Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published March 2010

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“America needs her forests and her wild spaces quite as much as her cities and settled places.”

-- Benton MacKaye, Appalachian Trial visionary

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.), the granddaddy of all long-distance hiking trails, meanders its way along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. Stretching 2,178 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in Maine, the A.T. is the United States’ most beloved recreational footpath. Each year, approximately two million hikers walk some portion of the trail, whether it be a mile, the entire length, or something in between. The trail is unique within the National Park system because of its length, narrow shape, the role of volunteers in establishing and maintaining the trail, and the fact that management responsibilities are shared between the National Park Service and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

NPCA’s Center for State of the Parks recently released a report exploring cultural and natural resources along the trail, as well as threats to those resources and the visitor experiences the trail provides. Appalachian National Scenic Trail: A Special Report identifies incompatible developments (e.g., pipelines, power lines, racetracks) within and near the trail’s narrow corridor as a major threat to resource integrity and visitor experience; protecting against such intrusions when possible and mitigating the effects of necessary development are critical. Also of concern is the lack of comprehensive knowledge of the condition of natural and cultural resources that abound along the Appalachian Trail. In addition, visitors to the trail are not always aware of the significant natural and cultural resources protected within the trail corridor.

In the face of these and other challenges, staff at Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and Appalachian Trail Park Office (ATPO) are accomplishing important resource protection, monitoring, and education programs, in addition to working to protect the trail and viewshed from adjacent development that negatively affects trail resources. These efforts raise awareness of, knowledge about, and appreciation for the A.T. as a resource that is a part of local history and contributes to the quality of life of the people and communities through which it passes. The ATC and ATPO continually work to further protect the Appalachian Trail, including achieving the goals of placing every mile of trail under public ownership and listing the A.T. in the National Register of Historic Places.  


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