Dave in ATC uniform, standing on the AT with Carvins Cove in the background
Dave on a day of ridgerunning with Carvins Cove in the background

If you have hiked the AT between Georgia and Virginia in the last decade, you likely saw or met Dave Youmans.

Dave was a champion and stalwart of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) in southwest Virginia and beyond. He passed away on Thursday, July 4, 2024 in the company of his family and his life partner Amanda Kulkoski in Savannah, GA. Dave suffered a debilitating stroke during elective shoulder surgery in June.

Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, Dave moved to the Roanoke, Virginia area in 2013 from northern Virginia after being the managing partner of a real estate company in Maryland, a diver for a maritime construction and transportation firm in Louisiana, and a psychiatric social worker for the state of Delaware. An avid hiker, traveler, and outdoor lover; he quickly became involved with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).

With RATC, from 2014-2022, Dave volunteered in many roles: trail maintainer, land management supervisor, and club representative to the Virginia A.T. Regional Partnership Committee. He was also part of the inaugural cohort of Volunteer Ridgerunners, when the McAfee Knob Task Force was created in 2015. In 2014 and 2015, he volunteered a total of 9 weeks on the ATC Konnarock, Rocky Top, and Mid-Atlantic Trail Crews.

In 2016, Dave became an ATC staff member as Crew Leader for both the Konnarock and Rocky Top trail crew programs. With Konnarock, Dave worked on A.T. projects including the Justus Mtn trail relocation (GA), Standing Indian Mtn trail rehabilitation (NC), Backbone Rock relo (TN), and in Virginia: Mount Rogers High Country rehab, Bluff City relo, New River relo, Highcock Knob relo, and Rockfish Gap rehab.

In 2017, Dave became the A.T. Catawba Mountain Ridgerunner – a seasonal ATC staffer working daily on a popular, heavily-used, and impacted 40-mile section of the A.T. covering “Virginia’s Hiking Triple Crown”, including McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs (both on National Park Service lands), and Dragon’s Tooth (on USDA Forest Service lands). He remained in this role for four years – personally contacting, informing, and educating hikers, backpackers, trail runners, rock climbers, and dog walkers; while also leading and supporting more than two dozen volunteer ridgerunners of the McAfee Knob Task Force (MKTF). As Ridgerunner, Dave was the face of ATC, of RATC, and of the A.T. to thousands of A.T. visitors each season.

Amanda and Dave first met in August 2017 at Campbell Shelter while she was backpacking and he was on-duty as the Catawba Ridgerunner. Dave offered his contact information for any future trip-planning needs, Amanda followed up, and a long-distance romance was born.

In 2021, while continuing to be an active RATC volunteer, Dave became the Mountain Region Public Access Steward for the Natural Heritage Program of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Although this role took him away from the A.T., he continued to protect southwest Virginia’s beloved hiking destinations by interpreting the natural history and local regulations to visitors at Buffalo Mountain and Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserves.

In late 2022, Dave relocated to Savannah, Georgia to live with Amanda, while maintaining his house in Roanoke. Amanda and several of Dave’s family members will celebrate his life on a hike to Tinker Cliffs this summer.

Few individuals impact the A.T. and the people who visit it in so many different ways in such a short time as Dave did. He was able to engage effectively with a wide range of people from fellow volunteers to both tenderfeet and experienced trail hikers to agency decision-makers and affect positive change, always with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

Thank you, Dave – wishing you challenging trails and far views.

In remembrance of Dave, his family suggests donating to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
in Memory of David Youmans, aka “Ranger Dave”.

Dave taking a break during trail maintenance, looking over his should and smiling
Dave takes a break with the Konnarock Crew during Week 9 of the Bluff City Relo.

“I will always remember those dark smiling eyes and his snarky yet good-spirited humor.”
— DIANA CHRISTOPULOS, RATC Archivist & McAfee Knob Task Force Ridgerunner; past President of RATC and past member of ATC President’s Leadership Circle

“Dave always embodied what it means to be a steward of the Trail.  He was hard working and up for any task; joyful in service and truly happy to do the small things, both asked and unasked.  Those many small acts of service over many years added up to an incredible contribution to the AT partnership, to the RATC, and to the Trail he loved.”— ANDREW DOWNS, Senior Regional Director-South, ATC

“He always had a smile ready.”— JIM WEBB, RATC Trail Supervisor

“Dave stepped up to be Catawba Mountain Ridgerunner when we were in a tight spot and needed to hire quickly. I don’t think speaking with strangers was his comfort zone at first, but he was great at it. His genuine love of the Trail just shone through in a way that was contagious, for visitors and for everyone he worked with. He led by example with that quiet authenticity. It’s hard to set foot on the Trail in our region without touching something that Dave helped protect or improve.”— Kathryn Herndon-Powell; Central Virginia Regional Manager, ATC

“I “followed” Dave as the Catawba Ridgerunner starting in 2021 and have heard so many stories from so many people about him and his time working for ATC. I deeply appreciate the work he did and the legacy he leaves behind.”

