Real Life Story–Ashby Ponds
Accomplished hiker, Ben FitzGerald, has been helping to maintain a 2½-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia for about ten years as a volunteer with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. He and two other trail managers, as they are called, regularly perform a variety of services to ensure their assigned section of the trail is safe for hikers.
A longtime resident of northern Virginia, FitzGerald moved to Ashby Ponds retirement community in 2012. Ashby Ponds is one of 17 retirement communities managed by Erickson Living and is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia.
The section of the trail maintained by FitzGerald is located just off of Interstate 66 in the Linden area of Virginia, about 115 miles roundtrip from Ashby Ponds. It is about 2½ feet wide and has an elevation change of about 800 feet. As a trail manager, FitzGerald cleans debris from the trail; cuts weeds; trims branches; removes downed trees; and builds natural steps, water bars and check dams.
“If there’s a particularly bad winter, we may visit the trail a lot,” said FitzGerald. He noted that hikers often set off in February or March on the 2,180 mile long Appalachian Trail in Georgia where it begins, and hike all the way to Maine where it ends. By the time hikers make it to Virginia, it is typically around the end of May and beginning of June, according to FitzGerald.
FitzGerald also has participated in trail work camps, helping with trail maintenance in the Shenandoah National Park. During these work sessions, a U.S. Park Ranger accompanies the trail maintenance volunteers like FitzGerald who assist in reconstructing and redirecting trails, among other activities, within the park. While participating, FitzGerald and other workers lived in an old Civilian Conservation Corps facility.
In the late 1990s, FitzGerald says he began hiking locally in Virginia and has covered all 42 miles of the Cross County Trail in Fairfax
County, which extends from Great Falls to Lorton. FitzGerald and his wife, Arlene, have spent many vacations walking and hiking throughout Ireland, England and France. He even completed a coast-to-coast, 192-mile hike in England in 2004, which took 12 days.
As a great complement to his love of hiking, FitzGerald has also been a photographer for more than 50 years. Also a member of the Virginia Native Plant Society, he particularly looks forward to fall and spring when he can capture the change in vegetation.
“I do take some nature shots when hiking,” said FitzGerald. “Wildflowers and fungi are my specialty.” He explained that each spring, he enjoys watching the trillium flowers bloom in great profusion around his portion of the Appalachian Trail. “There are nine different varieties of trillium,” said FitzGerald. “One time while hiking in the Smoky Mountains, I saw all seven trillium varieties found in the area.”
FitzGerald plans to continue hiking and his work with the trails as long as it is physically possible. “It’s very aerobic,” said FitzGerald. “And I enjoy nature, and the peacefulness and restfulness felt from being in it.”
FitzGerald is also a very involved community member at Ashby Ponds. He is the treasurer of the woodworking club, a member of the Ashby Ponds Players drama club and photography club, and works on the elections committee for the Ashby Ponds Resident Council.