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August 2020

I used to think if we made it to the end of May before the weather got hot and humid we were doing well.  We made it through June and now in early July it is finally hot and humid.  I don’t mind hiking when it is this warm but I don’t like camping out, I need cooler temperatures to sleep.

Of course, we still have the Coronavirus in our lives.  It seems even more so with record spikes etc.  Earlier we anticipated things getting quiet through the summer bringing Phase 1 to an end.  The way things look, this may just keep going.  It is disappointing that some people seem to scoff at the idea of wearing a face mask and maintaining a “social distance”, and yet the number of cases continue to rise. 

The trail for the most part is now open, with the exceptions of Shelters and Privies.  There have been a few work crews maintaining the trail, in small numbers.  Our Sawyers have been active clearing over 50 blowdowns.  I suspect many members are even doing a little hiking.

As members of one of the finest hiking/trail clubs on the world, it is incumbent on us to set a good example to visitors.  When encountering others on the trail whether working or hiking, we should have a face mask ready to wear and be ready to step off the trail as much as possible. This demonstrates responsible behavior even though some people may not agree.

This summer I will be negotiating a new Volunteer Service Agreement (VSA) with the Forest Service (FS).  These agreements spell out our relationship with the FS and defines the scope of our work on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.  They are revised every five years.  Don Hicks and I worked on our current agreement three years ago.

Five years ago then club president Beth Rothermel and I signed the VSA for our Trail Ambassador program.  At the time it seemed easier to make a separate agreement rather than update the club’s agreement while negotiating the Trail Ambassador one.  That is now set to expire in September. 

Now, we will combine the two VSAs into one agreement.  I had a preliminary meeting with Derek Fusco and Nick Baggett (Kyle’s replacement) and we feel this should not be very complicated.  Don did a great job with the club’s agreement before and there are only a couple of minor matters to refine with the Trail Ambassador agreement.  I hope this will be finished later this summer.

We have a PATHE meeting scheduled for July 23, virtual of course.  While not much has happened since the last meeting in January due to the Coronavirus, it is important to keep this on track.  The biggest value of these meetings is that we stay connected with our partners and stakeholders. Keeping these lines of communication open strengthens our relationship making it easier to work together.  I don’t know what to expect for the next year.  We could see the Coronavirus disappear and a return to normal.  Or, it could go the other way, with more closures and cancelling the 2021 thru-hiker season.  At this point we need to recognize the possible situations and start making plans accordingly.

It is very important to have a large number of club members at the PATHE meeting.  We need to demonstrate our commitment and strength at these meetings.  To attend please register at https://forms.gle/pSReq92jGqh1FxdE6 and I will make sure you get the link and agenda the day before.

It remains unclear when we may gather together in person.  We have held several virtual Town Hall meetings with over 50 people attending.  This helps remind us that we are still connected and not alone.  I hope it has helped disseminate the issues we are facing and the changes being made.  The annual Business Meeting in all likelihood will be virtual in October, and probably the holiday party in December.

All members are invited to attend our bimonthly board meetings.  This is a great opportunity to learn about our club’s operations and how we are facing management and issues.  Please contact me for the link and agenda.

It is with disappointment that I announce that Betty Jewett has left the Chattahoochee National Forest.  Betty has accepted a position in Washington DC in the Lands and Realty section.  She will continue to live in Gainesville and work out of the Atlanta office.  

Pipeline Stopped!

According to the Wall Street Journal, the builders have halted the pipeline project threatening areas around and under the Appalachian Trail.  This is due to increasing pressure from environmental groups including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc. said Sunday they were abandoning the proposed $8 billion pipeline—which aimed to carry natural gas 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina and underneath the Appalachian Trail—citing continued regulatory delays and uncertainty.  This comes after a favorable Supreme Court decision overturning a lower court decision to not allow the US Forest Service to issue a permit.

Berkshire Hathaway is acquiring Dominion’s natural-gas transmission and storage network.  Duke said that it plans to invest in renewable-energy, battery storage and energy efficiency programs as it works to find cleaner ways to generate power.

Great American Outdoors Act

The U.S. Senate recently passed the Great American Outdoors Act.  If this Act passes the House and becomes law $900 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will be available for states and our federal partners to preserve lands for recreation and conservation.  This Act will also establish a five-year $9.6 billion Restoration Fund to address federal lands deferred maintenance needs.

Wilderness Areas Update

There are two proposed copper-nickel sulfide mines neat the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness tied up in the courts.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals has blocked an important Permit to Mine and Dam Safety for PolyMet’s proposal.  The same court has also required a new evidentiary hearing on the Water Quality Permit.

Twin Metals had a favorable decision from a Trump appointed judge that has been appealed to the D.C. Circuit-Court of Appeals.  Hopefully this will be receive a more balanced reception.

The Okefenokee Wilderness in southern Georgia is threatened by a titanium and zirconium mine at the door step its namesake national wildlife refuge (NWR). Twin Pine Minerals of Birmingham AL was informed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that a full environmental impact statement (EIS) would be required.  This caused Twin Pines to withdraw its application.  Instead, they have resubmitted an application for the first phase of the mine as a “demonstration project” spanning 898 acres.  They presumably hope to avoid the scientific scrutiny and public comments that are part of a full blown EIS.

As we navigate these trying times, remember to be vigilant and alert to stay healthy and safe.  By following prescribed guidelines we can remain safe and be ready for an exciting future.  While I look forward to seeing you on the trail soon, I will look for you virtually.