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.

Volunteers from the region’s famed Mid-Week Crew, part of the Pathfinders for Greenways, laid out and built both sections of the Catawba Greenway, and they tell you about it here.

RESTRICTIONS. There is no overnight parking at the Catawba Sustainability Center (CSC) or Catawba Community Center, and there is no camping along the Catawba Greenway.  See the RATC web page on McAfee Knob and Virginia’s Triple Crown for more details about camping on this section of the AT.

Three places to park for a McAfee Knob hike

PARKING

There are now four places to park for a McAfee Knob hike.

CATAWBA SUSTAINABILITY CENTER (CSC) – 5061 Catawba Creek Road (VA 779) is a two-minute drive from the McAfee Knob parking on VA 311. No overnight parking.

  • Drive 1.1 west (left out of McAfee parking) to the bottom of the hill.
  • Turn right on VA 779/VA-698 N and then immediate sharp right on VA 779. You will pass the post office and the Catawba Community Center. You will see two large old silos ahead on the right – that is the CSC.
  • Just after a mailbox, turn right into CSC at 0.4 mi. after leaving VA 311.  There are marked parking spaces for 25 cars, including 2 handicapped spaces.  There is a wheelchair-accessible port-a-pot.  The trail begins at the gate across the road. Follow the orange blazes!
  • Round trip to McAfee Knob: a little over 10 mi.

CATAWBA COMMUNITY CENTER4965 Catawba Creek Road (VA 779). Same directions as above – you actually see it first. No overnight parking.

  • Round trip to McAfee Knob: about 10.5 mi.
  • There may be a Farmer’s Market or other community activity going on.

McAFEE KNOB TRAILHEAD4440 Catawba Valley Drive (VA 311). Main parking lot for McAfee Knob.

  • Round-trip to McAfee Knob: about 8 miles.
  • Frequently very crowded, especially Friday-Sunday in spring (March-May) and fall (September-November).
  • See RATC page on McAfee and Virginia’s Triple Crown for more details.

CARPOOL PARKING FOR McAFEE KNOB TRAILHEADI-81 Exit 140 Park and Ride Lat/Long: 37.3071812, -80.0704427. Increase your chances of being able to park at McAfee Knob by decreasing the number of cars in your party. This lot has plenty of parking, especially on weekends, and overnight parking is allowed. It is about 10 minutes from the McAfee Knob trailhead via VA 311.                

HIKING THE CATAWBA GREENWAY AND THE CATAWBA GREENWAY LOOP. In addition to a new access route to the Appalachian Trail, this new trail offers a 1.2-mile round trip wheelchair-accessible hike to a picnic pavilion, and a 4-mile hike that combines two sections of the Catawba Greenway with a section of the AT.

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.

by Diana Christopulos, RATC Archivist

 RATC has been around since 1932, and we are finally pulling together all the records. Acting as the RATC Archivist, I am working to digitize it and write about it. This is the first story. 

The Founding

1932 graffiti from Nomad hiking club, whose members helped found the RATC. Photo by Jim Beeson

How do you make a trail building club out of three hiking clubs? Let them build trail where they like to hike. In 1932, Roanoke College had an outings club. So did Hollins College. And hikers from Roanoke and Salem, mostly women, had their own hiking club called The Nomads. On November 13, 1932, members of all three groups went for a walk in Carvins Cove, followed by supper at the home of Donald Gates, an economics professor at Roanoke College. Then they founded the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. Their own favorite hiking spots like Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob, Carvins Cove, Poor Mountain and Bent Mountain Falls would shape an immediate relocation of the originally planned AT route.

Like other clubs south of Washington, DC, RATC was the brainchild of Myron Avery, the driven and meticulous implementer of Benton McKaye’s visionary Appalachian Trail. Avery became chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 1931, when about 1,000 miles of the AT had already been completed. He was also president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and, like Johnny Appleseed, was busy planting new clubs between Georgia and Maine.

