Waynesboro >> In 2013, the greater Waynesboro area was recognized by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as an official Appalachian Trail Community. Waynesboro has joined Boiling Springs and Duncannon as Appalachian Trail Communities in Pennsylvania.
On April 26, a Saturday, representatives from the Borough of Waynesboro, Washington Township, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club will celebrate that designation in conjunction with Renfrew Institute’s Earth Celebration Day & Festival.
The event will start at 12:30 p.m.
Four days before that, on April 22, there will be areas at Renfrew focusing on the Appalachian Trail and how towns along the 2,000-mile trail help the hiking community.
The question is, what is an AT Community, and what does it do?
It’s a boon to hikers, said Joshua McAlister, of Waynesboro. McAlister, now 30, and his father hiked the entire 2,000-plus miles of the trail from Georgia to Maine in 2005. It took them 144 days.
When the McAlisters did their through-hike, information about what could be found in towns along the trail was pretty much hit-or-miss.
“It was just whatever information you could gather on your own,” he said. “Having the designation is good. It will help the hikers, and let them know what’s available.”
Trail hikers today can visit the Appalachian Trail Communities website and find out what is available in the 35 AT Communities, either before they set out, or even by using smart phones or other portable digital devices while on the trail itself.
“They can come off the trail on Route 16 and they will know what is available in the nearby towns, whether they need a meal, lodging for the night, or some equipment,” McAlister said.
Christopher Firme of Blue Ridge Summit, a fervent trail hiker since the mid-1980s, said getting a business listed on the website is simple.
“Having the area get the designation for the area means that businesses will be able to be more in the forefront for the trail community,” he said. “What happens is, businesses fill out information and it gets put on the AT website. That’s all it takes. It will allow through hikers and section hikers, when they’re setting up their plans, they will know that the trail comes out on 16 between Blue Ridge Summit and Rouzerville. They’ll know they can resupply. Some hikers will mail boxes of items to local post offices. They can get cleaned up and have a better meal than they would on the trail, and some will stay in a motel.
“We’re lucky that we have the AT in our neighborhood,” he added.
For all of its relative remoteness, the annual “population” of the Appalachian Trail is equal to a city the size of Los Angeles, according to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail website (http://www.nps.gov/appa), approximately 3 to 4 million visitors hike at least a section of the trail every year. That’s a lot of hungry, tired and footsore people with money in their pockets.
Though the AT is covered by the National Park Service, it is maintained by volunteers, Firme added.
“In Pennsylvania, it runs about 242 miles through state forests, parks, gamelands, national park lands, and municipalities,” Firme said. “The AT is unique.”
Firme’s “real job” is with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, where he spends his time fighting gypsy moths and the woolly adelgid and other pests. He is also one of the many volunteers who oversees and maintains the trail.
“I take care of a section of the AT from Route 16 to Rattlesnake Run Road,” he said. “I co-oversee with Al Black. We split the section; I take a piece about 2.2 miles long, and he takes of the remaining 2.3 miles. I take care of the Deer Lick Shelter.”
On the trail, there are always “blazes” — white spots spray painted onto trees to mark the trail — to maintain, wooden treads on steep parts of the trail to replace, and other chores.
Julie Judkins of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said the Appalachian Trail Communities program started with two test communities back in 2006.
“The two communities, Hot Springs, North Carolina and Boiling Springs in Pennsylvania, went through a year-long sort of forum process to see what kind of things communities would be interested in having while working with us,” she said.
As it turns out, the desires of the two communities were very different.
“So we tried to build a program over the next few years working with volunteers and managers, hiking clubs and different organizations,” Judkins said. “We realized we needed to be flexible.”
In 2010, the ATC launched the current Communities program.
“It has been very successful,” Judkins said. “We now have 35 communities in the program. There has been a lot of interest from communities all along the trail. Now, we have some leverage. There are a lot of branding opportunities, and the trail brings a lot of national name recognition.”
One of the conservancy’s main interests lies in getting the public to know where the AT is.
“It’s an actual national park in their back yard,” she said. “We’re thrilled that Waynesboro and Washington Township worked together and turned in an application together.”
Pat Fleagle, director of economic development for Mainstreet Waynesboro Inc., submitted the application, along with Clint Rock, Washington Township planner, and Kathy Seiler, local trail club representative, after months of reaching out to businesses and organizations in the area, according to a recent press release.
Posted from Public Opinion Online by T.W. Burger: