Woodstock Steeplejack Daniel Quinn Welcomes Weary Hikers | Outside & Recreation | Seven Days

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  • Ben Deflorio

  • Daniel Quin

The large red barn on Route 12 in Woodstock has served at least three purposes since it was built in 1865: a hayloft, a woodworking shop, and a place to sleep for thousands. The third use began about 30 years ago when Daniel Quinn, the barn owner, opened its doors to hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The 2,193-mile trail runs from Georgia to Maine and passes Quinn’s property.

He bought the site in 1993 – 25 acres with the barn, 1903 farmhouse and a creek beyond – because it was on the AT and he wanted to run a hostel for hikers.

“This is a sacred place,” Quinn, 70, said one afternoon recently. He sat on the deck of his house overlooking his courtyard and gardens. “Because of my hiking experience, I’ve always wanted to be close to the Appalachian Trail.”

Quinn is a rock climber and restoration specialist who has hiked some 500 miles of the trail: he takes time to walk in the forest when not in the air restoring historic towers and domes. (He designed and built a “flying scaffold” at the Vermont Statehouse in the summer of 1976, about 100 feet above the ground, before he and a crew of five — including two of his brothers — spent that summer and fall gilding the dome, according to Gold Leaf. )

Quinn has hiked sections of the AT in each of the 14 states traversed by the nation’s longest footpath. But his connection to the trail — which descends from a meadow on the hillside behind his house to Route 12 — persists even when he’s not hiking it.

Quinn is part of a loose association of people called “Trail Angels” who help AT hikers. Hiking angels take hikers to the post office and launderette. They cut their hair, offer Snickers bars and drinking water and let them unroll a sleeping bag in an outbuilding and use the toilet.

About 3 million people hike the AT each year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit organization formed in 1925 to protect and steward the trail. More than 3,000 people attempt to hike the entire trail in a single year; about a quarter of them, so-called transit hikers, complete the journey.

In Vermont, the AT runs 150 miles northeast from the Massachusetts border to the Connecticut River, where it empties into New Hampshire at Norwich. For 100 of those miles, the white flamed AT and the Long Trail coincide. Together, the trails traverse the 4,241-foot summit of Killington before splitting north of that summit. The AT splits east towards Quinn’s house.

Over the years, more than 12,000 walkers have slept with Quinn: in the barn, in an attic above his garage and for the last five years in a studio he renovated in his gently sloping garden. Accustomed to living outside during their months on the trail, some hikers choose to pitch a tent on its lawn.

Hikers can take an outdoor shower in the facility he’s set up under his porch, hang out by his fire pit, and punch the breeze with Quinn. He’s a compelling storyteller whose work is a stepping stone to great stories. Literally.

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  • Ben Deflorio

  • Daniel Quinn with the 200 year old tower ornament in his garden

The centerpiece of Quinn’s circular garden, where he grows tomatoes and celery for the local grocery aisle, is a roughly 200-year-old church tower ornament that he rescued from South Congregational Church in Middletown, Connecticut, when he climbed to the top of the church tower to restore him – 220 feet in the air – he prayed to the wood and wrought iron ornament fastened 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 also functional. It is crowned by an iron S, pointing the way south. Hikers heading in this direction have about 1,700 miles ahead of them.

At his home, Quinn has two rules for guests: no smoking, no fires in the house, and be respectful.

“If you don’t know what respect is,” Quinn explained, “keep wandering.”

Quinn has only had to ask about a dozen hikers to move on over the years. Some have stayed for weeks – like a crew calling themselves the “Jailhouse Gang”. The approximately 20 members stayed at Quinn’s in the summer of 1997.

They held poetry readings, told stories around the fire, made music, and cooked and ate two £50 lasagna. The hikers helped Quinn with gardening, carpentry, and splitting wood.

“It’s been two of the best weeks ever,” said Quinn. “The backyard looked like Resurrection City.”

The peak of the AT season in Woodstock is mid-July to mid-August when hikers trek in both directions. Stephen Foley, 48, a through walker from Ireland, was ahead of the rush this year. Foley, a member of the National Police who serves in a naval unit in Dublin, and his walking companion stayed with Quinn for two nights last month.

“It’s just a beautiful place,” Foley said over the phone from the trailhead at Little Bigelow Mountain in Maine. He pitched his tent on Quinn’s property, calling it a relaxing place to recharge his body and 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 formed a lasting friendship during the hike stop.

“Dan has an absolute heart of gold,” Foley said. “He’s a gold star angel.” (If all goes according to plan, Foley would finish his hike at Mount Katahdin a few days before his July 15 flight to Ireland.)

Many hikers, including Foley, get to know Quinn by reading the comments on a hiking app called FarOut. Others learn of Quinn through word of mouth, sometimes indirectly from Quinn himself. He tells people who leave after staying with him, “Send me only good people.”

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Barns on Daniel Quinn's Estate - BEN DEFLORIO

  • Ben Deflorio

  • Barns on Daniel Quinn’s property

Sleeping with Quinn is against donation, although he hasn’t set up a donation box in three years. Sometimes he finds $5 or $10 under the cushion of the wicker couch on his porch. Hikers are also finding other ways to contribute.

During the pandemic, a 13-year-old Massachusetts girl who was hiking with her mother told Quinn that she loved to paint. He gave her a piece of plaster wall from a renovation project at his home and collected cans of paint from his half-century of restoration work.

The girl’s abstract painting “created itself as it hardened,” Quinn said. “It’s one of my great treasures.” He keeps it in his studio, where the painting shares space with mattresses for weary wanderers.

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

He decided to move his company, Skyline Engineers of Maryland, from Frederick, Md. to Woodstock. Within a few months he bought the house and the large barn along the way. He cleared hay from the attic to build a wood workshop for making a new church ceiling and welcomed AT walkers.

“Every time I’ve hiked, something wonderful has happened to me, and I’ve always wanted to give back,” said Quinn. “The guys that stayed here have real trail magic. I should be here.”