The founders of the RATC were hikers. Under Avery’s guidance, some of them would also become expert trail builders. After encountering Avery at an ATC event in the Smoky Mountains, Prof. Gates began corresponding with Avery, and he called a meeting of interested parties at the Roanoke YMCA on October 24, 1932. Next came a two-day meeting with Avery and other PATC members at the Hotel Mons near the Peaks of Otter on October 29-30. It must have been an impressive show. After day hikes to Sharp Top and Flat Top, PATC members showed movies and slides on how to mark and build trail along with scenic views on the completed northern sections. The next day they demonstrated exactly how to construct a trail.

Read more »

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

Read more »

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 Read more »

Have you hiked to McAfee Knob? If so, you probably had company! In fact, about 80,000 to 90,000 people a year hike to the Knob. Most of them have never been there. To help educate hikers on safety and Leave No Trace, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has established a McAfee Knob Task Force of trained volunteers in concert with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, National Park Service, US Forest Service and Roanoke County Fire and Rescue.

One day of training and practice hike will make you good to go as a volunteer ridgerunners!

WHAT: McAfee Knob Task Force volunteer ridgerunner training

WHEN: Sunday, September 23, 2018

HOW: For details and to sign up, contact Kathryn Herndon-Powell kherndon@appalachiantrail.org or call 540.904. OR join the RATC Meetup group www.meetup.com/Roanoke-Appalachian-Trail-Club and sign up there.

See you on the Trail!

Happy Hiker Hour is moving outdoors to Parkway Brewery in April!

The Bent Mountain community in Roanoke County, concerned about its land and water, is teaming up with Parkway Brewery on April 18, 2018 at 5:30 to enjoy a special brew, with all sales proceeds going to benefit the community in its struggle against Mountain Valley Pipeline. So RATC is moving Hiker Happy Hour outdoors and joining in. This will also be Trivia night at Parkway, so feel free to team up and play.

Parkway’s General Manager has expressed concerns about the impact of the pipeline on the brewery’s water, which is drawn directly out of the Roanoke River by the City of Salem downstream from over 100 crossings of the the river’s tributaries on steep slopes where all the trees are being removed. This will unleash sediment that has been buried for many years.

See you there!

Every year the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Conservancy has 3 casual social events – an outdoor Corn Boil in the summer, a Holiday Pot Luck in December, and the Annual Meeting/Pot Luck in March. This year’s Holiday Pot Luck will be

WHEN:     6 pm, Saturday, December 2, 2017

WHERE:  Christ Lutheran Church (in the back), 2011 Brandon Ave SW, Roanoke

WHAT:      Bring a dish to share and join us in celebrating the holiday season with AT friends and family!

There’s always a wonderful array of food! Bring a food item for RAM’s food pantry if desired.

Help us recognize and honor volunteers from this year and the past.

Please contact Linda Akers if you have questions about the event. 540-774-4391 or lakers4350@mail.com

Are you tired of partisan bickering? Join us at 10:30 am tomorrow for a bipartisan celebration of the Appalachian Trail at the Pearisburg Community Center in Giles County. Google Earth map link here.

  • State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and Delegate Joseph Yost (R-Pearisburg) will speak, showing the bipartisan opposition that Mountain Valley has earned due to its disregard for landowners and the environment. Edwards and Yost simultaneously introduced legislation in the 2016 session of the General Assembly to rescind the state’s current survey law.
  • Diana Christopulos, President of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, will recall why we love the Trail and Trail towns like Pearisburg
  • Songwriter Leslie Brooks will provide entertainment, including her new anti-pipeline ballad.
  • Strange Coffee will offer coffee and donuts, with all proceeds donated to the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club!

See you there!  WANT TO DO MORE? SEND A COMMENT TO THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY BY AUGUST 22. A SAMPLE LETTER AND ALL THE OTHER INFORMATION YOU NEED ARE HERE.