The 2000-mile long Appalachian Trail (AT) is the longest continuous footpath in North America and stretches from Georgia to Maine. An estimated three million hikers traverse its entire length or portions of it annually. Between all that foot traffic and erosion, the AT requires a significant amount of maintenance.
Local chapters of the Appalachian Trail Club (ATC), like the one in Roanoke, provide a lot of the muscle for regular maintenance trips on the trail. During the first couple of weeks of August, several members of the Roanoke ATC joined volunteers and paid staffers from the Konnarock Trail Crew, headquartered in Blacksburg, Virginia to repair hiker and erosion damage on one of the most heavily used sections of the AT in Southwest Virginia. The three and a half mile hike to McAfee Knob provides outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and valleys; near the top several hundred feet of trail was badly eroded and this is where the volunteers concentrated their efforts. By digging trenches and moving large rocks into them to act as water breaks, they in effect constructed water check dams. These will keep water off the trail and prevent erosion during heavy rain events.
Blanche Brower, one of the volunteers and the treasurer of the Roanoke group explains, “We have around 113 miles in the Roanoke area that we maintain. It’s to keep the trail open to keep the blow downs (fallen trees) done and to refurbish the trail where it needs work because of erosion and this one especially, because of the traffic, and we get loads of traffic here and at Dragon’s Tooth, but mainly here.” Josh Kloehn is the leader for the Konnarock Trail Crew and for 12 weeks during the summer of 2011 he led volunteer groups onto various sections of the AT for repair work. He says they do it for the fun of it, to get dirty and sore and just to have some fun. “It’s awesome,” he said. “We get here the first day and the trail is all rutted and you can see the erosion on it and see the damage that is done by the water and hikers. We come with just eight people and some club folks and I think the total of the structures we’ve put in as of now is close to 30. I mean they’re heavy rock and it’s tough digging. It’s awesome to see what people can do.”
If you’d like to volunteer to work on the Appalachian Trail go to http://www.appalachiantrail.org/get-involved/volunteer
There are numerous clubs in Southwest Virginia as well as in all the states which the AT passes through.