SUZANNE NEAL; Catawba Ridgerunner, 2021-ongoing, ATC

“Dave was always so full of life and a pleasure to be around. He was truly dedicated to the Trail.”

MIKE VAUGHN; past RATC Trail Supervisor

“After camping at Lambert’s Meadow during an overnight patrol, I thought I was getting an early start only to find Dave already cooking oatmeal on top of Tinker Cliffs. As we sat, talked, and ate breakfast, the sky turned black. The hike/wade/slip down the Andy Layne Trail together left us looking like muddy drowned rats – Dave was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time.”

BRIAN WILSON; NPS A.T. Law Enforcement Ranger

“Dave was a happy, outgoing, knowledgeable trail and nature lover who passionately followed his heart, while living life to the fullest.”

BRIAN BOGGS; RATC Board Member and McAfee Knob Task Force Representative

“I always admire how Dave could find humor in even the most serious of conversations and situations. He was always a great friend and will be deeply missed. His legacy of love for life, the Trail, and the Trail community lives on in all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.”

CONNER McBANE; Natural Resources Manager, ATC

“Every single work hike or McAfee Knob Task Force hike I ever went on, I hoped I would run into Dave on the Trail. I truly did. I will miss him.”

MARK FARRELL; RATC member and Trail volunteer

“Dave was the perfect Public Access Technician for the Mountain Region (2021-2022). He expertly navigated his interactions with the public to both protect Virginia’s rarest habitats and help visitors to Natural Area Preserves have the best possible experiences.”

RYAN KLOPF; Mountain Region Steward & Natural Areas Science Coordinator, Natural Heritage Program of Virginia Dept. of Conservation & Recreation

“Dave was a wonderful mentor for volunteer Ridgerunners – knowledgeable and full of good humor.”

SUSAN TERWILLIGER; RATC Secretary and McAfee Knob Task Force volunteer Ridgerunner

“Dave is an inspiration as a life well-lived and a true hero of public lands who made an impact on everyone he taught, from meetings about agreements with boring District Rangers (sorry, Dave) to welcoming a new hiker to the outdoors at McAfee. Happy trails, Dave – you will be missed.”

DAN McKEAGUE; former USFS Eastern Divide District Ranger (2015-2020), current Deputy Regional Forester, USFS Northern Region, Missoula MT

“As Dave himself would say – “he was an OKAY guy.” (smile). I am lucky to have gotten to know and work with him.”

BILL NEILAN; past President of RATC

“Dave was a champ and was always great to work with. Whether dealing with a difficult Konnarock trail crew week or trying to reclaim an exceedingly challenging section of AT corridor boundary line, Dave never faltered and was always looking forward. His roguish grin was always appreciated, even more so when followed up with one of his dry comments. He did so much.”

JOSH KLOEHN, Senior Trail Operations Manager, ATC

“There are so many things I could say about working with Dave both as a volunteer and as a co-worker at Konnarock and Mid-Atlantic. However, the funniest was early-on, when teaching him and other crew volunteers about making “fine crush” for steps. I said, don’t hold a larger piece of rock crush between your thumb and index finger, or you may hit your hand. Dave immediately did exactly the opposite and hammered his thumb hard – he said: “You mean like this ?”

JERRY KYLE; High Country Regional Manager & Konnarock Trail Crew Program Manager, ATC

“Dave epitomized the enduring non-federal-governmental strength of the A.T. – as an ATC Trail Crew Leader, as ATC Catawba Ridgerunner, as RATC volunteer and club leader – always with his sly smile, that twinkle in his eye, his quick wit, and unfailing good cheer.”

PETE IRVINE; RATC volunteer troad maintainer and USFS-GWJeffNFs Trails Program Manager (retired)

Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is set to begin on October 26, 2023 in the vicinity of Symms Gap on the crest of Peters Mountain (NOBO mile 649.1) along the Appalachian Trail. For public safety, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has implemented a closure order that includes the area immediately surrounding the footpath through the construction zone. The AT footpath will remain open, but hikers are prohibited from stopping or loitering in the area covered by the closure order and temporary construction fencing will be installed along either side of the Trail.  

Hikers may see lights or hear construction sounds in the vicinity of the construction zone.

Hikers should plan to hike continuously through the construction zone and follow all directions from posted signs and pipeline or USFS staff. For more information, contact the Jefferson National Forest’s Mountain Valley Pipeline Project at 1-888-603-0261. To view the closure order and accompanying map, visit the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests’ website and click on Closure Order – Peters Mountain Right-of-Way for the order information or the subordinate bullet Map of closure area for a map of the area.

Any questions should be directed to the USFS MVP Project at 1-888-603-0261.

The following is directly from a Forest Service News Release. Beth Christensen, District Ranger, Eastern Divide Ranger District 540-552-4641

Catawba, August 21, 2023 – The U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club announce a new effort to protect water quality, ecological integrity, and a rare species adjacent to the Dragon’s Tooth Trail in Craig County.

Special Biological Areas identified in the Jefferson National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan have specific management prescriptions and protections. This Special Biological Area encompasses the Dragon’s Tooth Trail and the Boy Scout Trail within the Jefferson National Forest, from the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot to the Appalachian Trail.

Visitors are asked to stay on the marked trail and camping is prohibited along these trails. Volunteers have posted signs directing visitors to stay on the marked trail and have roped off areas where vegetation needs to occur. Backpackers looking for a place to camp can continue to the Appalachian Trail where appropriate sites are available.

Beth Christensen, District Ranger on the Eastern Divide Ranger District, stated, “Forest visitors can help us save this unique ecosystem and promote its recovery. At first glance, areas adjacent to the Dragon’s Tooth Trail may look like many other places on the national forest and seem like a convenient place to camp. However, in the past year alone, the area impacted by camping has expanded by 10,000 square feet – trampling pirate bush and other species it needs to survive. By simply staying on the trail or hiking a little farther away from the stream to find a campsite, visitors can help improve this plant population.”

Alternative dispersed camping options include Lost Spectacles Gap, 1.5 miles from the parking area and 0.9 miles from Dragon’s Tooth at the junction of the Dragons Tooth Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Dispersed camping along the Appalachian Trail is permitted on National Forest lands.

“We appreciate the cooperation of all visitors in protecting this beloved area,” stated Tom McAvoy, Conservation Supervisor with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. “RATC volunteers are working hard to re-vegetate this sensitive area by clearly marking it, and educating the public about why this place is so special. With everyone’s help, we can ensure the longevity of the Dragon’s Tooth ecosystem for generations to come.”

Only one percent of the Jefferson National Forest is designated as Special Biological Areas, a classification given to the most unique and fragile ecosystems in the Forest. The Dragon’s Tooth Special Biological Area protects pirate bush, a rare native plant that can only be found in a handful of areas in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Pirate bush, a parasitic shrub, can only survive in a specific, delicately balanced habitat. Due to the popularity of the Dragon’s Tooth hike, increasing camping impacts have severely threatened this rare plant and their population is dwindling. The soil compaction and vegetation loss impacting its habitat has also led to sedimentation and pollution of nearby streams. Several other uncommon plants grow here and by protecting the pirate bush these other species will also be protected.

RATC Trail Supervisor David Dick's 1933 map ~ section around Roanoke

When the RATC was founded in November 1932, one of the first tasks was to finalize an A.T. route around Roanoke. The initial pathway marked in 1931 was not satisfactory to the hikers of RATC, and they convinced ATC leader Myron Avery to drop down from the Blue Ridge at Black Horse (Tavern) Gap, cross U.S. 11 near Daleville, and climb Tinker Mountain for a tough hike and outstanding views. Avery agreed and took the train from Washington, DC several times in 1933 to oversee completion of the new Trail. Avery’s PATC’S 1934 Guide to the Paths in the Blue Ridge touted the new route, sayin that: “Except for the Pinnacles of the Dan, Tinker Mountain is the outstanding feature of the Trail from the Natural Bridge National Forest to New River.”

David Dick, one of RATC’s founders and a certified surveyor, was the RATC’s first Trail Supervisor, and he also drew the first map of the A.T. from the Roanoke Valley to New River in 1933 at Avery’s request. As Dick reported at the end of the year, the map was printed by the PATC and sold as a fund raiser by both the PACT and the RATC.

Here is how Dick reported the work completed in 1933:

[Transcribed by Diana Christopulos, March 20, 2020]

Annual Report of the Trail Committee

Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

November 12, 1933

The Trail Committee during the past year has been primarily concerned with the location, the measuring, and obtaining the trail data for our section of the Appalachian Trail. The first problem that confronted us was the general location of the trail. The trail was originally located south of Roanoke – from Villamont along the top of the Blue Ridge, past Mason Knob to Adney Gap on Bent Mountain. This trail had been measured but not very definitely marked, and it would in a good many instances require a complete relocation. Considering this and also that there are few points of outstanding interest on the southern route, it was suggested and approved by the club to locate the trail along the more interesting route north of Roanoke. This has been done with the help of many of the members not on the committee.

