GOOD NEWS!

Beginning June 13. 2020 – The National Park Service reopened access to 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail known as the “Triple Crown”. The “Triple Crown” area includes the AT between VA Route 624 (Newport Road) and VA Route 652 (Mountain Pass Road), including McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. All sections of RATC maintained AT are now open.

Things to Remember:

Please follow all local health orders, including social distancing and practice Leave No Trace principles. No hand washing facilities exist on the trail, bring hand sanitizer. No restroom facilities exist on the trail or VA 311 McAfee Knob Trailhead Parking Lot

VA 311 McAfee Knob Trailhead Parking Lot is at 100% capacity and parking is not allowed on VA 311 – illegally parked cars may be ticketed and towed

No trail maintenance has been performed on the trail since March 15, 2020.Be prepared for trail obstructions.

Shelters and privies in all sections section remain closed

Plan your Triple Crown hike during the week, if at all possible. Weekend days can be crowded.

Enjoy your hike and BE SAFE!

https://www.ratc.org/membership

As you know, RATC is an active organization devoting countless volunteer hours to maintain and improve our 120 mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Funds generated from membership play an integral part in the club’s ability to provide trail and shelter maintenance. If you are not an RATC member or have not renewed your membership please join or renew your Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) membership and support the stewardship of our 120 mile Appalachian Trail (AT) section with both your membership and financial support. Membership information is available at

https://www.ratc.org/membership

Questions? Please contact RATC Membership Coordinator – Steve Urbaniak 540-588-5410 – membership@ratc.org

Highlights of 2019 RATC activities include;
• Resurfaced McAfee Knob/VA 311 Trailhead Parking Lot – $2,000
• Supported the “Virginia Triple Crown” Volunteer Ridgerunner Program – 52 Volunteers/1679 Volunteer Hours
• Contributed $5000 toward purchase of Doc’s Way property to protect McAfee Knob view shed
• Replaced roofs on Catawba, Wilson Creek, Jenny’s Knob, Laurel Creek and Doc’s Knob Shelters – $2500
• Replaced fire rings for 5 Shelters – $1100
• Repaired foot bridges at VA 620, VA 621 and VA 785 – $1000
• Held weekly trail maintenance hikes resulting in 350 steps being installed on Dragon’s Tooth, Sinking Creek (Niday Shelter side), Curry Gap and AT/McAfee Knob.
• 83 RATC Trail Maintainers worked >5500 volunteer hours to maintain our section of the AT
• Assisted Konnarock Crew with War Spur trail relocation
• Performed emergency repairs to Fulhardt Knob Shelter after fire
• Offered 60+ recreational hikes covering a wide range of difficulty and distance

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Sandra Marra, President & CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy released the following statement, March 23, 2020;

“In these unprecedented times, I am making an unprecedented request: please stay away from the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Whether your hike is for a couple of hours or a couple of days, staying away from the Trail minimizes the spread or contraction of COVID-19.

In a time when social distancing is necessary to minimize the spread and contraction of a dangerous virus, many have escaped to nature seeking isolation and unpopulated spaces. On the A.T., however, what they’ve found are trailhead parking lots exceeding their maximum capacities, shelters full of overnight hikers, day hikers using picnic tables and privies, and group trips continuing as planned. Popular spots along the Trail like Blood Mountain in Georgia, the McAfee Knob area in Virginia, and Annapolis Rocks in Maryland have seen day use reach record-breaking levels. Cars line the highways leading to popular day-hiking spots on the Trail. Hiking the A.T. has become, in other words, the opposite of social distancing.

These same crowds accessing the A.T. may not know how a simple half-day hike can spread COVID-19. While hiking, they may have eaten lunch at a picnic table, taken a break in a shelter, used a privy, or shared a map or food with someone unknowingly infected with COVID-19 and carried this highly contagious virus back to their communities at the end of the day. They may not have realized that ATC staff and

Trail volunteers have been recalled from the A.T. and cannot maintain the footpath, trailheads, shelters and privies that may be heavily (or permanently) impacted by increased visitor use. And, they may not be aware of the rural communities adjacent to the Trail that may not have the healthcare resources to help a sick hiker or volunteer or manage a COVID-19 outbreak should a hiker transport the virus in from the Trail.

