Thursday, March 3, marked the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) 86th anniversary. The ATC has been instrumental in managing and protecting the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) since its inception and continues to work hard to protect these lands.
The ATC was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials who were working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. It is focused solely on preserving and managing the A.T. to ensure that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come. The Trail’s national offices, with a visitors center open seven days a week, have been located in West Virginia near the Trail since 1972.
The A.T. was the idea of Benton MacKaye, a forester and regional planner who proposed preserving a ribbon of connected wild lands as a tonic for the busy pace of urban life. Although the Trail was first completed in 1937, much of the original A.T. was on private land and roads. Over the years, the ATC has played a major role in managing and maintaining the A.T., primarily with volunteers, while also routing the Trail onto the wildest, most scenic lands of the Appalachian Mountains and securing a permanently protected corridor of land.
The ATC was instrumental in the passage of the National Trails System Act that designated the A.T. a national scenic trail in 1968 and, since then, has worked with the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and dozens of other federal, state, and local agencies to ensure a connected, protected greenway.
The ATC has several programs dedicated to Trail management and support, conservation, youth and education, and community engagement. These programs entail bringing people together to develop meaningful trail policies, accommodating learning from years of trail design and construction, and adapting to the ever-changing world near the Trail. The ATC also regularly advocates to protect the Trail’s landscapes and resources that represent the unique, inspiring, and oftentimes lifechanging, experience of the A.T.
The ATC’s newer initiatives, such as Appalachian Trail Community ™ and Trail to Every Classroom programs, help reach out to the next generation of A.T. supporters and visitors through education and outreach. By working cooperatively to steward the valuable lands that the A.T. traverses, the ATC is able to ensure those protected lands remain relevant and accessible to all those seeking recreation and solitude in the highlands of the Appalachian Mountain range.
This year also marks a significant milestone in the ATC’s history. On January 13, 2011, David N. Startzell, leader of a successful 30-year effort to place the A.T. securely on public lands from Maine to Georgia, publicly announced his plans to retire from the ATC at the end of this year. Startzell has been executive director since November 1986 and has been the longest-serving officer in the ATC’s history.
The A.T. is about 2,180 miles in length ranging from Maine to Georgia, making it the longest, continuous marked footpath in the world. Volunteers typically donate more than 200,000 hours a year on trail-related work. About 2 to 3 million visitors walk a portion of the A.T. each year.
In celebration of the ATC’s 86th anniversary, the organization will offer a 1-day only membership discount to the public on March 3rd. For more information or to become a supporter, visit www.appalachiantrail.org.
About the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy mission is to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail – ensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come. For more information, visit www.appalachiantrail.org.