The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) provided the following highlights for the Appalachian NST during the 2021 calendar year:
Conserving Trail Lands and Boosting Climate Resilience
Collaboration and Engagement
Volunteers with A.T. maintaining clubs in the Mid-Atlantic removed graffiti from Bake Oven Knob, a popular destination on the Appalachian Trail in Germansville, PA with a reputation for its paint-covered rocks. The Pennsylvania Game Commission purchased Elephant Snot, a biodegradable liquid used to remove graffiti, along with other equipment like hoses and backpack sprayers. Local fire departments, outdoor clubs and around 50 volunteers scrubbed away 30-years-worth of graffiti off the vista’s rocks. A.T. management partners, including ATC, USDA Forest Service Appalachian Ranger District, and Carolina Mountain Club agreed to launch a Max Patch Trail Ambassador program to encourage responsible recreation by visitors and to collect data to help future management direction at the site. This is part of a comprehensive approach to Visitor Use Management by A.T. management partners that includes area restoration, a temporary camping ban on the summit, and increased public education.
Strengthening Organizations and Partnerships
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy recently launched a digital clearinghouse for A.T. volunteer opportunities. The Volunteer Engagement Platform (VEP) (www.appalachiantrail.org/waystovolunteer) connects volunteer interest with any volunteer-coordinating organization along the length of the Trail. In the last year, 97 events were shared to broaden public engagement in the care of the A.T.
ATC launched a flagship training virtually in 2021. The Volunteer Leadership Academy took place at the beginning of this year in lieu of the traditional in-person Volunteer Leadership Meeting. Through this adapted virtual framework, 125 volunteers attended pathways of learning related to Cooperative Management of the A.T. along with requisite resources for volunteer and project leaders, as well as Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI).
ATC’s Volunteer Relations program staff have been giving strategic thought to making volunteering open to all as part of the organization’s current strategic plan. The team developed 9 recommendations for A.T. partners on ways to accentuate focus on volunteer management best practices. ATC is working to roll ideas out to clubs and support their adoption of strategies in the year ahead.
Local Economy, Tourism and Community Health
The Town of Damascus will soon be home to the ATC’s southernmost Visitor Center: the Damascus Trail Center. The Visitor Center, located in the heart of Trail Town, USA will be a destination for visitors to the Appalachian Trail and the Southwest Virginia recreation economy. Funded by the Town of Damascus and staffed by the ATC and volunteers, the newly constructed facility is a showcase for community stewardship.
Set to open in Summer 2022, the Center will be a place for visitors to discover nearby outdoor recreation and connect with the Appalachian Trail and trail stewardship opportunities. It will offer high-quality interpretive exhibits, recreation and conservation-based programming, and local and regional tourism information.
Education, Interpretation and Cultural Expression
ATC led an Emerging Leaders’ Summit hosting 41 workshops with 71 special speakers and panelists. The Summit was a virtual experience centered on young people aged 14-35 but was open to all. The Summit strengthened connections between young leaders and their networks, sparked momentum for youth movements at the intersection of nature and climate justice, and provided a space for artistic creation and performance utilizing the outdoors and the Appalachian Trail as a muse. An impact report can be found at appalachiantrail.org/summit.
ATC continues to build networks and support affinity groups, which are a means by which those with shared interests and shared identities can contribute to ATC’s mission. Affinity groups are global in reach and open to all. Groups include Wild East Women with dozens of organizations and volunteer groups supporting women’s work days and virtual events, as well as a Latinx Partnership Coordinator and an Indigenous Partnership and Research Coordinator—both working to amplify communities through events and education and outreach programs. Alex Garcia, Latinx Partnership Coordinator, led a reflective hike, service days, and multiple virtual events and workshop sessions including Mobilizing Your Whole Self to Promote Meaningful Change. Jay Levy, ATC Indigenous Partnership and Research Coordinator, presented multiple workshops for educators and youth on sacred connections to the land and led a Tribal Youth Hike for Wellness and interpreting and exploring the history of the Appalachian Mountains through Indigenous eyes.