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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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
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.
Allowing MVP to produce revised plans with lower environmental standards (June 2018).
Failing to provide state environmental agencies or the public an opportunity to comment on revised plans.
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.
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.
Hiding the relevant correspondence from the public, the courts and both federal and state regulators.
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 »
Many RATC members know Chris Means as RATC’s Membership Coordinator or as an early co-organizer of the Roanoke Outdoor Adventure Club. But there is a lot more to his story!
As Chris will soon be completing a long and successful career at Elizabeth Arden here in the Roanoke Valley, he’s already been thinking about the future. He still enjoys his work but admits that,
Undoubtedly I had the most fun in my working life at a skate/T-shirt shop in the booming metropolis of Charleston, West Virginia. I of course never made much money at this and eventually moved on, but the atmosphere was fun, my co-workers were incredible, and the job was essentially easy as love mingling with the public. I recall this as the ‘good times’ era in my life. Fast forward 30 years and I find myself entertaining the possibility of doing something similar, but with more thoughtful motivation.
The result is Outdrz.net, Chris’s web-driven effort (also found on Facebook) to combine four goals:
Create and sell great quality products through his online shop.
Get others addicted to the outdoors by any means possible. Vicariously will work, but my aim is to help others find the medicinal value I’ve stumbled onto out there, and if I’m really lucky, ignite a passion for conservation in a few individuals along the way.
Generate enough income to keep this little venture solvent, and who knows, maybe even make a buck or two.
Contribute a percentage of all profit funds to groups currently doing vital work out there conservation groups and other nonprofits.
The volunteers of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club wish everyone a joyful holiday season! As part of the celebrations, RATC has added a new t-shirt to its store, honoring our section’s famed Triple Crown – Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. It can be ordered directly from the RATC store using this link and it comes in both red and green.
The back of the t-shirt, designed by RATC board member Chris Means, features the slogan, “Easy on the Eyes, Hard on the Thighs” and photos of Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. The front has the RATC logo, designed by long-time RATC member Zetta Campbell. It features a hiker on McAfee Knob and the year of the RATC’s founding – 1932.
This is a great gift for anyone who has hiked the section or just loves the AT, and earnings go directly to the all-volunteer RATC, which maintains and protects over 120 miles of the AT in southwestern and central Virginia. We are one of 31 maintaining clubs along the AT and must earn all of our own funding.
The store continues to offer regular RATC t-shirts and hats in several designs as well through our partners at Press Press Merch.