A number of hikes were made by various members of the committee and the club to determine the best location for the trail along the northern route. In locating the trail we considered points of interest, viewpoint, accessibility, grade of the trail, and maintenance necessary to keep the trail  definitely marked. At very few places we were able to satisfy all the requirements. Some of the trail will be more difficult to follow until it is more suitably marked and cleared; some of it is steep, other portions offer nothing of interest and in such cases generally follow automobile roads and serve only as connecting links. As the trail is now located there are about 25 miles of automobile roads. Some may be changed so as to cover a more interesting section whenever the other trails are suitably marked and cleared.

Mr. Myron Avery assisted by various members of the committee and the club measured and obtained the trail data for our section of the trail on April 1st, 2nd, 29th and 30th. We also assisted Mr. Avery in measuring, obtaining trail data and marking 33.7 miles of trail from Bent Mountain Post Office to Tuggle Gap in Patrick County. As there is no organization to the care of this section it was routed along existing automobile roads and so requires no maintenance, other than a remarking once a year.

The success of these trips were greatly due to our President who, aside from his other duties, accompanied us on many of the hikes and used his car on most of these occasions. Others whom I believe are due special recognition are Dr. McGinnis who used his car frequently on trips and the Pownalls who accommodated Mr. Avery the two nights he was in Roanoke.

Two short sections of the trail have been marked. 6.80 miles from Black Horse Tavern Site to the county road and 1.2 mile along the road up Tinker Mountain. This is barely a beginning of the trail marking and making in our section. Mr. Avery has made some good suggestions on what should be done on this line. Our entire section should first be marked so that the blazes can be easily followed from end to end. Care should be taken to see that the trail as marked is exactly as described in the trail data. To do this a copy of the trail data should be used in the field while marking, and a member of the measuring party should be present. Where the trail follows roads passable by automobile the route can be marked by using a car. After the trail is entirely marked it can then be improved, where necessary by clipping the underbrush, etc. It will be clearly seen that the initial marking of the trail must not be delayed long lest we have difficulty following the route described.

As a general summary, our section of the trail is 68.29 miles long all of which has been measured and the trail data obtained. 8.0 miles have been marked leaving a balance of 60.29 miles to mark.

David Dick, Chairman

Report on Map

At the request of Mr. Avery I made a map of the section of the trail from Lee Highway [US 11] near Cloverdale to New River, for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s new Guidebook. The Potomac club has had 900 copies printed at a cost of $30.00 from which they sent us about 300 copies. I have incurred an expense of $2.50 in making this map which I feel should be borne by our club. Mr. Avery suggested that these copies sold at 25¢ would bring in considerable revenue for paint, markers, etc.

[Note: the RATC archive includes 3 copies of this map in 2 slightly different versions. The archive also includes a February 1939 article from the Roanoke Times, “Mountain Trails Call Score of Roanokers to Open Each Week End,” that features the same map and a detailed discussion of RATC and its section of the trail. DC]

David Dick

RATC volunteers helped Avery and volunteers from other areas complete the Trail all the way to New River, near Galax, and Dick drew the first official map of the route. It is shown below, along with an excerpt from the upper left portion crediting Dick with creation of the map. The full map and the portion showing Dick’s name are below.

David Dick’s 1933 map of the A.T. from the Roanoke area to the New River, drawn at the request of Myron Avery and published by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in 1934

For comparison, the map below shows the 1931 (yellow), 1933 (red) and present (blue) route of the A.T. in southwestern Virginia.

Source: “Virginia’s Lost Appalachian Trail,” Mills Kelly, 2023

Just in time for peak leaf season! Roanoke County is excited to partner with Ride Source to launch the new McAfee Knob Trailhead Shuttle Service. Starting on September 2, 2022 transportation will be provided from the Interstate 81 Exit 140 Park and Ride. The shuttle will take hikers to the National Park Service’s McAfee Knob Trailhead parking lot along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

The shuttle service is available starting September 2, 2022, through November 27, 2022, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Shuttle hours will vary with Daylight Savings Time. The last shuttle will depart from the trailhead 15 minutes prior to service ending.

September: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
October: 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
November: 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Tickets are available to purchase online at www.McAfeeShuttle.com.

Download the Waze Navigation App and click on the logo to route your trip!

