Uniting Rural Communities along the Appalachian Trail
June 16, 2023
Blairsville, Georgia, and Millinocket, Maine, might seem to have little in common.
Located at opposite ends of the Appalachian Trail, they are separated by some 2,140 miles of treadway. Their climate and geography are markedly different. Although it’s nestled in the mountains of north Georgia, Blairsville has quite humid weather and an average high temperature of 68 degrees. In the nearby Chattahoochee National Forest, you’ll find American black bear, coyote, and more. As the closest town to the northern terminus of the A.T., Millinocket gets over 7 feet of snow in a typical year and experiences an average low of 32 degrees. There, you’re more likely to see the occasional moose or Canada lynx.
Despite these differences, the towns share a bond due to their proximity to the Trail and their commitment to celebrating and protecting the Appalachian Trail as a designated A.T. Community™.
In June 2023, five towns in Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts received official designation as A.T. Communities, bringing the total number to 56 from Georgia to Maine. The newest A.T. Communities are Bluemont and Hillsboro, Virginia; Boonsboro and Brunswick, Maryland; and Lee, Massachusetts. Each designated community brings a unique sense of place and a readiness to work in partnership with the ATC, volunteers, and land managers to protect the A.T. and the broader landscape.
What Is an A.T. Community?
An A.T. Community is a town located in proximity to the Appalachian Trail that commits to environmental stewardship through volunteerism, community-led conservation, and support for outdoor recreation economies. As gateways to the Trail, these towns are often the first stop for Trail visitors on their way to a hike, birding adventure, or family outing.
Designated A.T. Communities typically commit to:
- Share information about A.T. management and protection at community events including fairs, festivals, or farmers markets.
- Sponsor an annual educational or service-learning project about the A.T.
- Work with local businesses to welcome Trail visitors and provide information and services about the Trail.
- Partner with public land agencies (local, state, or federal) to advance conservation priorities.
- Include language for the protection of the A.T. in community planning tools and documents.
The A.T. Community program was launched in 2009 to assist rural communities along the Trail with sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation. Of the 14 states through which the Appalachian Trail passes, 13 now have designated A.T. Communities. Virginia has the most—with 19 including the two newest communities. (Virginia also has the most Trail miles, one-fourth of the entire Trail.)
How Do Communities Benefit?
By becoming an official A.T. Community, towns along the Trail can expect to see increases in tourism, economic growth, and environmental stewardship. These benefits were borne out in a recent survey. Half of the respondents expressed that the A.T. Community program has contributed positively to economic development and increased visitation to local businesses.
The participating towns also note an increase in community engagement. “Successful communities see their events and volunteer opportunities expand,” says Katie Allen, Director of Landscape Conservation at the ATC. “Increased community commitment to environmental stewardship helps protect the unique sense of place that community residents enjoy as great places to live, work, and play.”
What Is the Process for Becoming an A.T. Community?
Towns must establish an advisory committee with representatives from their community government, education, and tourism sectors. Then they submit an application and letters of support that demonstrate their readiness to promote and protect the Appalachian Trail.
Representatives of the ATC and local partners —including trail maintaining clubs, land managers, and others — review the application and determine if it is sufficiently comprehensive and convincing of their commitment to follow through.
Once designated, communities are welcomed into a growing network of towns sharing the title of A.T. Community. Together, they share success stories, garner inspiration, and enjoy access to partner resources and relationships.
For more information, visit the A.T. Communities webpage or contact ATCommunity@appalachiantrail.org.