The Thomas Family: Trail Angels of Southwest Virginia
Longtime residents of Marion, VA, Mr. Jerry Thomas and his family in conjunction with Valley View Baptist Church are among the most dedicated Trail Angels in Southwest Virginia. In an interview with Mr. Thomas, we discussed what goes in to the Trail Magic they perform every year, and what it means to their family and church. With 2017 marking the 8th year of these operations, Mr. Thomas and his family have been working with the missionary project of their church, dedicated to providing both hospitality and opportunities for advancement in worship to the hikers passing through the area on the Appalachian Trail.
The Thomas Family and Valley View Baptist Church, along with other businesses in Marion, VA all consolidate efforts to host a large Trail Magic event annually in Sugar Grove, Virginia, the weekend after Trail Day which is held in Damascus, Virginia. "The weekend after Trail Day, every year, we invite [the hikers] to a cookout, starting on Friday, they can come stay at a nearby cabin for the weekend, have hamburgers and hotdogs and all the fixins', and then invite them to Church with us on Sunday", and though not all hikers accept the offer, The Thomas' and their church are happy to extend the invitation, as Valley View Baptist Church and its congregation put a lot of time, money, and effort into hosting trail magic each year.
However, Mr. Thomas makes it clear that being a Trail Angel means more than hosting a single event each year. Even though it is a seasonal thing for most, being a trail angel Mr. Thomas says, "is giving rides, providing log books for hikers to record their trail names and origins, leaving food and drinks, and unique to this area, leaving bibles", free for hikers to take.
When asked why he thinks people like to participate in Trail Magic, Mr. Thomas says that for he and his family, as well as the people of Valley View Baptist Church, "it's a simple way of spreading God and meeting people" and generally that "trail angels do it out of compassion" others. In a related question, when asked what some of his favorite memories from being a Trail Angel were, Mr. Thomas said they "have met so many good friends from doing Trail Magic, and that three good friends they encountered through their volunteer work have become like family to them over the years".
In closing, the impact that Trail Magic has on both hikers and Trail Angels is remarkable in any place, but in this area, it serves to be unique in that Southwest Virginia is in the middle of the Bible Belt, and as such strives to not only show hikers true southern hospitality, but also to use the trail as a way to get people on the trail to God.