They Made It! Thanks to Warrior Hike Support in A.T. Communities

Dear supporters of the Warrior Hike in A.T. Communities (you know who you are!),

Thanks again to all those  who showed hospitality to the hikers by providing food and fellowship, lodging, and moral support  when they came through your A.T. Community.

Warrior Hiker
Stephanie makes her last climb on the Appalachian Trail before reaching Mount Katahdin. Photo and caption from Warrior Hike Facebook Page:

Washington Post – Veterans on Warrior Hike finish Appalachian Trail in Maine; aids transition to civilian life

Bangor Daily News – Walking off their wars: Combat veterans through-hike the Appalachian Trail

JTNews – A walk through the wilderness to walk off the war

Here’s a quote from the Washington Post article that explains how important the support from communities along the A.T. was to the hikers:

Local veterans and community groups along the trail also offered support by transporting the hikers to and from the trail, putting them up for the night in lodges and at their homes and taking them out to dinner, Gobin said. “So to see the outpouring of support from the American people is also a therapeutic part of it,” he said. Hiking the trail forces these veterans, some of whom may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and feel isolated, to socialize. “And what it does is it reconfirms your belief in humanity, that there’s good people out there and despite what you’ve experienced there’s a lot of good out there,” he said.

You can view more photos and articles and information about the Warrior Hike at and on Facebook. 

The “Walk Off the War” program was conceived and developed by the Warrior Hike founder Sean Gobin and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Troutville Traildays

Post by Rebecca Kyle of James River High School Buchanan, Virginia
Leaf No Trace Craft Time
Leaf No Trace Craft Time
Principle #6
Principle #6
T-Shirt Designs
T-Shirt Designs

The Troutville Trail Days celebration came at the perfect time this year. There was a little bit of apprehension because of the weather forecast, but the rain stayed away and it turned out to be a beautiful day.  Following a long week of testing students were able to learn about the history and importance of the Appalachian Trail in the days leading up to the community festivities.  In groups of two or three students created posters depicting the 7 principles of Leave No Trace.   Their creative works were displayed at the Troutville town park during the trail days events and students volunteered to help teach the principles they learned to younger children.  We encouraged participants to create their very own “Leaf” no Trace signs with images of leaf prints. Another great addition to the trail days were the t-shirts.  Middle and high school students competed to enter the best design.  First, second, and third place winners all came from James River High School!


Radio Show

Alyson, our Ambassador from Front Royal/Warren County, talks about what it means to be an Ambassador, friendly regional competition to get out on the Trail for Family Hiking Day, Benton, how access to the A.T., PATC, what to take with you and the work she’s doing to educate her community and hikers alike!

Listen to it here:

Page County Celebration

I had my first visit in Luray, VA for the recent designation ceremony and I can’t wait until my next one!  Driving into town, a relaxing feeling comes over you as you look out on the glorious, long pastoral views bordered by mountains.

Driving into Luray
Driving into Luray

Thanks to the generosity of the Mimslyn Inn, ATC staff stayed in luxury at the beautifully renovated Inn at no cost to the organization. We had a lovely dinner with some of the Advisory Committee, and discussed many of the opportunities and challenges for the community.

Dinner at the Mimslyn Inn
Dinner at the Mimslyn Inn
Karen Lutz, ATC Mid Atlantic Regional Director, getting excited about the ceremony!
A bustling Luray at the Festival of Spring!

Ceremony day! It was SUPPOSED to storm all day (70% chance) and the lucky-ducks that we are, it was a beautiful day of festivities! Artists, food vendors, local organizations, and a kid village was set up in town bringing hundreds of regional residents out for the fun.IMG_0028

Sonja Carlborg shows us how to make a Quest Stamp.

The Front Royal A.T. Community Committee had a booth next to ATC’s. They’ve worked to develop 5 Quests in Warren County, and were providing information and the materials to make the Quest stamps  for families.