Many day hikers see the outdoors as an escape from the stresses of these difficult times. But with crowding from day hikers reaching unmanageable levels and the lack of any staff or volunteers to manage this traffic, it is necessary that all hikers avoid accessing the Trail. The A.T. is not a separate reality from the communities in which hikers live – so, until the risk of spreading COVID-19 has reduced significantly, hiking on a heavily-trafficked trail like the A.T. potentially increases rather than reduces harm.

The ATC does not want to do too little, too late. We cannot close the Trail. We cannot physically bar access to trailheads or connecting trails. We can and do, however, urge everyone to please stay away from the Appalachian Trail until further notice.

There is an unfortunate truth about this virus: unless everyone is safe, no one is safe. So, take a walk around the block. Spend time with your loved ones. And, please, stay home.”

Responding to COVID-19

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COVID – 19 Information

RATC Members/Supporters

As a result of the COVID -19 pandemic we are all experiencing new and challenging times in our lives and on the Appalachian Trail.

In response to the best guidance available on effective ways to slow transmission the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) is suspending all club and trail-related activities for a least the next month to give local communities and the country time to realize the full impact of the virus.

The RATC annual meeting scheduled for March 28, 2020 will be postponed and rescheduled at a future date.

This is a rapidly changing situation and acting with an abundance of caution is the best course of action.

Thank you for your understanding and stay safe!

Jim Beeson
RATC President

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Appalachian Trail Friend/Supporter

McAfee Knob is one of the most beautiful and photographed spots along the 2,193 mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) and one of the Roanoke Valley’s defining landmarks. A large partnership including the National Park Service, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) will be implementing significant improvements over the next decade, but public support is critical now to get the project off on the right foot.

Popular, but also problematic, anyone who has visited McAfee’s, and that’s about 75,000 people from around the world each year, know that crossing the road can be dangerous, parking can be difficult and amenities at the trailhead are limited. To address these issues our partnership has secured funding to construct a pedestrian bridge over VA 311, redesign the parking area and add signage with a similar look and feel to Shenandoah or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One small, but critical piece of the puzzle is left: ATC is raising money to buy a 7 acre parcel of land immediately adjacent to the existing parking area (see map below) that would allow the National Park Service to consider a wider variety of improvements including bathrooms, safer ingress and egress, and better parking.

ATC and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC), the AT trail club that maintains 120 AT miles and 16 shelters from Lickskillet Hollow in Giles County to Blackhorse
Gap in Botetourt County, which includes the McAfee Knob Trailhead/Parking Area and AT up to McAfee Knob are working together to raise $200,000, to acquire the land, remove the structures and transfer it to the National Park Service. Once the parcel is acquired, the National Park Service will have all resources available to create the National Park experience that McAfee, our region, and visitors to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail deserve.

We must protect this property to contribute to the planned improvements. The land owner is an AT supporter, yet multiple developers have made inquiries! We need to act this property soon to prevent it from being purchased for other uses!

Please join with us to improve the McAfee Knob Trailhead! Can we count on you to support this project financially?

Donate on our website today! http://www.ratc.org/donate

Thank you in advance for your support of this critical AT property acquisition.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Jim Beeson, RATC President – president@ratc.org (540 986 5301) or ATC Central and SW VA Regional Director, Andrew Downs (504 904 4354).

RATC is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization

Want more solitude than the Dragon’s Tooth/McAfee Knob/Tinker Cliffs corridor on the Appalachian Trail? Just on the other side of the Catawba Valley, the NORTH MOUNTAIN TRAIL in  Jefferson National Forest offers about 12 miles of hiking and camping with far less traffic. The downsides: you may encounter a few mountain bikers, there are no water sources after the first mile, and there are very few views when the leaves are on the trees.  But this moderately difficult hike offers great views when the leaves are down – between November and late April or early May.  Plan a one-night backpack or allow at least 6 to 7 hours for a day hike. You can position cars at each end (Andy Layne/Tinker Cliffs trailhead and Dragon’s Tooth trailhead.)

The Hiking Upward website offers an excellent map and a detailed description, although the mileages differ slightly from those provided on Forest Service signage. The Forest Service map  is geared to people entering from the next valley west but it does include a description of the Catawba Trail that begins near the Andy Layne Trail parking lot. The entire North Mountain hike has excellent signage.

HISTORY. On March 1, 1978, problems with some local landowners forced the relocation of the Appalachian Trail away from McAfee Knob and on to North Mountain on the other side of the Catawba Valley in the Jefferson National Forest. This situation did not last long. On January 24, 1982  Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club volunteers Siegfried Kolmstetter, Charles Parry, Andy Layne, Mac McDaniel and Larry Wood brushed out the first mile of the new trail back to McAfee Knob. Although the AT is no longer there, North Mountain remains an outstanding hike, especially between November and April, when the leaves are down and the views most expansive.