McAfee Knob Trailhead Shuttle Logo with GPS link to get driving directions

Visit the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club’s description of McAfee Knob to plan your trip.

FireRd-Spotters-“Rose&4Thorns”-TerryShipley PeteIrvine DeeLamb BillNeilan MarkFarrell.

(Roanoke, VA). The Catawba Mountain Fire Road has been reopened to hikers following major work to improve the road for both emergency vehicles and the hiking public. The gated Fire Road runs parallel to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) on National Park Service (NPS) lands northerly from the A.T. Trailhead Parking Area on VA-311, approximately 10 miles north of Salem, VA. It serves as emergency vehicle access for incidents in the McAfee Knob area, a popular panoramic viewpoint and hiking destination, as well as forming a loop hike opportunity with the A.T. The road has been closed to all public use since January 11 for this project.

Read more »

Roadwork to Temporarily Close Catawba Mountain Fire Road to Hikers

Update: Due to weather delays, work did not begin on January 17 as planned. Work began February 7, and will continue until March 4.

(Roanoke, VA). Roadwork to improve the Catawba Mountain Fire Road for emergency vehicle use will require the road to be temporarily closed to hikers and all public use beginning Monday, January 17 through February 11. During this road closure, hikers will continue to be able to use the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to access McAfee Knob and beyond. This roadwork is weather-dependent and is being performed during the winter season to minimize disruption to hikers.

Read more »

On September 30, 2021, officials from Roanoke County, the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center (CSC), the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission and other organizations cut the ribbon to open the new Catawba Greenway. Hikers now have two additional parking locations for a McAfee Knob hike and a four-mile loop hike that connects two portions of the Catawba Greenway via the Appalachian Trail.  AT thru hikers can now resupply at the Catawba Post Office without walking down busy State Highway 311 as well.

Read more »

Diana Christopulos, RATC Archivist

From the RATC archives ~ 1950s

You will notice that I am referring to the Appalachian Trail as a Project. That is what it is in its present stage. Some of us look upon the Appalachian Trail as a completed trail. In fact it has been measured and blazed over its entire length and guide books printed to cover the entire trail. Such a situation may give the impression that the trail is completed, but it is far from completion.

It is safe to say that the section southwest from Roanoke to Iron Mountain near Damascus is the worst to be found in the whole length of the trail. . . I defy anyone to find anything of interest to the hiker except short stretches such as in Rocky Knob Park and The Pinnacles of Dan, and the Fisher’s Peak Area. These spots stand on their own merits, but they are connected by roads, mostly dirt but some graveled and paved. All wilderness aspect is lost. The very nature of this section detracts from the use of the trail.

In view of this situation, I have attempted to revive interest in a relocation project to get the trail moved to the West. This trail would, as presently planned, leave the present route at Lambert’s Meadow and cross the Catawba Creek Valley to North Mountain. From the Juncture with the North Mountain Trail the proposed route would follow in a general manner a line drawn to Hungry Mother State Park, and there cross over to Iron Mountain and rejoin the present trail.

Report of the President, James W. Denton
1949 Annual Banquet of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club
January, 5, 1949

RATC’s founders worked closely with Myron Avery to lay out, mark and build the original Appalachian Trail around and south of Roanoke in the 1930s. Their responsibilities grew in the 1950s, as volunteers led by two extraordinary couples worked with federal agencies and others on a monumental undertaking – relocating about 250 miles of the AT all the way to the West Virginia border. It took almost 40 years to complete the project, but RATC made a great start in the 1950s.

Most of the original route was on private land east of the Blue Ridge, with little more than hand-shake agreements protecting the pathway. Much of it also involved road-walking. As early as 1940, RATC club leaders and US Forest Service officials were advocating a complete relocation of the Appalachian Trail between Roanoke and the Tennessee border.i

World War II put an end to trail building and most trail maintenance. When people like Earl Shaffer, the first documented thru hiker, headed for the AT after the war, it was poorly maintained and poorly marked.

Enter Jim and Mollie Denton as well as Tom and Charlene Campbell. They all joined RATC after the war and revived its leadership role in the southern half of Virginia. Three of the four (Tom Campbell and both Dentons) served as RATC presidents, and they were at the center of both a major trail relocation and the lively social scene of the club.

The Appalachian Trail is again open between Pine Swamp Shelter to Clendenin Road effective 4/15/2021.

The power line tower structure has been repaired, but MANY trees remain down in the area. Work continues to remove and clear debris.

Map showing affected area of the Trail
Affected area between Pine Swamp Shelter (North) and Clendenin Rd (South)