Front Royal A.T. Advisory Committee
Karen and Luray/Page County A.T. Ambassador, Jennifer Keck

The Designation ceremony itself was emceed by the Chamber President, John Robbins. Mark Wenger, ATC’s CEO/E.D. provided a welcome and the two Park Service Superintendents (Appalachian National Scenic Trail and Shenandoah National Park) provided thanks to the volunteers working hard to make the partnership happen, and highlighted the importance of public lands to communities. The 3 mayors of the towns in Page County, Stanley, Luray and Shenandoah, all provided fantastic remarks on the great work of the partnership’s effort. Mayor of Stanley Douglas Purdham stated,”All too often, someone comes into this area and says: “What a beautiful place in which you live,” – we locals don’t say that enough. When it (the A.T.) was created, it was said that it is good.
It is our responsibility to make sure it continues to be not only good, but great. But folks, we’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to protect our natural resources. Not JUST the A.T. Not just Shenandoah National Park. It is everything that the good Lord put our feet upon and we’ve got to do a better job. We are called to be stewards of this wonderful place that which God has allowed us to live. After all, we are all it’s got.”

The last speaker, Will Meade, a local thru-hiker of 2012, provided advice and tips, “Either here in town, or if you’re out on a day hike, what makes the Trail so special is the people. When I stopped in towns along the way, the warmth and generosity of the locals that I met enriched my experienced more than I can express. The hikers that I met out there were people of all ages and backgrounds. There might not be a better place to meet a wonderful and diverse group of people than on the A.T. If you run into a hiker, yes, they’ll probably smell, they’ll be dirty, and the guys will be sporting an impressive amount of facial hair, maybe some of the women too.
…a small interaction can lift a hikers’ spirit more than you can possibly know. Listen to their stories, it’ll probably make you want to go out there and hike as well, or at the very least follow your own dreams. The camaraderie on the Trail and the good samaritan complex that exists in the A.T. community is what makes the A.T. so special. I’m excited for this community to be an official part of that now.”

Lots of media coverage (Washington Post!), added to the success of the celebration: Outdoor Hub, DNR online.

IMG_0013 News Courier Pic

Trailfest in Hot Springs!

Festival organizers Debbie DeLisle and Jack Dalton pose for a picture on Saturday afternoon.

Attendance records were set this past weekend during Hot Springs Community Trailfest, held Friday through Sunday, April 19-21. More than 100 thru-hikers were in town for the festival, which catered to both hikers and non-hikers alike. All proceeds from the event went to the Hot Springs Community Learning Center, a non-profit organization that serves children ages three to 12 with preschool, transitional kindergarten, an after-school program, out-of-school care, and holiday and summer camps.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with a spaghetti dinner (that sold out!) and storytelling by North Carolina resident Amy Allen, author of Summoning the Mountains. (Amy hiked the A.T. in 2006; definitely check out her book, which chronicles her completion of the Trail right before turning 40.)

Kids participate in the hula hoop workshop on Saturday afternoon during Trailfest.
Festival goers enjoy the beautiful weather on Saturday.

Events on Saturday included plenty of activities especially for thru-hikers, such as hiker games, an ice-cream eating competition, and a talent show, which featured lots of great singer/songwriter acts. Hot Springs was also excited to welcome A.T. hikers participating in the Walk Off the War Program, designed to support veterans transitioning from military service. These Warrior Hikers were honored during a town parade on Saturday afternoon.

Trailfest concluded on Sunday with a pancake breakfast and an afternoon soccer game, which continued to engage both hikers and community members. 

Warrior Hikers were honored during the parade downtown Hot Springs on Saturday.

A.T. hiker Moose summed up the weekend perfectly. While talking to Randy Anderson (aka “Chuck Norris”) of the Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge, she commented that the weekend was perfect – not only because of the weather, but because of the fun yet relaxing atmosphere that Trailfest allowed.

Even the dogs had fun at Trailfest!



Kids + Creek = Science Fun

035The A.T. Community Ambassador volunteers help get school children outside and learning about the environment through education of plants, invasive species, and water and soil science.  Franklin Ambassador, Mary Bennett  participated in the Kids In the Creek program sponsererd by Coweeta Hydrological Lab Long Term Ecological Research project which got kids donning waders, using scientific equipment and collecting samples to explore stream chemistry, velocity, macro-invertebrates insects, and fish!