View of Tinker Cliffs from North Mountain Trail (April 2019)

VISITATION. Aside from day hikers, the North Mountain Trail currently hosts two main types of visitors.

  • Mountain bikers know it as the Dragon’s Back and come from all over the East to ride it.
  • Backpackers also come from all over to complete a loop that includes Virginia’s Triple Crown (Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs) and the North Mountain Trail.

APRIL 2019 HIKE. Fellow RATC volunteer Susan Terwilliger and I met both kinds of visitors on our April 30, 2019 hike of North Mountain, with a helpful shuttle from Mark McClain. I had visions of a poorly maintained trail with lots of big trees blown down on the trail and a steady diet of rocks and steep ups and downs. I was wrong! This is a beautiful, very scenic trail with a good footbed for the the majority of its 12 miles or so. Only about 2 miles closest to Dragon’s Tooth is rocky and somewhat eroded. All of it is very well-signed.

We met at the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot and shuttled to the Andy Layne parking lot, so we could hike back to our cars. After crossing the paved road, we easily located the Forest Service kiosk describing the trail and began our upward climb of a little more than 2 miles. The trail was well maintained and follows Catawba Creek for about a mile. The creek has some lovely small waterfalls and would be a good water source in wetter months. There is no water once the trail leaves the creek.

Turning left onto the North Mountain Trail at the top of the ridge, it is easy to follow your progress because there are three intersecting Forest Service trails with excellent new signage: Turkey Trail (about 5 miles into the hike), Grouse Trail (about 8 miles into it) and Deer Trail (about 9.5 miles into the hike). Although there is no water on the long ridge top, there are many unofficial campsites and, at least when the leaves are down, many outstanding views in both directions – looking towards the Catawba Valley and towards West Virginia.

Much of the land west of the ridge top is also in Jefferson National Forest, but some sections of the trail are quite narrow and some remains in private hands at the time of this writing. When you see red paint on the trees, you are seeing a Forest Service boundary.

The last 2 miles or so heading south are fairly rocky, with a somewhat steep and eroded descent to Va 311. Turn right at the bottom and walk a short distance along 311 to the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot entrance on your left. You are back!

We stopped for snacks twice and took a lot of photos and still completed the hike in just under 7 hours. Enjoy!

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The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club is looking for new volunteers to protect McAfee Knob and Dragons Tooth as Volunteer Ridgerunners. The final Training Day of 2019 will be Saturday, September 7 from 9 am to 4 pm. Please email Kathryn Herndon-Powell or call her at 540-904-4316 to attend.

Volunteer Ridgerunners engage hikers in friendly conversations about the natural and cultural significance of this area and tips on best practices for enjoying the Trail safely and responsibly. They report on trail conditions and perform light trail maintenance to prevent small problems from getting worse–like dismantling illegal fire rings, packing out trash, and blocking social trails to discourage shortcutting. In 2018, 38 Volunteer Ridgerunners logged 1,125 volunteer hours, spoke with over 18,000 visitors and removed 570 gallons of litter!

If you want to join this lively group of dedicated stewards, you must:

–> Join the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club ($20/year)
–> Join the McAfee Knob Task Force Meetup group (free)
–> Commit to volunteer at least one weekend day per month (Fri/Sat/Sun), April through November
–> Attend a Training Day
–> Join an Orientation Hike

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As we get ready to start a new hiking season,  both hikers and maintainers might enjoy this piece I wrote in honor of Katahdin guide and caretaker Roy Dudley after finishing a complete section hike of the AT in 2008. Enjoy!

Hikers are from Venus, Maintainers are from Mars ~ Dedicated to the spirit of Roy Dudley, an early Katahdin guide who knew the ways of Pamola

 By Diana Christopulos (“DC Turtle,” 2008)

Once upon a time on a long winter night, Pamola, spirit protector of Katahdin, sent for Beaver, his steady minion. “I will put an end to the noise of Hiker and Maintainer always complaining about each other,” said the thunder god, stretching his gigantic wings and flexing his eagle talons.  “Their petty insults can be heard from Springer Mountain to my thrice-hidden lair.” Pamola swiveled his stately head and looked off to the south. “Bring them to me! Maybe I will finish them off.”

