A Matter of Scale
Over the years, the National Park Service (NPS), the ATC, 31 trail maintaining clubs from Georgia to Maine, conservancy organizations and countless volunteers have accomplished much to protect and preserve the A.T. footpath and various sensitive areas along the corridor.
But to help protect the diverse natural, cultural and historic resources along the A.T.’s entire corridor, the Trail’s multi-jurisdictional complexity requires a large landscape-scale conservation strategy that involves commitments from a variety of stakeholders.
To that end, the ATC and NPS formed the Appalachian Trail Landscape Partnership, a dedicated coalition of local, state and federal partners working to educate and engage the public and the 168 towns and communities along the A.T. in safeguarding the unique values of the landscape.
“People often think about conservation from a scenic or natural resource standpoint, but there is a community aspect to landscape conservation,” said Anne Baker, ATC’s Landscape Partnership manager. “Landscape conservation helps communities protect a high quality of life and support recreation-based rural economies, while at the same time helping to preserve the A.T. experience for individual hikers. We need to think more broadly than the A.T. itself. We
need to think about how the Trail’s protected corridor and a more widely protected landscape can help communities that are adjacent to the trail remain safe, healthy and vibrant.”
“Essentially, we are trying to create an improved Appalachian Trail corridor so future generations can continue to marvel at wildlife and wild land,” said Brooks Mountcastle, environmental planner for ATC’s Mid-Atlantic regional office. ”
“There’s been a progressive diminution of Trail values, so those values need to be front and center,” said Lutz. “ATC and Trail club members and supporters need to make sure elected officials — from county and town commissioners to state and U.S. representatives — understand the A.T. has tremendous value no matter how you look at it.”
The A.T. Landscape Partnership has identified a list of 10 Priority Focus Areas, including Maine’s High Peaks, Kittatinny Ridge, Virginia’s Blue Ridge and Catawba Valley, and the Roan Highlands. All of the focus areas exemplify a diversity of conservation values, threats to these values, and opportunities to protect these special places.
“What we as conservationists do is identify the best places that are representative of natural communities,” said Jay Leutze, author of the bestselling book Stand Up that Mountain and president of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy Board of Trustees. “Once you’ve picked those, you have to knit them together. You have to make meaningful corridors for wildlife to travel. People are realizing there is a finite amount of special places that still function as natural communities. We have got to defend those places, or we’re going to lose them.”
The 185-mile-long Kittatinny Ridge, a critical migratory route for birds and a significant wildlife area, lies in the path of development and stands as an acute example of issues facing much of the corridor.
“The more the landscape surrounding Kittatinny Ridge and the A.T. corridor gets chopped up and the more development occurs high on the ridge, it imperils that wildlife, and that is a big deal,” said Lutz.
“Essentially, we are trying to create an improved Appalachian Trail corridor so future generations can continue to marvel at wildlife and wild land,” said Brooks Mountcastle, environmental planner for ATC’s Mid-Atlantic regional office.
Mountcastle described plans of the Blue Mountain Resort to build a water park and multiple residential facilities as close as 300 feet to the A.T. While conducting routine boundary monitoring activities, members of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) discovered the resort was in violation of National Park Service easements. Mountain biking trails, a high-ropes canopy course and a Frisbee golf course were discovered on the easement land set aside in the 1980s to protect the Appalachian Trail. These development proposals and easement violations invite noise and light pollution, devalue the Trail’s wilderness spirit, and are antithetical to the A.T. experience. Mountcastle noted that NPS sent a cease and desist letter to the resort, but the case will likely be decided in court.