Collaborative conservation is key to continued A.T. protection.
The Appalachian Trail is a catalyst for land conservation across much of the Eastern Seaboard.
This is a mentality that demands the Trail be thought of as more than a recreational resource. Yes, this legendary footpath attracts millions of hikers each year, but to preserve the “why” behind those visits, we must expand our thinking around this 2,190-mile Trail.
As the longest, largest, protected natural corridor remaining in the eastern United States, the values of the A.T. are unmatched. We are quick to emphasize the Trail’s scenic attributes — the A.T. is a National Scenic Trail, after all — but the array of native flora and fauna; the unique communities along the Trail’s length; and the history and heritage that span the landscape all contribute to the experience one has when enjoying the A.T. Yet in fast-growing regions where encroachment and incompatible development is certain (like in the mid-Atlantic, for example), the Trail and its extraordinary values are vulnerable.
The Trail’s vulnerability is further compounded in places where the footpath is surrounded by a narrow corridor. Although 250,000 acres of public lands constitute the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, its width is not consistent. In some places, the footpath and the protected lands that surround it are downright narrow, leaving opportunities for interruption to the landscape’s contiguous state. The pressures of development and what that means to the wild — and all living things that depend on that wildness — make a collaborative approach to conservation paramount, which is something that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) knows well. As protectors and managers of the A.T., the ATC works with a myriad of partners to accomplish its mission.
In September, a number of those partners came together in eastern Pennsylvania to celebrate the culmination of a historic project that further protected more than five miles of the A.T. while also conserving wildlife habitat and enabling greater public recreational access. The project began more than five years ago and was spearheaded by The Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS) after conservation partners saw the need to acquire 4,350 acres from the utility company Pennsylvania American Water. The opportunity to add this acreage to the existing Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge — which was established in 2008 — was a high priority for those working in the Delaware River watershed. Not only would the completed project protect water quality, it would also keep forest habitat intact while ensuring a globally significant migration flyway used by thousands of birds remained safe.
Like many large land protection projects, the Cherry Valley acquisition was completed in phases. Phase 1 included the transfer of 1,731 acres to Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge from The Conservation Fund; Phase 2 was completed this year when Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars were used to assist in the conveyance of an additional 2,619 acres. This acreage is now a haven for wildlife and outdoor recreationists who seek the benefits nature provides.
“With recreational assets like the Appalachian Trail and the added benefits of watershed protection and wildlife habitat, this property offers a wealth of opportunity to both nature and people,” said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania state director for The Conservation Fund, in this press release. "It’s a joy to celebrate this milestone with our partners and open up these lands for the public to enjoy.”
This map highlights the new areas added to Cherry Valley along the Appalachian Trail. Courtesy of The Conservation Fund.
The protection of Cherry Valley is a success story not only because of its conservation values, but because it is a real-life example of public-private partnerships that benefit those who live and play in the region. When contemplating the place of landscape-scale conservation in A.T. management, it is helpful to return to Benton MacKaye’s vision of “an Appalachian trail” in 1921: “Our job is to open up a realm,” he wrote. “This realm is something more than a geographical location—it is human access to the sources of life.”
It is likely that all partners involved in the successful conservation of the thousands of acres near Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge would agree.
Through the end of the year, we will be highlighting a variety of ATC projects and showing how they will positively affect the A.T. experience for future generations. These projects (and many more) are only made possible through the dedication of our members and donors! By giving a gift to the Trail today, you are ensuring that the unique A.T. experience is preserved and protected forever and for all.
Top image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.