Anticipating Climate Change and its Impacts on the Appalachian Trail

by Appalachian Trail Conservancy

There is widespread international scientific consensus that the continued increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities has negatively affected the stability of the global climate system. 

With its relatively continuous, connected, high-elevation, high-quality habitats, the Appalachian Trail offers a unique opportunity to mitigate the causes of climate change, to facilitate adaptation to climate change, and to document and communicate its impacts.

Impacts of climate change on the Appalachian Trail may include:

- Long-term droughts, which would cause the backcountry water sources hikers depend on to dry up 

- More severe storms, which would cause increased treadway erosion and blowdown obstructions 

 - Increased risk of forest fires 

- Increased invasion of exotic-invasive species 

- Increases in vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease

- Changes in the timing of the seasons, which may disrupt the ecosystem, threaten the health of plant and animal communities, and alter and compromise the “Walking with Spring” Trail experience 

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy first adopted a climate change resolution in 2008, as part of our advocacy for the important and diverse ecosystems along the Appalachian Trail and its protected land. The resolution was revised in May 2016 and commits the ATC to: 

- Continue to reduce carbon emissions associated with ATC operations and visitor use

- Support appropriate state and federal carbon-reducing policies and regulations

- Advocate for managing Appalachian forest lands for carbon sequestration and climate resiliency

- Explore partnership opportunities to enhance land protection and management for improved landscape resilience

- Safeguard biodiverse landscapes for plants and animals as they naturally adapt to climate change

- Track climate change indicators using ATC’s environmental monitoring programs and other data

- Communicate predicted and observed climate change impacts to ATC members and Trail users

Want more information? Get an overview of climate change here, or read our full resolution regarding the issue.