Old Man Winter

“Old Man Winter” certainly reminded everyone that Spring has not sprung in the North Georgia or Western North Carolina mountains.  Yet in spite of night temperatures in the 20’s and snowfall, folks were still determined to hike on the Appalachian Trail.  As the A.T. Ambassador in Franklin, NC, I felt it my honor and duty to escort my brother-in-law, Bob Uhar to Dick’s Creek Gap in Ga for a short section hike to NC.  My sister, Margaret, snapped these pictures in the morning- a chilling 27 degrees!  Bob hiked for several days through wind, freezing temps and 2 foot drifts of snow.  Coming off Trail at Standing Indian campground he was in good spirits and commented how he was buoyed by the commradery of the hiking community.
Photo of Mary Bennett and Bob Uhar
and Photo of Mary Bennett with ‘Bamboo” and “Shaman”
Post by Ambassador Mary Bennett

Ambassadors 2013

Inspiring their communities to get involved with the A.T., these Ambassadors are the front line in getting information out about stewardship opportunities and inviting residents to experience the wonder of the Trail.  Meet them. Say thanks:)

Marsha Conner – Dahlonega, GA
Daniel Windham – Helen/White County, GA
Grady and Harrison Garner – Blairsville/Union County, GA
Mary Bennett – Franklin, NC
Anne Baker – Hot Springs, NC
Janet Hensley – Unicoi County, TN
Rob Martin – Unicoi County, TN
J.D. Hibbitts – Damascus, VA
Diana Billips – Bland County, VA
Tim Miller – Troutville, VA
Jennifer Keck– Luray/Page County, VA
Alyson Browett – Front Royal/Warren County, VA
Wendy Hershey – Harpers Ferry/Bolivar, WV
Paul Smith – Duncannon, PA
Cassandra Kessman – Harlem Valley A.T. Community (Dover & Pawling), NY
Patty Harding – Monson, ME

Marsha ConnerMarsha Conner is no stranger to the Dahlonega, GA community, its history, people, and culture. Her namesake, Conner, has been a family unit in Dahlonega for several generations. Learning about the outdoors in the North Georgia mountains has been a part of her life since she was a child. As a college student at The University of North Georgia (’73) in Dahlonega, Marsha spent her free time exploring the backroads and trails of the North Georgia mountains in her spiffy, yellow VW Beetle. After career years in North Carolina and exploring the NC/VA Highlands, Marsha returned to the North Georgia area and resumed exploring the forests and the rivers she had known in her youth. Marsha is co-founder of a hiking group at her church, and has planned recreational hikes, camping events, and outdoor adventures for over six years for this group. Marsha’s professional background includes an MEd degree from the University of Georgia (’75) and experience in law enforcement, public safety, military, training, aviation, and marketing. She looks forward to putting her skills to work on behalf of the ATC and Dahlonega to promote Dahlonega as a great Appalachian Trail Community.

DanielAt an early age, Daniel dreamed of being a hiking guide in the Alps.  Taking the first opportunity to travel through Europe, he jumped at the occasion.  Now, and for the past 18 years,(15 of which living in N. Italy), Daniel has guided throughout the world, working with Rainier Mountaineering, and Wilderness Travel.  “As my family has grown, now with 3 children, the moment has come for dedicating more time to being home, and to giving back to the wilderness, a little of what it has given me.”

summit pictureHarrison and Grady Garner,  are brothers from Blairsville. Grady graduated from Young Harris College with a B.A. in Music and Harrison works for Blairsville’s Humane Society Thrift Store Operation and Animal Shelter.  Both brothers successfully thru-hiked the A.T. in 2012.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAMary Bennett has lived in the Franklin community for twenty years and loves the mountains and forests in the Nantahala region. She is an educator, artist, horticulturalist, and hiker.  She enjoys working with local schools, designing environmental service learning opportunities for students and leading nature-oriented activities for families.  Her passion is discovering the woodlands natural beauty as  it inspires her creativity and artwork.   This being her second year as Franklin’s Ambassador, she is enthusiastic about introducing more people to hiking, camping, and backpacking along the A. T.

