(Correction: An error in the previous mailing of this issue misstated the acreage burned in the Fire Update article below. It has been corrected to 18,000 acres.)
2016... A Year for the History Books
By Bob Proudman and Beth Critton
Besides being the busiest year ever on the A.T. in visitor use (see “Sidehill” in the November issue
), it was the driest in memory, with drought and fire danger in almost all Trail states and significant fires in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (see below for more information). An unprecedented ban on campfires was instituted on the A.T. from Shenandoah National Park south through Georgia. In some places, solid- and liquid-fueled backpacking stoves and smoking were also prohibited.
At the beginning of this year, we made several resolutions (see The Register - January 2016
), and we want to look back at those.
One resolution was to maintain a perfect worker safety record
. ATC’s largest crew program, the Konnarock Crew, did achieve this impeccable safety record and received a Certificate of Appreciation from the USDA Forest Service Southern Regional Forester in Atlanta! The S.W.E.A.T. and Rocky Top crews had no major injuries this year, no claims, and no lost time due to injury.
However, two volunteers on other ATC crews suffered occupational illnesses. On the Mid-Atlantic crew, a case of poison-ivy dermatitis was so severe that the volunteer had to leave the crew early to get medical treatment. A member of a crew in Maine was hospitalized for dehydration and heat stroke, a deadly serious condition. Fortunately, she made a full recovery.
Another resolution was to keep better track of volunteer hours
. This year, we submitted to our federal agency partners the third highest number of volunteers and the second highest numbers of hours ever reported for the Appalachian Trail (see The Register - October 2016
). The updated Volunteer Leadership Handbook
, completed and disseminated this summer, includes information on reporting volunteer hours and on the Volunteers in Parks and Volunteers in Forests protection programs.
We also resolved to learn more about hazard trees
. ATC held four workshops on identifying such trees. Unfortunately, a hiker camping at Lamberts Meadow on Catawba Mountain in Virginia was seriously injured by a falling tree, requiring several surgeries. With forests under stress from droughts and insect damage, more trees are likely to fail and create hazardous situations. Trail club volunteers are asked to be vigilant for hazard trees while on their regular work trips, particularly at overnight sites and places hikers are likely to linger, such as overlooks. The land-managing agency and ATC regional office should be notified if hazards are identified so appropriate steps can be taken.
Storing food safely
was another item on our list. ATC’s Stewardship Council developed an Advisory on Animal-Deterrent Food Storage
, encouraging Trail clubs to install food storage devices or mechanisms at overnight sites and to provide education on safe food storage to Trail users.
Finally, we have a follow-up on last month’s report on managing visitor use. Dr. Jeff Marion’s study on sustainable backcountry campsite design at Hawk Mountain in Georgia provides an example of backcountry campsite design for increasingly high-use areas along the A.T. It can be found here
We wish you the very best Holiday Season and a safe, prosperous, and productive New Year.
Beth Critton is Chair of the Stewardship Council
Bob Proudman is now an ATC consultant contributing to
Fires raged in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, where “severe” to “extreme” drought conditions still prevail. As the late Dr. Lenny Bernstein (who served on ATC’s Board and Stewardship Council) pointed out for many years, climate-change modeling predicted that the southeastern states would grow much drier, affecting A.T. forests, communities, and water supplies.
(Great Smoky Mountains National Park photo: https://www.facebook.com/ChimneyTops2Fire)
The Chimney Top 2 and Cobbly Nob fires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, comprise the worst eastern fires we’ve ever witnessed along the A.T. Gatlinburg and much of Pigeon Forge were evacuated. The firestorm caused 14 fatalities, destroyed almost 2,500 buildings, and encompassed over 18,000
acres. As of Dec. 16, the Chimney Tops 2 fire was nearly 100 percent contained. Thanks to a tip line set up by the Park, two juveniles have been arrested and charged with aggravated arson for that fire.
The Trail has been reopened in all areas affected by fire and no A.T. shelters or privies were damaged. The wooden roof of the Wayah Bald fire tower in the Nantahala National Forest was destroyed. The stone structure remains closed until a more complete safety assessment is performed by USFS. Trail clubs are continuing to assess their Trail sections, but it appears there was less impact to the Trail than originally feared.
Sustainable Camping Management
How should the A.T. community respond to increasing use? According to Dr. Jeff Marion, "Redistributing or limiting overnight use is certainly one management option, but substantial success can also be achieved by applying other tools from the visitor impact management toolbox."
In this report
, he describes the management efforts at the Hawk Mountain Shelter in Georgia to shift camping to more sustainable areas.
Jeff Marion is an Adjunct Professor in the Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation Department at Virginia Tech, where he works with graduate students in conducting recreation ecology research.
This month, the corridor stewardship program would like to honor our two hard-working seasonal technicians, Adam Fryska and Garrett Fondoules. Adam and Garrett are both A.T. thru-hikers who wanted to use their professional skills to protect and steward the A.T. lands that make up the corridor. They began working for ATC in March and completed their season in mid-December.
They led boundary maintenance trips, hosted training events, documented numerous encroachments (including a seven-acre timber harvest), helped to resolve and mitigate encroachments, and compiled and managed large amounts of data. They also inventoried snowmobile and other side trails throughout the state of Vermont and used the GPS data to research historical land records to determine which trails were permitted and which ones were not.
Adam and Garrett were a valuable asset to the corridor program, and we hope that many of you had the opportunity to work with them this year. May their careers in the conservation field continue to grow, and we hope to see them back at ATC next year!