By Sandi Marra, ATC President & CEO

Reflections at the Start of 2024

January 5, 2024

She introduced people to the A.T., and at the same time she made the thru-hike achievable. It didn’t take fancy equipment, guidebooks, training, or youthfulness. It took putting one foot in front of the other—five million times.

— Ben Montgomery, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Years ago, during a job interview, I was asked how my volunteer work on the Appalachian Trail was applicable to the position. After thinking about it for a minute, I said: “It has taught me that anything is achievable if you stay steady and put one foot in front of the other.”

There are times when you can sail through a straight and level section of trail, strewn with pine needles and soft duff underneath. Other times, it is a long, hot, and breathless slog up a big mountain, with false summits and unexpected detours from the well-planned route. But, oh my, how the real summit and reaching your destination can make it all worthwhile.

2023 was filled with all these kinds of experiences. As with our hikes, we relish the easy parts, celebrate the vistas and accomplishments, and look back on the challenges with clarity of how they made us stronger.

The ATC’s McAfee Vista Preserve was established in November 2023 to conserve the A.T. viewshed and improve habitat connectivity. Photo by Christin Healey.

As we embark on a new year, I want to thank all the stewards, supporters, volunteers, clubs, and partners for their dedication, work, and commitment to the Appalachian Trail. Unlike Grandma Gatewood, we benefit from being well skilled, well prepared, and experienced in doing this important work.

For nearly 100 years, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has demonstrated that we have the necessary expertise and know-how to unite the groups needed to care for this priceless national treasure. And we are committed to preserving and protecting the A.T.’s cultural assets, irreplaceable ecology, scenic viewsheds, and surrounding landscape through our conservation, stewardship, and educational initiatives for the next 100 years and beyond.

But with every plan, there are always unknowns that may impede our progress — blowdowns blocking the route, an overused campsite, graffiti, overgrown and invasive plants, or intense weather events. It is then that we, as both hikers and caretakers, understand that one foot in front of the other is what we must do to carry us along the Trail and continue the essential work to maintain this world-renowned recreational experience.

This responsibility is not a destination but a journey. Together we can advance our efforts to ensure the A.T. from Georgia to Maine is a more resilient and vibrant hiking destination and that it continues to be a source of inspiration and adventure now and for many generations to come.

See you on the Trail in 2024!

Headshot of Sandi Marra

Sandi Marra
President & CEO

Support the ATC’s Work