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A Place To Start

We believe that the place to start… is in our communities. Americans living together and joining in associations across the country-this is where the tremendous strength and vision of our people will be tapped. We recommend a prairie fire of local action to sweep the nation, encouraging investment in outdoor recreation opportunities and re-dedication to the protection of our great natural heritage. – President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, Americans and the Outdoors, 1987.

Recently Heard on the Trail…

I have spent the past 26 years hiking the Appalachian Trail. I took one year off for my 25th wedding anniversary… In those 25 years I have traveled over 20,680 miles getting to the different sections of the A.T. I have tracked the miles but not the expense. I think it was worth it.

I would just like to make known that we might only represent 20% of the 2000-milers but we probably incur a much greater percentage of money spent on the trail.

I am an ATC member and will be for the rest of my life. Keep up the good work!

Edward D. Rakowsky
Frackville, PA


While the AT is a magnificent trail, what impressed us most during the five and a half months journey is people. Coming from New Zealand where trails are mostly maintained by government’s Department of Conservation, we were amazed to find the over 2,000 miles of trail completely maintained by volunteers to a very high standard! We were overwhelmed by the kindness of trail angels, people in the mountain towns along the trail who picked us up, sent us to the trailhead and received us with warmth. In short, our biggest reward for hiking the AT is to get to know American people, the ordinary American people.

Ian Song, Queenstown, New Zealand, ATC member

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]


Post by Kathleen Seiler, for PATC’s POTOMAC APPALACHIAN newsletter

Crossing the Mason-Dixon line north into Pennsylvania (lovingly nicknamed “rock-sylvania” by many!), one enters the Greater Waynesboro Area. For thru-hikers, the psychological boost of being just miles away from the AT mid-point indeed is a positive push.
Recognized as a valuable hiker-friendly area, with 6+ trail access points, 3 nearby post offices, restaurants, grocery and retail operations, as well as B&B’s, a motel (with another one to be constructed this year), Washington Township and the borough of Waynesboro offer a wide range of amenities.
Located within a richly historic area, with Gettysburg nearby, the trail actually crosses territory that saw the second biggest conflict of the Civil War in Pennsylvania, the Battle of Monterey Pass, July 4, 1863, where Union troops clashed with the retreating Confederates, during a midnightthunderstorm miasma. A new visitor center within a mile of the Trail is now under roof and set to open this year.
Environmentally, where the Trail crosses PA Rt. 16, borders a rare “relic plant area” at the Bicentennial Tree Trail blue loop, where over 80 species of trees exist in a small riparian zone along Red Run Creek. Also nearby is the Happel’s Meadow wetland preserve, a unique mountaintop area of natural progression that supports a variety of reptiles, amphibians, songbirds, raptors, and mammals (including bobcats) as well as endangered flora. A natural trail is also within a mile of the AT.
Economically, this designation of a Trail-friendly community provides new venues of marketing and tourism. More importantly, working together as trail-savvy volunteers and professionals with the town and township’s business and governmental leaders already has opened awareness on both sides of the table. Local North Chapter club members, Tawnya Finney, Chris Firme, and Kathy Seiler have worked diligently for over a year, developing strengths in these dialogues.
Perhaps most importantly, creating education for those who live in Franklin County and who may not have yet trod past a white blaze, from the youngest in a backpack to the oldest walking gently with hiking sticks, the Appalachian Trail Community program (started in 2010) forges a link — for future caretakers & supporters of the AT, for healthier citizens, and for the amazing “footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness” — for a day-hiker, section-hiker, or thru-hiker.
On Saturday, April 26, come celebrate the recognition ceremony, along with invited local, state, and national dignitaries, including Wendy Janssen, Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail; Ron Tipton, Executive Director/CEO of ATC; John Hedrick, PATC President; and Karen Lutz, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director ATC.
This major event has been folded into the community’s free Earth Celebration Day and Festival of Art, sponsored by the Renfrew Institute for Cultural and Environmental Education, located at Renfrew Park and Museum, 1010 E. Main St., Waynesboro. Earth Day events run from 11 – 4, including environmental exhibits, artist booths, music, student displays, food stand (usual fare but also “Ploughman’s Lunch” – slice of thick bread, cheese, and apple tucked inside a cloth napkin), children’s activities, and drum circle (at 3 p.m.). A recycle/reuse yard sale starts at 9 a.m. (
AT related displays will include the AT Museum (located in Pine Grove Furnace), The American Chestnut Foundation (which reaches out to PATC & ATC members to help with their yearly census), a “Meet the Hikers” area for interaction with thru-hikers and local trail “regulars” and angels, local hike information, ATC and PATC maps and materials, children/family hikes along Renfrew’s wooded trails, Franklin County Tourism (the day is also a “Spring into History” self-guided car tour for the county!), local businesses with hiker-friendly wares, Scout troops, Antietam Watershed Association with a Streamside Pinball game from Cacapon Institute, and Blue Ridge Summit Postmaster with the “Hiker Supply” box supplied by the local Girl Scouts — feel free to bring a donation! (toothpaste, energy bars, and duct tape are the most popular!)
The Appalachian Trail Community ceremony begins at 12:30. In case of rain, the alternate location is at Waynesboro Area Middle School, 702 E. Second St., not far from the Park. For more information about the previous 30 trail communities, see: