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March 2016

March, 2016

In last month’s Mountaineer I wrote of change coming for GATC and the way that we carry out our mission to protect and preserve the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.  These are not necessarily changes that we are initiating ourselves.  In most cases this pressure to change is coming from outside the Club.  These pressures are sometimes organizational and other times are simply the facts of reality that we must face.  We have every reason to be proud of the way that our leadership and the entire GATC membership have handled every issue that has come our way.  We have met and managed many issues in the past and we will handle the issues in the present in the same professional manner

Over a year ago, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Board adopted a Strategic Plan for 2015-2019.  The plan includes five goals.  Since the Biennial last year the ATC office and the Regional Partnership Committee (RPC) leaders have been introducing the thirty-one clubs to the elements of this plan and the importance of the plan to the overall mission of ATC.  In the coming months I will be writing about these elements.  I ask that each of you consider these goals and how they affect GATC.  This month I want us to consider the first goal in the strategic plan:  Effective Stewardship.
The description for this goal is “Be the leading voice with our partners in managing the A.T. and the surrounding landscapes.”  Designated outcomes for this goal include “Pinpoint and correct land deficiencies along the Trail”, “Address potentially hazardous road and water crossings”, “Minimize the impacts to the Trail from increased visitor use”, “Meet land management standards set by the Land Trust Alliance.”
GATC has worked with ATC for decades to identify deficiencies on the Trail in Georgia.  Every year the ATC Southern Regional Office (SORO) sends someone to work alongside GATC volunteers.  The plan has been to hike approximately 20% of the Georgia AT each year so that the entire Georgia section can be covered in five years.  Deficiencies discovered on these hikes have been added to trail issues database.  The problem has been that while we add deficiencies every year, there has not been any process for checking off those deficiencies as they are corrected.  As a result, the database has become unmanageable as it contains thousands of issues, most of which have been resolved.  The effort is already underway at the SORO office to improve the system so that Clubs can indicate when an issue is resolved.  The SORO wants to link this deficiencies list to the consideration and approval for future projects including Konnarock and others. 
As far as addressing hazardous road and water crossings, I am not aware of any specific plans by ATC or SORO.  However, many of us have directly experienced the danger of road crossings and the AT.  For example, at Neel Gap where we often take school children hiking, it can be difficult to anticipate when a car might come fast over the hill as you and others are trying to cross the road.  The problem for GATC in this issue is that we have no control over roads and crossings.  These are under the supervision of the State or local DOT office.  However, I believe GATC would welcome an opportunity to work with these agencies in order to make road crossings safer.
The issue of increased visitor use on the AT in Georgia is a fact of life.  GATC has the unique problem of taking care of the Trail where thousands of new, inexperienced thru-hikers begin their quest to Maine. Unfortunately, many of these new hikers leave behind a mess.  During March and April every year, the first thirty miles or so of the AT in Georgia become a mass of hikers.  Shelters become over crowded.  Privies fill up.  All sorts of materials that will never decompose are thrown into the privy.  Fire rings become filled with trash. Trees are cut down for firewood.  The woodchips from the privies are often burned.  The shelters are vandalized.  And, every year, GATC overseers go out and clean up the mess.  In some cases like Hawk Mountain, the area around the shelter and further out into the trees is stomped clean of any grass or vegetation.  
The ATC strategic plan calls on GATC and the other thirty maintaining clubs to become more proactive in managing this increased use and the abuse of resources that comes with it.  With the release of the movie, “A Walk in the Woods” last fall, ATC is asking clubs to prepare for an increase that might be as much as 60%.  GATC is already implementing a plan to meet this challenge.  We are in the process of building a new campsite at Hawk Mtn. and we are training Trail Ambassadors to be on the trail day and night to help educate hikers to better protect the resources along the AT.
Not sure what the Land Trust Alliance is all about?  I encourage you to check out their website and find out. 
I am extremely proud of everything that GATC is already doing to meet these challenges to change.  And I am certain that I will be proud of everything we do in the future to carry out our mission.  I invite everyone to come be a part of this.  We need your mind as well as your body.
Don Hicks, GATC President