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Cooperative Management

The Cooperative Management System is the strength of the public-private partnership necessary to meet the challenges of managing the diverse resource of the Appalachian Trail.The success of the Cooperative Management System is supported through a number of agreements, outlined below, and close partner communication.


The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is cared for by thousands of people, hundreds of organizations/agencies, and passes through a variety of diverse landscapes. As a unique unit of the National Park System the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is unlike any ordinary National Park. The A.T. requires an expansive approach to management that ensures every inch of the Trail is being cared for and can be enjoyed by future generations to come.

Volunteers, coordinated in large part through A.T. Clubs, provide on-the-ground knowledge, experience, and operational capacity. Land management agencies are the entities that own/manage the land parcels that the A.T. traverses through. These agencies can be federal, state, or local entities and they provide resources, expertise, and specialized duties. Uniting land management agencies and A.T. Clubs is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) that ensures Trail-wide consistency in upholding the natural and cultural values for which the Trail is protected while keeping volunteers at the forefront of A.T. management. This approach to caring for the Appalachian Trail is known as the Cooperative Management System (CMS). The CMS allows for local as well as national considerations to play a role in decision making throughout the Trail. The success of the CMS is supported through a number of agreements and close partner communication.


The A.T. Comprehensive Plan describes the underlying philosophy of the A.T. and the unique nature of volunteer involvement in the Trail project. It commits federal agencies to cooperation with ATC and A.T. Clubs and provides general policy direction for land protection and Trail management. The A.T. Comprehensive Plan also describes local management plans as the cornerstone for a decentralized partnership system for the Trail’s management. A Local Management Plan (LMP) for each section of Trail describes the management tasks, defines and assesses each partner’s contributions to management, assigns responsibilities, and provides standard procedures for related Trail, facility, and resource operations.


A.T. Clubs and the ATC sign onto a Volunteer Service Agreement (VSA) with either the National Park Service (NPS) or the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Volunteers must sign onto a VSA via an OF301a or OF301b form. This legally enrolls them in the NPS-Volunteer In Parks (VIP) or USFS-Volunteer In Forests (VIF) program. VIP and VIF provides volunteers with federal protection in case of injury or tort claim.

The ATC and each A.T. Club has a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that defines the mutual agreement of responsibilities and formalizes the relationship between ATC and the club for the management of the Trail. With multiple partners and only one Trail, the ATC also works to facilitate discussions with partners and adopts policies to state ATC’s position on issues affecting the Trail and to facilitate consistent management of the Trail throughout the diverse miles that it traverses.


Regional Partnership Committee (RPC) meetings are held twice annually and bring together CMS partners for each of the four A.T. regions. RPCs serve as the inter-communication link between partners, specifically providing volunteers with the opportunity to share their local knowledge, perspective, and voice within the larger A.T. management.

The ATC Stewardship Council’s role is to advise ATC staff and Board of Directors regarding policy and programs related to the conservation and stewardship of the A.T. and surrounding lands.


Guiding Documents

The A.T. Comprehensive Plan describes the underlying philosophy of the A.T. and the unique nature of volunteer involvement in the Trail project. It commits federal agencies to cooperation with ATC and Trail clubs and provides general policy direction for land protection and Trail management.


Appalachian National Scenic Trail Foundation Document articulates the purpose, significance of the Trail, its important resources, values, and interpretive themes that tell the Trail’s story. Although it is not a decision-making document and does not include actions or management strategies, it describes a shared understanding of what is most important about the trail. In this capacity, the Foundation Document will reestablish the underlying guidance for future management and planning decisions for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Because many of the trail’s original planning documents are out of date, preparing the Foundation Document is the first step for considering the trail’s future planning and study needs.

A.T. Comprehensive Plan


Foundation Document

Important Agreements

The Cooperative Agreement defines roles and responsibilities of ATC and the National Park Service in the management of the A.T.


Volunteer Service Agreements between individual volunteers or groups with federal agency land management partners enable volunteer service on the A.T. and extend certain protections to volunteers.


Other agreements also exist, between myriad partners. Many of those agreements are summarized here.

Cooperative Agreement


More about Volunteer Service Agreements

Management Resources

Due to the decentralized nature of Appalachian Trail management, it is vital for partners to stay in close communication and have familiarity with management policies and decisions that relate to the Appalachian Trail and its administration.

Local Management Plans

Developed by clubs in coordination with their partners, Local Management Plans describe the section management tasks, assesses partners’ contributions to management, assigns responsibilities and provides a standard procedure to identify site-specific actions needed and the process to be followed.

Local Management Plans

ATC Policies & Guidelines

Developed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in cooperation with agency partners and with guidance from A.T. clubs, A.T. management policies are developed to offer direction to support managing the Trail as a single continuous footpath, while recognizing the necessity to adapt and respond to specific local regulations, traditions and resources.

ATC Management Policies

Land Management Agency Plans

The network of land management agencies that host the A.T. is vast and management plans vary. A.T. partners should be familiar with rules, regulations, and management guidance that relate to the Trail. At every opportunity, A.T. partners are encouraged to provide input on the development or modification of management plans as they impact the A.T.

NPS Regulations


Project Planning

Whether undertaking routine maintenance or a more significant endeavor, find the resources for planning your next project on the Appalachian Trail.

Project Planning Resources