He was one of the few ATC employees ever hired who was a life member at the time.

John became quite knowledgeable about the A.T. and went to great lengths to research answers to information inquiries while at ATC. As “Amoeba” once noted on her TrailJournals site, "John knows everything." He was also very handy, envisioning and realizing the renovations downstairs that now serve as our "hiker lounge" off the back of the visitor center space.

In 2005, John took unpaid leave so that he could help GPS the A.T. in New Hampshire and Maine with volunteer Karl Hartzell. The effort provided ATC with highly accurate data for mapping and numerous other Trail-management and recreation purposes. In recognition of the considerable effort and logistics required for the project, which involved not only hiking the A.T. but setting up temporary base stations along the A.T., John and Karl were awarded the Robert B. Williams Conservation Award.

John was usually serious and quiet, but had a lighter side brought out by children and pets. When ATC introduced stuffed “shelter mice” into its inventory, John signed out two mice. One he named Benton and the other Myron, after the A.T.’s most legendary early figures. “Benton” and “Myron” would appear in nooks and crannies and odd places throughout the office. Once Benton was mysteriously found in a block of ice in the freezer. John couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make a play on words, and when telling a pun, the normally restrained John couldn’t hold back a smile.

In 2010 he left ATC to become self-employed, but continued to volunteer his skills to preserve and convert recordings and video in the ATC archives to digital files. While an employee at ATC he converted footage of Myron Avery and early PATC trail workers in his off hours. More recently he jumped at the opportunity to videotape Gene Espy and Lucy Seeds (Grandma Gatewood’s daughter) at the A.T. 75th anniversary festival in Harpers Ferry last summer, and also videotaped the speakers and the parade.

John maintained a 2.5-mile section of the A.T. on the Virginia/West Virginia border just south of Harpers Ferry, and was co-overseer of the Pine Knob Shelter in Maryland. For his work he received a volunteer service award from PATC.

By academic training John was an electrical engineer. He knew computers inside and out, but disliked them and most modern high-tech electronics. He never owned a cell phone. He was an amateur ham radio operator; one of the highlights of his tenure at ATC was meeting a thru-hiker who was stealthily carrying a ham radio with the goal of making contact with other "hams" in every Trail state. The encounter between John and Dennis Blanchard at ATC headquarters is described in the recently-published A.T. memoir Three Hundred Zeroes. Electrical car enthusiasts were in awe of John’s restored 1985 GMC Griffon van, which he nicknamed “Electron Guzzler.”

John had a lifelong love of the A.T. that started with day-hiking trips as a youngster. His first backpacking trip on the A.T. was with his father when he was 13. John and his father, Bob, continued to backpack together, both working on their goal of section-hiking the A.T. Their novel approach of walking in opposite directions, and swapping keys in the middle allowed them to take just one car and save the expense of a shuttle. Some may remember meeting John, who went by “Apprentice Goat” on the Trail, or his dad, “Rassilon,” but few would have met them together. John must have used their road trips together to propose the numerous fix-it and carpentry projects at ATC Headquarters that Bob drove more than 2 hours from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to work on.

The A.T. was a bond shared not only by John and his father but by John’s sister Robin and her husband, Rob Lahnemann. Robin met Rob on the A.T. in Pennsylvania, and returned to the Windsor Furnace Shelter where they met to hold their wedding. John’s lovely black and white photo of the bride and groom in front of the shelter on their wedding day provided one of the most memorable covers of A.T. Journeys. Several of John’s photographs appeared in books published by ATC.

In his quiet way, John enhanced the Appalachian Trail experience for thousands of hikers and helped preserve significant elements of Appalachian Trail history. He will be especially missed by the many ATC staff members and volunteers to whom he was so helpful.

ATC has dedicated a Volunteer In Memoriam page to him at http://appalachiantrail.org/get-involved/volunteer/volunteer-in-memoriam where comments can be made.

Laurie Potteiger
Appalachian Trail Conservancy

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