The Appalachian Trail leads to Environmental Awareness for Macon County Youth

Franklin, NC: Generating an awareness of the nearby Appalachian Trail takes many forms with the help of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Community Ambassador and members of the Nantahala Hiking Club.   Volunteer ATC Ambassador, Mary Bennett, has been busy coordinating activities that link our community schools with environmental education, hiking and the AT footpath.   “Helping to organize volunteers for the Children’s area at the April Fool’s  Trail Days festival  resulted in  recruiting nine enthusiastic New Century Scholar and National Honor Society students.  The student’s energy made the games fun to play and watch”, commented Bennett.  Students had the opportunity to visit booths highlighting local trails, clubs and conservation groups while earning volunteer hours.

 The Appalachian Trail Conservancy gave presentations at the Second Annual Invasive Awareness Day on the Greenway to over 250 students.  Eight conservation groups hosted information tables and gave talks on invasive species identification, control and restoration methods.   John Odell, ATC Invasive Plant Technician, demonstrated the tools and methods for removing unwanted exotic pest plants from fields and forests.  Sonja Himes,  co- organizer of the event with Land Trust for the Little Tennessee , observed, “John’s station  captivated  the intermediate school students – especially the power equipment like the chain saw.”   Bennett, who scheduled local school participation, noted, “A wonderful addition to this year’s event  included  Susan Steiner’s Macon Early College Earth Science students leading mini- stations on soil properties for the younger students.  It was a win:win for youth leadership and hands-on learning experience.”  As a follow up to the invasive species day and as a service learning project, Franklin High students in Jenny Collins’ Outdoor Recreation class conducted a ‘weed pull’ of privet, kudzu, honey suckle and multi-flora rose at the Salali Trail section on the
Franklin Greenway.

Ellen Agee, Children’s Librarian with Macon County Library, asked Bennett to lead a nature walk and identify some wildflowers and trees for Club Discovery, a weekly after school program.  “Our club members collected natural artifacts for miniature natural history “museums” made from egg cartons.  The community is welcome to some view the display,’ said Agee.

Bennett joined 70 Cartoogechaye Elementary School students, teachers, parents and the Nantahala Hiking Club hike 4 miles of the AT to Silar Bald. For more information contact, Ms. Bennett may be contacted at franklinambassador@yahoo.com

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Buena Vista and Glasgow Designation Ceremonies

Ceremonies Mark Trail Designation            April 25, 2012

BY ROBERTA ANDERSON

Glasgow and Buena Vista can now “officially” welcome hikers on the Appalachian Trail who have long used the communities for overnight layovers and supply stops.

The eastern Rockbridge communities were designated as Appalachian Trail Communities by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy during activities last Thursday at the Buena Vista Visitor Center and at the hikers’ shelter in Glasgow.

The Appalachian Trail Community designation is a new program of the ATC, the nonprofit organization responsible for management and protection of the estimated 2,180-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Launched in 2010, this program recognizes communities for their part in promoting awareness of the Appalachian Trail as an important local and national asset.

As part of the ceremonies in each community that were attended by local officials, school children, representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and even Smokey the Bear, Glasgow Town Manager Ryan Spitzer and Buena Vista Mayor Frankie Hogan were both presented with road signs designating Glasgow and Buena Vista each as Appalachian Trail Communities.

Spitzer, taking a page from former Natural Bridge Supervisor Hunt Riegel’s playbook, humorously commemorated the day with a poem he had written. Specifically referring to the town’s hikers’ shelter built to accommodate hikers who may have left the trail for an overnight visit to town, Spitzer recited:

“Glasgow is one of the small, rural bases

Who have tried to create a hiker oasis.
We hope hikers with their packs
Will heed the words of, ‘Ya’ll come back.’

We have all the amenities of home
Even if you have to roam.
The town may not have a gym or pond
But we sure do have a hot shower and porta-john.”

On a more serious note, Spitzer added, “The town of Glasgow is excited to be designated as an Appalachian Trail Community and to partner with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Hopefully this is another step to making Glasgow an outdoor recreation destination or launching point for everyone.”

Mayor Frankie Hogan opened his comments in Buena Vista with a quote from environmentalist Paul Hawken. “All is connected,” he read. “No one thing can change by itself.”

Hogan added, “These words truly speak to the partnership being created today. The city of Buena Vista, the town of Glasgow, Rockbridge County, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail are all interconnected. We are all part of the beauty and recreational experiences that have made the Shenandoah Valley a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts. We see the importance of partnering with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and providing the best possible experience for over two million hikers.”

Hogan said the partnership will provide hikers with information regarding activities, supplies, medical care, shelter and transportation within the community.

Both designation ceremonies featured performances by elementary school children from nearby schools. Classes from Kling and Enderly Heights schools sang in Buena Vista and from Natural Bridge Elementary School at Glasgow. Students from Natural Bridge who had contributed the winning entries in an art contest featuring outdoor themes were also honored.

Also speaking at Glasgow was Parks Talbott, the Eagle Scout from Roanoke who built the hikers’ shelter as his Eagle project. Talbott credited the Rev. Becky Crites of Glasgow for providing him with the idea for the shelter. He said he has particularly enjoyed reading comments left by grateful hikers in a notebook kept at the shelter.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds commented on the economic potential of the designation at Buena Vista. “This is what economic development in rural America looks like,” he said. “This designation will bring the kind of people who want a welcome. They want a place to resupply. They want a place to shower. They want a place to stock up on what they need. And those things, we have to be prepared to provide. That’s going to mean jobs, and that’s going to mean good things for our community.”

Del. Ben Cline attended the ceremony in Glasgow. He said the designation “will put a dot on the map at Glasgow.”

Mark Wenger, the new executive director of the ATC, told those gathered in Buena Vista, “Being able to partner with local communities along the trail offers so many opportunities, not only for us, but also for the community and for people in the area. We’re excited about the things that lay ahead for us.”

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schwab provided some of the information for this story.