Local Management Planning Guide

Introduction to Local Management Planning:

Local management plans are the cornerstones for cooperative management of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.). The A.T. Comprehensive Plan describes the necessity of the local management plan to the decentralized partnership system for the trail’s management.  

A management plan 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.  

This edition of the Planning Guide is intended to outline the essential components, serve as a resource to additional information, and to offer worksheets that could expedite local management plan creation.  

As clubs develop local management plans, Clubs will review USDA Forest Service Forest Plans and district orders, APPA Compendium and related NPS policies and agreements, as well as state partner regulations or guidance on trail management. Throughout the development of a local management plan, open discussions with land managers and ATC regional staff are needed to support the collaborative approach to the management of the A.T.  

In developing its local management plan, a Trail club needs to consult with its agency partners, ATC, local officials, and other organizations concerned with Trail issues. The club should also provide opportunities for public input into the plan. That can be done formally, through a public meeting co-sponsored with an agency partner, or informally, through public notice of a club meeting focusing on planning issues. The club also must assume responsibility for writing the plan and amending it, as necessary, to reflect new club policies and goals. ATC, particularly through its regional staff, is available to assist in this process.  

Techniques for planning are outlined in the section Local Management Planning. That  section outlines the basics of a local plan, what to include in the written plan, and the approach for approval of the final document .  

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail: Cooperative Management System

The Appalachian Trail has been a cooperative enterprise since 1925, when the Appalachian Trail Conference was formed, with private individuals and federal agency representatives among its Board of Managers. In 1938, at ATC’s behest, the first Appalachian Trail agreement was signed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), sealing a commitment by the volunteer Trail community and the two principal federal partners that continues today. 

Since that first agreement, many agreements have been executed among the 31 maintaining Trail clubs, municipalities, landowners, states, federal agencies, and ATC. The National Trails System Act, passed in 1968 strongly encourages this activity: 

The Secretary… may enter written cooperative agreements with the States or their political subdivisions, landowners, private organizations, or individuals to operate, develop, and maintain any portion of such a… trail, within or outside a federally administered area. 

—Section 7(h) of the National Trails System Act, as amended 2009 

The fundamental management principles of this cooperative management system are outlined in the Comprehensive Plan for the Protection, Management, Development, and Use of the Appalachian Trail (usually referred to in this document as the A.T. Comprehensive Plan). Published in 1981 and republished in 1987, that document was prepared by the National Park Service Appalachian Trail Park Office and approved by the director of the National Park Service and chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The A.T. Comprehensive Plan commits the federal agencies to support the volunteer Trail community and the cooperative management of the Trail.  

Within the A.T. Comprehensive Plan the National Park Service recognizes the strength of the public/private effort to meet the diversity of the resource and its myriad management actions, and recognizes that consolidation of existing volunteer/agency relationships into one system could endanger the traditional spirit of cooperation.  

“Crucial to the planning for the Appalachian Trail, and reflecting the decentralized partnership system for its management, are the planning efforts, occurring at the local and regional levels. Each trail club, with the participation of its agency partner, and where appropriate, the local community, is preparing a Local Management Plan, which documents and may expand the club’s traditional management of the Trail. This Plan describes the management tasks, assesses each partner’s contribution to management, assigns responsibilities, and provides a standard procedure to identify site-specific actions needed and the process to be followed.”  

–Section IV of the ANST Comprehensive Plan 1987 

The A.T. Comprehensive Plan cautions that the local management plan should not be seen as an end, but an ongoing process of discussion and consultation between partners.  

At any particular location on the Appalachian Trail, the Cooperative Management Partners include the local land manager, the local A.T. Club, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  

Cooperative Management System Partners

The primary partners on any given section of the Appalachian Trail are usually the Trail club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, state land-managing partners (if any), and one or both federal partners (NPS and USFS). Many secondary partners, such as state law-enforcement agencies, provide support and should be recognized in the local management plans. 

The major roles and contributions of each partner are summarized below. 

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s mission is to protect, manage, and advocate for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail so that the A.T. and its surrounding landscape are protected forever for all to enjoy.  


As the organization that carries much of the day-to-day management of the Appalachian Trail, enabled through cooperative agreements with the National Park Service, the Forest Service, Trail clubs, and states, the ATC develops and adopts policies and guidance by its Board of Directors to support the public and private partnerships in the continuous care of the resource in meaningfully consistent ways.  The policies and guidance from the ATC are crafted through collaborative processes through ATC’s Stewardship Council and Regional Partnership Committees, and described in more detail in the Policies section below.  


