When the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Ron Tipton speaks about the three peaks that make up Virginia’s Catawba Valley Triple Crown, it quickly becomes apparent this area holds a special place in his heart.
When Tipton thru-hiked the A.T. in 1978, the Trail passed over Tinker Cliffs to the north but had not yet been routed over Dragons Tooth and McAfee Knob to the south. What he remembers so fondly are the timeless valleys now visible from the tops of these tall peaks in the Shenandoah Valley.
“I walked into Sinking Creek Valley, and it was so rural, so remote, with little pavement and expansive old family farms, I felt as though I was transported to the 1900s. It was like a walk back in time as I entered what is now the Triple Crown area,” Tipton, CEO and President of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says.
Today, the Triple Crown peaks are “very special because they are very distinct mountains that provide you with a sense of place,” he says, adding, “Being on the summits, looking down into the beautiful valleys and old growth forest is an important reminder of our nation’s history.”
McAfee Knob has become one of the most iconic places on the A.T., which is evident by its feature on the cover of the 2015 film adaptation of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and the increasing number of visitors. With its close proximity to Roanoke, Va., and a 360-degree view of the surrounding valleys and hills, McAfee Knob can draw close to 1,000 visitors in a single weekend in the summer or early fall. “McAfee might be the most challenging management area of any place on the A.T.,” Tipton says, adding, “Park rangers have never seen anything like it in all of the park system, but it reflects how many people want to enjoy the view and the Trail.”
Through the Trail’s cooperative management system, the National Park Service, ATC, and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club are working together to implement a special management project for the Triple Crown area to promote Leave No Trace principles, campfire restrictions, and other conservation-oriented guidelines.
“The Triple Crown presents a great challenge but also a great experience,” Tipton says.