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.”

https://wildeast.appalachiantrail.org/explore/plan-and-prepare/hiking-basics/health/covid19/

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!

We love our dogs, and they love us. Should you hike together? If so, what common sense rules and actual regulations need to be kept in mind?

Should you hike with your dog? “Maybe” is the only accurate answer. We love many people who, for a wide variety of reasons, would not be good hiking companions. Same with dogs. The trail is physically challenging for both dogs and people. Hot weather, cold weather, and other factors can increase the challenge. Some dogs who are perfectly well-behaved at home are very territorial around other dogs and strange people. And then there are all the wonderful strange new sights and smells on the trail. I have seen a leashed dog slip the leash to chase a deer on the trail to McAfee Knob. A hiker was recently injured in Southwest Virginia when her dog decided to chase a bear and she intervened when the bear stood its ground.(Unleashed dogs are more likely to aggravate bears than leashed dogs.)

As with friends and family, just because you love to hike does not mean your dog will enjoy it. So start with shorter walks and work your way up, just as you would do with a person.

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The crest of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains follows the Continental Divide and includes more than 40 peaks over 13,000 feet high, with lakes above 11,000 feet high full of trout. Join Dan Phlegar of RATC as he shares photos and stories from over two decades of hiking in the Winds.

Bring a pot luck dish to share. All are welcome!

WHAT:  RATC Holiday Potluck

WHEN: Saturday, December 5, 6:00 PM

WHERE: Christ Lutheran Church, corner of Grandin & Brandon, Roanoke

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