Woodstock Steeplejack Daniel Quinn Welcomes Weary Hikers | Outdoors & Recreation | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Woodstock Steeplejack Daniel Quinn Welcomes Weary Hikers


Published July 13, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated July 13, 2022 at 11:23 a.m.

Daniel Quinn - BEN DEFLORIO
  • Ben Deflorio
  • Daniel Quinn

The big red barn on Route 12 in Woodstock has been used for at least three purposes since it was built in 1865: hayloft, woodshop and crash pad for thousands. The third use started about 30 years ago, when Daniel Quinn, the barn's owner, opened its doors to hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The 2,193-mile path runs from Georgia to Maine and passes Quinn's property.

He bought the place in 1993 — 10 acres with the barn, a 1903 farmhouse and a stream out back — because it was on the AT and he wanted to run a hostel for hikers.

"This is a sacred place," Quinn, 70, said on a recent afternoon. He was sitting on the deck of his house, which overlooks his yard and gardens. "I've always wanted to be close to the Appalachian Trail, from my hiking experience."

Quinn is a steeplejack and restoration specialist who's hiked about 500 miles of the trail: He makes time to walk in the woods when he's not sky-high restoring historic spires and domes. (He designed and constructed a "flying scaffold," about 100 feet off the ground, at the Vermont Statehouse in the summer of 1976 before he and a crew of five — including two of his brothers — spent that summer and fall gilding the dome with gold leaf.)

Quinn has hiked sections of the AT in each of the 14 states that the nation's longest foot path traverses. But his connection to the trail — which descends to Route 12 from a hillside meadow behind his house — exists even when he's not hiking it.

Quinn belongs to a loose affiliation of people, called "trail angels," who assist AT hikers. Trail angels give hikers rides to the post office and laundromat. They cut their hair, offer Snickers bars and potable water, and let them roll out a sleeping bag in an outbuilding and use the privy.

About 3 million people hike on the AT each year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit that was established in 1925 to protect and manage the trail. More than 3,000 people attempt to hike the entire trail in a single year; about a quarter of them, known as through-hikers, complete the journey.

In Vermont, the AT runs northeast for 150 miles from the Massachusetts border to the Connecticut River, where, at Norwich, it crosses into New Hampshire. For 100 of those miles, the white-blazed AT and Long Trail coincide. Together, the paths traverse the 4,241-foot summit of Killington before separating north of that peak. The AT splits off to the east, toward Quinn's house.

Over the years, more than 12,000 hikers have slept at Quinn's place: in the barn, in a loft above his garage and, for the last five years, in a studio he renovated that sits in his gently sloped yard. Some hikers, accustomed to living outside during their months on the trail, opt to pitch a tent on his lawn.

Hikers can take an outdoor shower in the facility he rigged up under his porch, hang out at his firepit and shoot the breeze with Quinn. He's an engaging storyteller whose line of work is a springboard for tall tales. Literally.

Daniel Quinn with the 200-year-old steeple ornament in his garden - BEN DEFLORIO
  • Ben Deflorio
  • Daniel Quinn with the 200-year-old steeple ornament in his garden

The centerpiece of Quinn's circular garden, in which he grows tomatoes and celery for the local food shelf, is a roughly 200-year-old steeple ornament that he rescued from the South Congregational Church in Middletown, Conn. As he climbed to the top of the steeple to restore it — 220 feet in the air — he prayed to the wood and wrought iron ornament that was affixed to the spire.

"I said, 'If you stay up there until I get to you, I'll rebuild you at my house,'" Quinn recalled.

The object is not only decorative but functional, too. It's topped by an iron S that points the way south. Through-hikers walking in that direction have about 1,700 miles to go.

At his house, Quinn has two rules for guests: No smoking or building a fire indoors, and be respectful.

"If you don't know what being respectful is," Quinn elaborated, "keep hiking."

Quinn has only had to ask about a dozen hikers over the years to move on. Some have stayed for weeks — such as a crew that called itself the "Jailhouse Gang." The 20-odd members lingered at Quinn's in the summer of 1997.

They held poetry readings, told stories by the fire, made music, and cooked and ate two 50-pound lasagnas. The hikers helped Quinn with gardening, carpentry projects and wood splitting.

"It was two of the best weeks ever," Quinn said. "The backyard looked like Resurrection City."

The height of the AT season in Woodstock is mid-July to mid-August, when hikers walking in both directions pass through. Stephen Foley, 48, a through-hiker from Ireland, was ahead of the rush this year. A member of the national police force who serves in a marine unit based in Dublin, Foley and his hiking companion stayed at Quinn's place for two nights last month.

"It's just a lovely spot," Foley said by phone from the trail on Little Bigelow Mountain in Maine. He pitched his tent on Quinn's property, calling it a relaxing place to recharge his body and his electronics. "I fell asleep to the sound of the river on Dan's beautiful, manicured lawn," Foley said.

Quinn took Foley to the Inn at Long Trail in Killington for a Guinness and a burger. Both men said they forged a lasting friendship during the hiking stopover.

"Dan has an absolute heart of gold," Foley said. "He's a gold-star angel." (If all went according to plan, Foley finished his through-hike at Mount Katahdin a few days before his July 15 flight to Ireland.)

Many hikers, including Foley, learn about Quinn by reading the comments on a hiking app called FarOut. Others hear about Quinn by word of mouth, sometimes indirectly from Quinn himself. He tells people as they set out after staying with him: "Only send me good people."

Barns on Daniel Quinn's property - BEN DEFLORIO
  • Ben Deflorio
  • Barns on Daniel Quinn's property

Sleeping at Quinn's is by donation, though he hasn't put a donation box out for three years. Sometimes, he'll find $5 or $10 under the cushion of the wicker couch on his porch. Hikers find other ways to contribute, too.

During the pandemic, a 13-year-old girl from Massachusetts, through-hiking with her mother, told Quinn she liked to paint. He gave her a piece of a plaster wall from a renovation project in his house and rounded up cans of paint from his half century of restoration work.

The girl's abstract painting "created itself as it cured," Quinn said. "It's one of my great treasures." He keeps it in his studio, where the painting shares space with mattresses for weary hikers.

Quinn has lived in Woodstock since 1992, when he was hired to repair and restore the collapsed white oak ceiling of the First Congregational Church. "I fell in love with Woodstock and never left," he said.

He decided to relocate his company, Skyline Engineers of Maryland, from Frederick, Md., to Woodstock. In a matter of months, he bought the house and big barn by the trail. He cleared hay from the loft to make a woodshop for fabricating a new church ceiling and welcomed AT hikers.

"Every time I hiked, something wonderful happened for me, and I always wanted to give back," Quinn said. "There's real trail magic with the people who have stayed here. I was meant to be here."

The original print version of this article was headlined "AT Angel"