ATC serves as the convenor of public and private partners and the connector through which information, initiatives, and action often flow. 

Appalachian Trail Club (Partners in A.T. and Volunteer Management)

The Trail clubs are responsible for keeping the A.T. “forever open, obvious, and narrowly passable for hiking” and for on-the-ground maintenance and management of associated facilities and lands. Trail clubs mobilize and manage local volunteers, serve as early-warnings for trail threats, are key grassroots advocates in trail protection, and ensure means for civic investment in the People’s Trail.    


ATC and each Trail club have 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 A.T.  


Through Sponsored Group Agreements, also called Volunteer Service Agreements (VSA) with federal land managers, clubs agree to specific volunteer management requirements, including, a current volunteer roster via OF301A form, reporting of hours, annual work planning meeting, and a volunteer safety program and training. 


National Park Service: Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Administrator of the ANST:  The National Park Service (NPS) retains the primary authority and responsibility for the acquisition, development, and administration of the Appalachian Trail. Under the National Trails System Act, the Secretary of the Interior is responsible for administration of the entire Appalachian Trail, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture. As a result the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, oversees the Appalachian Trail and works in consultation with the Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture. 


The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA), located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is the NPS unit with the overall responsibility of the Trail.  The park superintendent carries out the duties and authorities of the Secretary in administration of the A.T., including land acquisition outside of established federal units and management direction on NPS-APPA acquired lands.  


APPA is responsible for law enforcement, land acquisition, boundary surveys, and compliance with environmental laws and regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The park superintendent and his/her staff are bound by the same regulations that are in effect for all national park system lands, as enumerated in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, “Parks, Forests and Public Property,” and in the regularly updated A.T.-specific Orders. The park superintendent also reviews Trail club LMPs to ensure that the policies and practices identified in the LMPs comply with NPS regulations. Furthermore, pursuant to review and acceptance of the LMP by the park superintendent, LMP designations could have force-of-law on NPS lands and may be enforced by the appropriate authorities. 


Primary APPA planning documents, including the A.T. Comprehensive Plan (part 1) (part 2), the Foundation Document, and APPA Business Plan. These and other planning resources are also available at APPA’s Planning Process page. The APPA Facility WebApp is a valuable tool in the management of the A.T. The WebApp captures the trail, facilities, and land ownership along the length of the Trail.  


APPA as a land manager: Land acquired for the protection of the ANST has often become lands managed by NPS via APPA (if not transferred to USFS). When APPA is a land manager to specific sections of the A.T. the management direction is under NPS policy and direction.  

National Park Service: Other Units

The Appalachian Trail crosses six established units of the national park system, each of which is overseen by a park superintendent: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, C&O Canal National Historical Park, and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The parks retain oversight of the A.T. within their boundaries as part of their overall management of the park and participate in the day-to-day affairs of the Trail, including active involvement in local management planning with the Trail clubs. They are primary partners as signatories on cooperative agreements. Clubs must work in close consultation with the individual park units so that the policies, practices, and actions identified in their local management plans are coordinated with those developed for the park’s general-management and resource-management plans (“park within a park”).   

U.S. Forest Service (USFS)

Approximately 1,015 miles of the Appalachian Trail cross eight national forests, two in the Eastern Region (USFS Region 9) and six in the Southern Region (Region 8). The Trail crosses lands in Virginia, West Virginia, Vermont, and New Hampshire that were acquired by the National Park Service for the Trail but have been administratively transferred from the NPS to the USFS. Each national forest is made up of several ranger districts, the local level of interaction with A.T. Clubs. 


The U.S. Forest Service is a multiple-use agency—that is, it manages lands for many different uses, including timber management, watershed protection, wildlife habitat, range, and recreation opportunities. Beginning in the mid-1980s, primary direction for the management of the A.T. has been included in the Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (FLMP) for each national forest. In each plan, the A.T. and the lands surrounding it are identified as either a “management area” (MA) or a “management prescription” (MRx). Clubs with responsibilities on U.S. Forest Service lands should check with their respective Forest for the latest version of its plan.  


The A.T. management area or management prescription is a defined area around the Trail, within which the primary management objectives are the protection and enhancement of the A.T. The USFS has developed many innovative techniques for involving the public—including ATC and the local A.T. clubs—in management decisions and for balancing multiple resource objectives in planning forest activities. Examples of those techniques include scoping and request for comments as a part of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis on proposals, and the Scenery Management System (SMS), which is used to define the boundaries of the A.T. management area or management prescription on most national forests, and to evaluate potential visual resource impacts as viewed from the A.T. on all national forests. 

Clubs with responsibilities in Forest Service lands must participate in Forest Plan revisions, as well as be responsive to scoping notices that may impact the A.T. Ranger district personnel are  primary partners in the preparation and review of LMPs. 

Other Federal Agencies

Other federal agencies may have trail management interest on their land. These entities may include US Fish & Wildlife, Tennessee Valley Authority, the Smithsonian Institution.


State Agencies

Land and Resource Management Partners 

Primary management of state lands is usually carried out by the relevant state park, forest, or local fish and wildlife office. State agencies administer state lands under different authorities, and the degree of emphasis given to Trail matters varies from agency to agency. Because of this wide variation in agency charters, a need has been identified for “A.T. management zones” or “corridors” on state-owned lands in order to establish consistent policies and regulations for lands within the A.T. corridor.  

Secondary State Agency Partners 

These partners can include state and local agencies with responsibilities or activities that may affect the A.T. in some way, e.g., natural and cultural/historic management departments, departments of transportation, law-enforcement agencies, search-and-rescue agencies, fire-control agencies, and fish-and-wildlife agencies. Each affected agency should be consulted during the local management planning process and offered an opportunity for review and comment. Local law-enforcement officials and emergency-response personnel should participate in the development of strategies for handling emergencies and other incidents on the Trail. Close cooperation with State Historic Preservation Offices and Natural Heritage or Resource Offices is also a necessary component of A.T. management.  


The State’s Role in Preparation of the Local Management Plan: All state agencies that own and manage land traversed by the A.T. should take an active role in development of the local management plan. The Trail club should contact them early in the planning process and get a clear understanding of state policies and regulations affecting lands crossed by the Trail. Regardless of whether a cooperative agreement is in place, state agencies should be offered the opportunity for review and comment on the plan in its draft form, and relevant comments should be incorporated into the final version of the plan. 

Contact your Regional ATC office for support in identifying your state partners and their intersection with local area management.  

How A.T. Cooperative Management Works 

Local Management

Central to the management of the A.T. is the local management of the Appalachian Trail. This Cooperative Management System is composed, at any given location, of the local A.T. Club, ATC, and the land managing agency (whether federal, state, or local). This local consortium gathers at least annually, though some local partnerships gather twice annually, to plan work, track accomplishments, and ensure timely review processes. For example, the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club works on three USFS districts; twice annually the club plans a meeting that includes participation from its leaders, district personnel, and ATC. If a club’s responsibility is to a single large land manager of a different agency, such as Shenandoah National Park, that club may meet separately for its planning meetings with ATC and that unit, from other lands that it manages.  

These meetings, separate from ATC Regional Partnership Committee meetings, help establish and maintain local relationships, trust, and close communication about important issues and opportunities.  

Regional Partnership

Regional Partnership Committee (RPC) meetings, held twice annually, bring together a group of geographically organized A.T. Clubs, as well as regional ATC staff, regional land managers, and personnel from the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The four RPCs respectively include one primary and one alternate representative from each of the A.T. maintaining clubs in their region. RPCs serve as the inter-communication link between clubs, as well as the information conduit between ATC and agency partners. RPCs serve as the voice of volunteers to advise ATC regional staff, as needed, and provide an important role in either recommending or refining Trail management and conservation policies to the ATC Stewardship Council. A.T. Clubs select their own representatives to the RPC, and each RPC selects its chair as well as a representative to the Stewardship Council.  

Trail-wide Stewardship Guidance

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. The Council is the forum for cooperation, coordination, and communication among the partners in the A.T. shared stewardship community.  

ATC Policies

The ATC adopts policies in order to state ATC’s position on issues affecting the Trail and to facilitate consistent management of the Trail through 8 national forests, 6 national parks, 14 states and numerous state and local jurisdictions. The policy process is driven by issues that arise at the local, regional, or Trail-wide levels. For some issues, less-prescriptive guidance, or suggestions, rather than formal policy, are developed.  

With policies in hand, ATC is best able to provide guidance and coordination in decision-making of all partners by working with federal and state partners to understand the rules and regulations and find acceptable compromises and adaptations between legal requirements and the unique volunteer-based resource managers dedicated to the Trail.  