AnneA Madison County native, Anne has a double Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Technical Photography from Appalachian State University in Boone. She has professional experience in media, social networking and in the field of education. Her passion for the Trail developed last summer while hiking the A.T. with her father, completing a total of 200 miles through TN and NC.  “I’ve seen what the Appalachian Trail means to the community and what the community means to the Trail. I’ve realized that the Trail provides a wonderful place for family and friends to come together in a way that only the stillness of the woods allows.”

Janet HensleyJanet, AKA Miss Janet, has been involved with the A.T. in Unicoi County for a number of years as the owner of one of the town’s hiker hostels and as the coordinator of A.T. Summit Seminars, meant to generate greater understanding and positive relationships between hikers and the local business community. This is her second year serving as a Unicoi County A.T. Ambassador. 

RobMartinJune2012Joining Miss Janet this year is Rob Martin. Rob graduated from East Tennessee State University with a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. He is an ATC member and a Life Scout in Boy Scouts of America. As an A.T. Community™ Ambassador, he plans to volunteer his time maintaining the Trail and providing support to hikers. As an avid outdoorsman, Martin frequently hikes along the A.T. and kayaks in the Nolichucky River.

J.D.J.D. Hibbitts grew up in Southwest Virginia, but roamed the globe for a few years as an enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force. After finishing his enlistment, he enrolled at Emory & Henry College. Most recently, he finished his M.F.A. at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He has been a dishwasher, a granite salesman, a warehouse worker, and a writing instructor. His writing appears in the following publications: ThugLitSan Pedro River Review, AT Journeys Magazine, Sugar House ReviewClinch Mountain ReviewPrime Mincer, Jimson Week, Blue Collar Review, Poydras Review, and The Sierra Nevada Review, among others.

Diana Billips 2013 Diana is a board member of the Piedmont A.T. Hikers, operates the club’s hiking program, including monthly hikes, family FUN hikes and the “70 Mile Club.” She is responsible for maintaining a section of the A.T., is a lifelong resident of southwest Virginia and an avid hiker. This is her second year as an Bland’s Ambassador.
timTim attended Virginia Tech and attained a BS Degree in Forestry and Wildlife and a MA in Education.  He is currently a teacher at Central Academy Middle School in Botetourt County where he completed the ATC’s Trail to Every Classroom program in 2011. Miller is an Eagle Scout, lifelong hiker and backpacker.

Jennifer KeckJennifer serves on the Front Royal/Warren County A.T. Advisory Board, but is a liaison as Ambassador to Luray and Page County.  She graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BS  in Agriculture. She is the president of the Shenandoah Valley Tourism Association and the former Director of Tourism for Front Royal.  A trained Master Naturalist, she hopes to promote Trail-friendly policies in the local government.

Alyson (2)Alyson is an avid hiker and naturalist who has spent time in the woods around northern Virginia her entire life. As a public health professional, personal trainer and chef, she is interested in making people more mindful of how health, exercise and nutrition intersect. She hopes to use her position as an A.T. Ambassador to build a stronger awareness of the Trail, encourage volunteerism, conservation efforts and inspire community members to go outside for some fresh air.

Wendy HersheyWendy has a BA in Communication Disorders & Speech Science from the University of Colorado. She is an A.T. section hiker and looks forward to promoting Trail awareness with community outreach, educational events, Trail maintenance projects, and community hikes. Over the past four years, she successfully organized the Valentines for Vets program in her community, delivering over 300 handmade Valentines to local Veterans Hospitals each year. “I am passionate about the Appalachian Trail.  I love exploring on it.  I love the history behind it.  I love the permanence of it.”

Paul Smith, 2012 Ambassador to Duncannon, PA Paul Smith has a Degree in Forest Technology from the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He was involved in the designation of Duncannon as a Trail community in 2012 and helped coordinate the completion of a Trail themed mural in town. He enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, gardening, and planting trees. This is Smith’s second year as the A.T. Community™ Ambassador to Duncannon, and he serves as treasurer on the Advisory Committee.

