Appalachian Trail Angels

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Co-sponsored by Howe Library, the Hanover Friends of the Appalachian Trail, and the Norwich Friends of the Appalachian Trail

Gregory Cook“Trail angels” are a part of the Appalachian Trail experience for many hikers. They offer snacks, provide rides, and take hikers into their homes. Gregory Cook has been a trail angel for three years, hosting 260 hikers to date. He will talk about being a trail angel and share stories of the remarkable people he’s encountered at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29. This talk is co-sponsored by Howe Library, the Hanover Friends of the Appalachian Trail, and the Norwich Friends of the Appalachian Trail.

Gregory Cook, MSW, lives in Wilder, Vermont and has been a social worker at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for thirty-eight years. In addition to having been an Appalachian Trail “Trail Angel” since 2011, Mr. Cook is a property monitor for the Upper Valley Land Trust. He is an avid hiker and a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Four Thousand Footer Club.

Date: April 29, 2014

Waynesboro designated an Appalachian Trail Community Town joins two others in state as noted waypoints on 2,000-mile trail

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 (, 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:

Small Town Travel: Four of America’s Most Iconic Trails Converge in Damascus, Virginia

Reposted from

April 8, 2014 at 11:03 AM | by  Comments (2)

When this writer went to the small town of Damascus in western Virginia to research a few stories, I basically ran myself into the ground, hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail in the morning and biking the Virginia Creeper Trail in the afternoon. Before my visit, when I was explaining to friends where I was going, I told them that Damascus sat alongside the App Trail. I was wrong about that. Turns out, the trail goes right through it.

Like, really through it, as in the sidewalk down the center of town is part of the trail. This in itself is what makes Damascus such an interesting place. Every person that hikes the Appalachian Trail – which is 2,184 miles from Georgia to Maine and takes the average person 6 months – must walk through the town of Damascus. You meet some interesting characters to say the least, from the hikers to the people in the town who help them out. It’s not unusual to see tents set up in front yards, locals taking in the weary walkers for a night or two.

For someone living on the East Coast who is into adventure travel, Damascus is a slam dunk. But only for those who want to hike and bike, because, honestly, that is the town’s bread and butter. That, and the people you meet along the way who have come for the very same reasons. No one is in Damascus by accident, that’s for sure, but it’s a pretty doable long-weekend destination, located six hours from D.C., five hours from Richmond, four hours from Raleigh, and three hours from Charlotte.

I told you that there are biking companies that will help the average person experience the Virginia Creeper Trail, and the same is true for the Appalachian Trail. Outfitters in Damascus will drive you up to 100 miles in either direction so that you can walk back to town. During my trip, I met many groups of families and friends that had been driven out 40-50 miles and were hiking it in three days. It makes hiking an iconic trail pretty reasonable, and you can set the distance in line with your effort and fitness level.

Despite a population under 1,000, Damascus hosts what is considered to be the largest congregation of App Trail hikers each spring during Trail Days USA, a festival that celebrates the convergence of four trails in town: The Appalachian Trail, U.S. Bicycle Route 76, the Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail. It attracts 20,000 hikers each year. You won’t exactly get a true feeling for the town, but it is no doubt a scene and a party.

Funny story: Because of the town’s limited dining options and my desire to remove my shoes after all the exercise, I decided it would be best to cook dinner myself back at the cabin. I had a beautiful place with a patio and a view of the river (shown above). I threw salmon on the grill, went inside to make a drink, and came back out to two ducks on the deck, their noses in the air, turning and looking at me with an obvious curiosity. Nothing aggressive, just hope and curiosity. A few steps in their direction and they slowly retreated, waddling back down the steps to the safety of the grass below. There they sat, becoming a part of the scenery, a part of my view as I sat and sipped the whiskey-soda, my socks hanging on the line and my feet airing out in the breeze atop the railing.

That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of the town, putting my feet up on the railing with a drink after a fulfilling day, looking out at the river and having some space to move around. In a nutshell, that’s what Damascus is all about, getting into the wilderness and clearing your head, exercising your body and feeling fine about all of it at the end of the day.

That, and those damn ducks.

[Photos: Will McGough]