What’s Cooking in Boiling Springs?
June 25, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) — like many organizations managing brick and mortar operations — kept its visitor centers closed. While this closure was meant to keep our staff, A.T. visitors, and our volunteers safe and healthy, it also created space and time for reflection. How can we reimagine and restructure our visitor centers to create exceptional visitor services, to create stronger connection with the surrounding community, and to expand our ability to educate, empower, and inform all who come to the Trail?
These questions formed the basis of our approach to working with the Town of Damascus in Virginia (popularly known as “Trail Town USA”) to build and operate a purpose-built visitor center. While the grand opening of the Damascus Trail Center is still a few months off, the lessons we learned were immediate. By keeping ownership of the building in the hands of the township and working directly with the local government and local partners, the ATC was able to not only reimagine how the visitor experience in and around the Damascus Trail Center could be expanded and improved, but also created greater ties with the community in the process.
Those lessons carried over to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, which is part of the South Middleton Township. Iconic for many, The Cottage on the shore of Children’s Lake has long been an integral part of the A.T. experience in the designated A.T. Community© of Boiling Springs. However, the building and space within presented several concerns. Offices for staff operations in the Mid-Atlantic Region and storage space became exceedingly tight. Dedicated areas for visitor services like interpretation, hiker education, and community programming were limited. And the building itself, given its age and condition, demanded increasingly expensive repair and upkeep.
The solution was to do what the ATC has long done in the building of not only the A.T. but the larger Trail Community: work with the community itself.
What will happen to The Cottage in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania?
The ATC plans an ownership exchange in two iterations. First, the ATC will be completing a land exchange with the National Park Service — Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA). The ATC will be taking ownership of a little over 1.5 acres of land in Boiling Springs which includes The Cottage in exchange for a nearby parcel that will be transferred to APPA. The property in Boiling Springs is being conveyed subject to restrictive covenants in perpetuity that APPA developed with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to ensure the preservation of the building and property. These restrictive covenants include that the property shall not be subdivided and the exterior facade of the building and grounds of the property shall be maintained and preserved in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. No changes or alterations in the appearance, condition, or use of the Property shall be made that are incompatible with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Boiling Springs Historic District. Furthermore, no actions other than changes to the building interior and routine maintenance of the building exterior and grounds shall be undertaken or permitted without the prior notification to APPA and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for their comment and approval. The land exchange will not result in a change of the current land use of either property. In addition, the NPS will retain an easement for the Trail footpath to ensure public access in perpetuity.
Once the land exchange with APPA is complete, the ATC plans to then sell The Cottage with its restrictive covenants to South Middleton Township. The impetus for this exchange is twofold. First, to create a long-term partnership with the local community — the Township will assume ownership and management of the building and the ATC will be responsible for providing visitor services. By transferring administration to the Township, the ATC can focus on creating exceptional visitor experiences and more robust local community ties. Second, upkeep and repair of the building is exceedingly expensive for the Conservancy; with the Township assuming ownership, funding from the ATC can instead be dedicated to visitor and community services.
What will happen to ATC staff currently working in the Boiling Springs visitor center?
Staff in the Mid-Atlantic Region moved to a dedicated office in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, approximately six miles from The Cottage. Space for staff operations in Boiling Springs became exceedingly tight. From storage to quality office areas, staff operations in The Cottage became untenable. Staff will continue to work with the local community in Boiling Springs and with local partners to ensure the ATC’s visitor services and community engagement remain robust.
Was the local community in and around Boiling Springs notified of these land exchanges?
The ATC has been working with the National Park Service and with South Middleton Township to ensure the ownership exchange keeps the ATC’s presence in the community and our connection to local partners intact. For the National Park Service’s land exchange with the ATC, the NPS, recognizing the community value and cultural and historical legacy of The Cottage, and per its land exchange policy, issued a Notice of Realty Action (NORA) in the local newspaper for three consecutive weeks. The NORA was published in the legal section of The Patriot-News on July 31, 2018, August 7, 2018, August 14, 2018. In addition, a letter along with a copy of the NORA was sent to adjacent property owners of both properties in the land exchange as well as federal, state, and county elected officials. No comments nor responses were received to the NORA. The NPS also invited the Boiling Springs Civic Association and South Middleton Township to consult on the proposed exchange and published a notice on its Planning, Environment & Public Comment website, ATC’s website, and the Township’s website for an open 30-day comment period in June 2017. One comment in support of the exchange was received as a result of this outreach.
What is the long-term goal of this ownership exchange?
The long-term goal is to expand and improve the ATC’s visitor services in the community, to make a sound financial decision that allows ATC’s focus to remain on its mission-critical work and on serving its constituents, and to create stronger local partnerships in Boiling Springs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored a long-term issue: the need to re-envision the ATC’s presence in the community of Boiling Springs. Abiding by the adage “to improve is to change,” the ATC hopes the improved connections, presence, and operations in Boiling Springs will serve both visitors and the local community better.