CassieCassandra Kessman has a degree in Environmental Studies from MCLA in North Adams, Ma.  She has a love for gardening and native plants and works at Native Landscapes located next to the Appalachian Trail in New York.  She has hiked small sections of the trail in NY, CT, MA, VT and NH providing trail magic to hikers when possible.  She is also the educational director for the Pawling Nature Reserve and enjoys leading educational hikes for her community.  On her days off she enjoys yoga and continuing her education of plants through studying herbalism.

patty 2
Patty Harding is a member of the MATC, Maine Appalachian Trail Club, where she is a trail maintainer on Barren Mountain and corridor monitor in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. She is an avid outdoors woman enjoying year round outdoor activities with a passion for Maine’s mountain summits. Patty is a Registered Maine Guidein Recreation and Sea Kayak. She leads kayak and moosewatch tours on Maine’s rivers, lakes, ponds and ocean through her guide service.

Ambassadors – A Rockin’ Year!

11 A.T. Ambassadors served almost 3000 hours and recruited ~ 1000 volunteers to do stewardship projects and outreach on the A.T. this year.  Impressive!! Please check out all the great work they’ve done, and read the Ambassador 2012 Summary

Thanks to REI for supporting this 2012 program!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“The A.T. Ambassador experience was priceless. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process.” A.T. Ambassador, Donnie Kelley

If you are interested in trying out this experience for yourself, check out the benefits and position description for 2013. Letters of interest due Dec 20.

Interview with a Legend

– Post by Mary Bennett, Franklin’s A.T. Ambassador

This summer, I sat down with Don O’Neal, the Trail Crew Manager for the Nantahala Hiking Club based out of Franklin, NC to discuss what sort of activities a trail crew does, what skills are needed as a volunteer and what projects were underway.  Now Don has been the “Trail Boss” for 10 years, so he has years of experience – plus he is retired physician so if anyone is considering joining the crew they could not be in better hands!   Don told me there are about 8 – 16 people who show up on maintenance days.  Most of the volunteers are retirees who enjoy outdoor activities and have chosen Macon County as a retirement location.  The crew meets at the clubhouse every Wednesday at 9 A.M. to get the week’s assignment, check tools and coordinate carpooling.  When asked what skills are necessary to be on the trail crew, Don joked that “all one really needed was a strong back and weak mind”.  Most skills are taught on the trail and include the use of tools such as loppers, Pulaski, pick mattock or rock bar.

Due to the new A.T. shelter project at Long Branch, near Standing Indian Campground, a special “building crew” consisting of members with carpentry and construction skills (building forms, pouring concrete and prefab lumber work) has been working overtime.  This project is being accomplished in four phases: extending side trails to new privy location and water access, carrying water, setting piers in footers, pouring 2 tons of concrete; building the privy; post and beam construction; and final “dry –in”.  A local company, Goshen Timber Frame, generously donated cut logs for the project.

Back in June, I had the pleasure of joining the crew and got to experience the coordinated teamwork and hilarious comradery of the regular maintenance volunteers first-hand.  I packed my lunch, grabbed my water bottle, jumped in a volunteer’s truck and rode the bumpy old gated USFS access road to the A.T.  After sorting tools, buckets, and other equipment, we hauled the gear down to the work site.  I got to see the exquisite beauty of the new shelter- the rich cove forest and rushing stream featuring lush moss covered logs.  My task that day was to assist clearing and leveling spots for tent camping.  I saw how the crew worked together using logic and humor to problem solve.  After the day’s effort was complete and all the gear was packed back into the vehicles, a celebratory ale (or pop) was shared.  This simple tradition seems to seal the bonds between the crew members and contributes to looking forward to the next weeks assignment.

Recently, Don O’Neal resigned as Trail Manager and as evidence of his excellence in leadership the hiking club had to appoint three volunteers in order to fill his shoes!  He received an award from the Club for 10 years and 7000 hours of service.

Thank you, Don, for all you have accomplished for the NHC and ATC!

Macon County News Article on Don