Diana Christopulos and her partner Mark McClain retired to Salem, Virginia, in 2003. Diana joined the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) even before their furniture had arrived and went on her first club hike few days after they closed on their house.
Diana has taken on leadership roles in conservation and community organizations and is currently president of both RATC and the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition. She also serves on the boards of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy and the Council of Community Services and is an active member of the Roanoke Women’s Foundation.
RATC is responsible for more than 120 miles of the A.T., including the popular McAfee Knob section. Management challenges there include high-visitation impacts (like litter and graffiti), problem bear activity, safety concerns around a busy parking lot, illegal camping, and alcohol-fueled parties. Diana helped found the McAfee Knob Task Force, about 30 volunteers working with a paid seasonal ridgerunner to help keep people safe, teach them about protecting natural resources, and provide other information. Their presence has had a positive impact.
Diana believes in recruiting good people of all ages and encouraging and supporting them. RATC has seen a dramatic membership increase over the past few years, attributed to using Facebook and Meetup to get the word out about work hikes, social events, trail closures and alerts, and other news. RATC welcomes new members individually and also hosts a monthly hiker happy hour jointly with ATC that helps people get to know each other. The McAfee Knob Task Force has brought in a new group of volunteers of all ages—college students and faculty, doctors, school administrators, and retirees.
ATC’s Education and Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Herndon-Powell says the Task Force is a great example of Diana not only working hard for something she is passionate about, but also looking for common ground and leveraging resources and relationships to bring in new partners. “Diana saw that the Valley is full of people who love McAfee Knob and want to help protect it. The volunteer ridgerunners provide a friendly and informative presence, and they are quickly growing into a skilled and empowered cadre, understanding complex issues and ready to roll up their sleeves, thanks to Diana’s vision and leadership.”
Diana is also the lead volunteer on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, working closely with ATC and doing extensive work on the project, which ATC and RATC oppose due to its potential negative impacts on the Trail and Trail users.
Diana has a simple explanation for both her own involvement and that of others who want to protect the Trail and the surrounding area. “People here know the names of their mountains as if they were family members. You have to take care of your family,” she says.