Local Management Planning

Plan Development

The end result of the local management planning process for the Appalachian Trail is a document called the “local management plan.” Most Trail clubs have patterned their plans after the format of this document. However, any format for the written plan is acceptable. Trail club local management plans should be updated at least once every ten years. 

 Recently, some A.T. Clubs have successfully organized their local management plan in a shared cloud drive (e.g. Google Drive or Dropbox) in a LMP-labeled folder. The sub-folders of the LMP can then organize files by topic issue. Separately, clubs often have a historical documents-labeled folder in the cloud to host interesting tidbits from the past. By scanning historic resources and other hard copy references, as well as digitizing the LMP, clubs are able to relinquish the “box of stuff” that has traditionally been passed from leader(s)-to-leader(s).  


A typical Local Management Plan includes the following components: 


Introduction—State the purpose of the local management plan: to guide the club in fulfilling its responsibility for the maintenance and management of a specific section of the Appalachian Trail in cooperation with its agency partner(s). Reference the documents that provide the authority for the local management plans—the National Trails System Act (Public Law 90-543, as amended), the 1981 A.T. Comprehensive Plan, and the agreements that delegate responsibility for maintenance and management of the Appalachian Trail to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and its member Trail clubs. Include a short paragraph on the planning process—who was involved in preparing the plan, how the public was given an opportunity to participate, and how often the plan will be updated and reviewed. 


Background—This section contains two basic components: a description of the Trail route and a short history of the club’s involvement in maintenance and management of the Trail. The description of the Trail route should identify important physiographic features and jurisdictions of land-managing agencies. A map or set of maps showing the Trail route, corridor, and access routes should be included, either in this section or as an appendix. At minimum, link to the WebApp/Web Map of the Trail Asset Inventory, and include your club’s section. It may be helpful to produce inventories of each asset type for inclusion in an appendix. It is advisable that you include a list of inventoried roads that are included in the Trail Asset Inventory since they do not appear in the WebApp.  


The Partners—The roles of the primary partners, which include the local Trail club, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the state agency, and the federal land-managing agency, should be briefly outlined and any cooperative agreements or other documents defining management responsibilities should be referenced and included as appendices.  If appropriate, club’s own local-area committees, such as the Orange/Rockland County A.T. Management Committee or the Maryland A.T. Committee, should be mentioned. 


  • Agreements Supporting Partnership and A.T. Management—Consult ATC regional staff for a list of current documents, and their initiation and expiration date-if known. Include your group’s Volunteer Service Agreements and MOUs with partners, as well as other documents that support the partnership in its shared care of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  


Topic Area Management Principles and Action Plans—These are the heart of the local management plan. Based on the Topic Areas in this Guide, the club prepares a short issue statement on its management philosophy or principles, as well as corresponding action plans for fulfilling the defined statements. Text in red is offered as a template for adaptation by clubs. Change the text color and add appropriate information.   


Within this guide, topic areas are presented in a table and allow for A.T. Clubs to expand on each topic area in the section that follows. For each section, it may be helpful to remind readers that the trail inventory for each topic is found on the WebApp, sorted to club and topic feature.  

Local Management Plan Review and Approval

Local management plans undergo a review process to ensure consistency with the aims and objectives of ATC, the policies in this Planning Guide, and those of the land-management agencies. This process is similar for any important Trail stewardship decision as described above. 

The final step in preparing a local management plan is to obtain a formal endorsement of the plan from ATC. An approval form is found here. At a minimum, the following individuals and organizations should have reviewed the plan before it is submitted for endorsement: 


  • The Trail club’s officers 
  • The appropriate representative(s) of the land-managing agency partner(s) 
  • The National Park Service APPA Office 
  • The ATC regional director 
  • The ATC Vice President of Regional and Trail Operations, or other individual, if delegated.  
  • The Regional Partnership Committee 


Perhaps the most effective method for obtaining review and comment prior to endorsement of a local management plan is informal consultation: contact individuals in the Trail club, ATC, the NPS APPA Office, the land-managing agencies, and members of the public who would have an interest in the plan; offer to let them review a draft and provide comments before the plan is finalized. When review is formally requested, reviewers should be given at least 30 days to comment. 

Before Beginning:

Before embarking on any Local Management Plan, A.T. Club leaders should ensure they have refreshed their familiarity with the Comprehensive Plan and the Foundation Document, as well as other relevant management documents for land managers.

A Microsoft Word version of the Local Management Planning Guide can be downloaded here. Please reach out to volunteer@appalachiantrail.org to request a different file type.