So Beaver went to the low country and found Hiker, who was enjoying a long zero day, lying on his sofa and eating a Snickers for dessert after a gobbling down Ramen noodles and Slim Jims.

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Photo c. 1980; all photos courtesy of Kolmstetter family

The mountains are calling and I must go. In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.  John Muir

One man who answered the call of our mountains was Dr. Siegfried J. Kolmstetter, who joined the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club in 1971 and passed away on February 13, 2019.

He and his wife Ursula maintained the McAfee Knob section of the AT for over 25 years.They came to the Roanoke Valley in 1970, where he worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Salem for 28 years. The VA hospital recognized Siegfried with its “Hands and Heart” award on February 14, 1992 for his compassionate attitude and unselfish service on the behalf of veterans.

 

March 16, 1971. Siegfried leads Brownie troop to McAfee Knob.

On March 16, 1971 – the same year he joined RATC – Siegfried led his first hike to McAfee Knob, guiding a Brownie troop and their leader to the summit.

On March 1, 1978, problems with some local landowners forced the relocation of the AT away from McAfee Knob and on to North Mountain. This situation did not last long, and on January 24, 1982 Siegfried joined Charles Parry, Andy Layne, Mac McDaniel and Larry Wood in brushing out the first mile of the new trail back to McAfee Knob.

 

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(Note: this blog is based substantially on a filing by the Indian Creek Watershed Association/ICWA to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission/FERC on December 21, 2018 – Accession No. 20181221-5334. As this blog was being posted, several more stories broke regarding likely violations of the Clean Water Act by Mountain Valley Pipeline. In a front-page story on January 23, 2019, the Roanoke Times reported a well-documented request by Roanoke attorneys to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a criminal investigation of MVP On February 15, 2019 the Roanoke Times confirmed that the there is a federal criminal investigation of MVP underway. And Roberta Kellam, former member of Virginia’s State Water Control Board – charged with enforcing the federal Clean Water Act in the Commonwealth – revealed potential violations by Department of Environmental Quality staff and very questionable behavior by DEQ Director David Paylor. Kellam wrote articles for the Virginia Mercury in December 2018 and January 2019. )

Before approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had to show that it would do no substantial environmental harm, supposedly demonstrated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) they issued on June 23, 2017 (Accession No. 20170623-4000). In granting the FEIS, the FERC relied on MVP’s stream scour and erosion analyses and plan containing specific information about pipeline construction at stream crossings along the entire pipeline route.

Yet within months of starting the project, MVP submitted a variance request asking permission to change its plan. In doing so, MVP admitted to the FERC that:

MVP runoff a foot deep on Cahas Mountain Road

The [MVP plan] was a theoretical desktop analysis and did not take site specific constructability issues (elevations, terrain, and workspace) into account. During its subsequent field reviews, [MVP] determined that execution of the mitigation measures, as written, would pose increased environmental or landslide risks or be unsafe or impractical due to terrain or geology.”

In response, FERC’s own expert consultant stated that MVP should be required to “provide a site-specific scenario… for each location [where MVP proposed to change its original plan].”

So it is clear that the FERC-approved FEIS does not protect the environment. Despite MVP’s confession, Paul Friedman (FERC Project Manager) or someone at a higher level overruled the FERC’s own expert consultant by

  1. Rejecting the expert’s directive that MVP do a site-specific analysis of every water body crossing on the route where MVP proposed to change its original plan.
  2. Allowing MVP to produce revised plans with lower environmental standards (June 2018).
  3. Failing to provide state environmental agencies or the public an opportunity to comment on revised plans.
  4. Approving, without opportunity for public comment, a project-wide variance (MVP-006) on September 26, 2018 that allows MVP to violate Best Management Practices without oversight.
  5. Producing this hasty variance approval at EXACTLY the same time that MVP announced a lengthy delay and major cost increase. MVP and its investors – not clean water, landowner rights and protection of public lands – seemed to be the core FERC audience for this action.
  6. Hiding the relevant correspondence from the public, the courts and both federal and state regulators.
  7. Trying to hide the name of the FERC Project Manager in documents that ICWA acquired through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA).

BY KEEPING CORRESPONDENCE SECRET, FERC DENIED INFORMATION THAT WOULD HAVE INFORMED DECISIONS BY FERC COMMISSIONERS, THE FEDERAL 4TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS AND THE VIRGINIA STATE WATER CONTROL BOARD, among others. Surely it would have mattered if decision makers had (more…)

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