As I write this, the government is partially closed, again. I cannot help but feel we are pawns in a political game where the players are immune from their decisions. Now we have a number of blowdowns on the trail that we cannot clear, and we have to suspend other maintenance activities. I hope we will be operational soon.
The gun range proposal continues to move along. Denny Rhodes, our Conservation Director, has been in front of this and has an update elsewhere in this issue. One thing that concerns me is that the citizens of Union County are being asked to pay for a facility that will be turned over to a club to operate. Anyone wanting to use that range must first join the club.
When a pilot takes off in an airplane, he has a destination in mind and a plan on how to get there. As an organization we need a similar plan to determine where we want to be and to develop a direction on how to get there. To accomplish this, I offer the following plan, realizing these points are fluid and need to be reviewed and adjusted as things always change.
Last year the board met a couple of times to work on developing a Strategic Plan for the club. In these sessions we went through a process of recognizing areas within the club, what they meant, how important they are and how they should be addressed. The following areas were identified for action (not necessarily in any order):
Diversity: We need to improve the demographic of the club to include younger and more diverse people. Younger people need to be ready to succeed as older members retire. This helps to ensure a constituency to carry on our protective work.
The Trail: Since our principle reason for being is the trail, we need to make a concerted effort to continue our good work in maintaining and managing the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. This includes a focus on education and an awareness in techniques to improve and share our knowledge.
Membership Engagement: In order for our club to thrive, more members need to become engaged in club operations. A few do a lot of the heavy lifting and we need to involve more people. Additionally, I have to believe there are a couple of hundred people in Atlanta and north Georgia who should be members of Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. We need to make it easier for people to find, join and become engaged our club!
Operational Excellence: Financially we are sound, with good reporting and oversight methods in place. We cannot take anything for granted and need to continue to govern ourselves to a high standard. Improved communication will make many things easier all around and can always be strengthened.
Visitor Use: The Protecting the Appalachian Trail Hiking Experience (PATHE) committee has been working to insure positive visitor experiences while maintaining the wilderness quality. Through education of users and club members, our trail can be maintained to high standards. Working closely with our partners is very important to accomplish these tasks.
Outreach: We need to reach out to various communities for the future of our trail. It is important to maintain the support necessary to keep our trail in the desired condition. Our club has had a strong outreach program for many years. We have hosted thousands of young people on day hikes, visits to the Len Foote Hike Inn and backpack trips. In addition, there are five A.T. Communities in Georgia that need further engagement with the trail. Certainly, reaching a more diverse audience increases citizen’s support of this natural wonder.
Advocacy: Protecting and maintaining the trail takes a lot of work, especially because there are so many forces that seem to want to tear it apart. We are very lucky that more than 50 percent of the A.T. in Georgia is in a federally designated Wilderness Area. Additionally, there are many environmental and conservation issues we constantly face that need attention. The Chattahoochee National Forest will be revising their operating plan in the next few years and we need to be a part of that process.
As part of the planning process, the board also did an analysis of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Only with a clear and objective look at who we are can we begin to find a direction.
Strengths: As an almost 90-year old club we have amassed a lot of experience, expertise and a very solid reputation. This is through the common passion members have possessed for a long time. There has always been a core group of individuals who have made major commitments to the trail and the club. We also have very high standards for everything we do. Much effort goes into productive planning to ensure outstanding events.
Weaknesses: The ethnic makeup of the average GATC member is white and retired. Core groups or cliques develop. While not exclusionary, they don’t seem overly inclusive. Often committee members are not engaged enough. Communication and technology needs updating.
Opportunities: The facts that our “market area” is near a major city, and the trail is usually within a short drive for many, make it easy to maintain and grow our club. There are many pending retirees and “empty nesters” looking for new directions in their lives. Because our club has so many operational areas, there are opportunities for members to become engaged in new areas of interest.
Threats: With different user groups using the trail, our club’s contribution may not be noticed. Meet-up groups are more visible and may appear more interesting. Certainly, we cannot become complacent in our ways.
From the perspective of a broad plan we need to develop specific objectives and action plans. Some specific objectives to consider include:
- Lower the average age of the members.
- Recruit more committee members and disperse the work load.
- Include more diversity in our membership.
- Each trail section would have two maintainers.
- Increase educational efforts with more training on trail work and more.
- Improve communication and technology.
I would like to say Happy New Year and personally thank all the members that help our mission move forward. With the support of so many dedicated members and great partnerships, our trail is world class. Looking forward to seeing you on the Trail.