County takes steps toward becoming AT Community
Published 9:18 am Saturday, March 14, 2015
Carter County is taking one of the first steps toward becoming an Appalachian Trail Community through the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Julie Judkins, an ATC representative, joined a panel of key players from Roan Mountain, Elizabethton and Carter County to talk about how to apply for the designation.
“The main question is, ‘How do we get started? How do we do this?’ ” said Linda Watson, who is a Roan Mountain Citizens Club representative.
Watson said there is a wealth of support from her end of the county.
“There are a lot of people in Roan Mountain that want to have more awareness of the trail,” Watson said. “Several people have asked us what they can do for the trail.”
Ideas already were being generated during the meeting about how it would positively impact businesses and tourism.
“See, things are already happening,” Judkins said about the conversation that followed her presentation. “This is perfect.”
Local AT advocates such as Tim Stewart and Bob Peoples took some time to revel in a few features that make Carter County’s portion of the AT unique.
“We’ve got just over 80 miles of the trail,” Peoples said. “There’s also Overmountain Shelter, which Backpacker Magazine says has one of the best valley views in the country.”
“We’ve also got one of the highest mountains and one of the most beautiful waterfalls,” Stewart said.
Judkins was able also to reaffirm the notion that Carter County has some of the most revered sections of the AT.
“I hear from many through hikers that Roan Mountain is one of the best parts,” she said.
Roan Mountain State Park Ranger J.R. Tinch made sure to emphasize how important the AT is to various park activities, including guided tours and adventure camps for youth.
Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Director Mike Maines and Elizabethton Director of Planning and Development Jon Hartman were interested in learning more about how to draw more hikers to Elizabethton.
Judkins recommended that they offer a shuttle service.
“Marion and Smyth counties (in Virginia) have started doing a shuttle service on the weekends,” Judkins said.
Mains also pointed out that the designation may help promote their Walk Across Tennessee initiative.
The AT Community designation’s impact on local education was one of the most passionate topics.
“We need more teachers to get involved,” Watson said. “A lot of our students don’t even know (the Appalachian Trail) is there.”
While there is an ATC program called Trails to Every Classroom available for any and all teachers as a professional development opportunity, Watson said becoming an AT Community may inspire more teachers to take advantage of the AT as a learning opportunity. Judkins was able to confirm Watson’s notion.
“A lot of times the AT Communities are where we get the most applications,” Judkins said. “We do give priority to the teachers who are a part of AT Communities because they already have a support system.”
All of the leaders who attended the meeting were in agreeance that partnering with the ATC would help educate current and future stewards of the county’s natural resources.
“We need to educate the children,” Watson said. “That’s what we need.”
Chandrea Shell, a member of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Milligan Public Relations and Marketing Director, said Milligan has a hiking club that may be able to help out. She said she is in favor of this project because outdoor activities tend to foster better servant leaders.
“We are blessed to live so close to such great natural resources,” Shell said.
The Chamber of Commerce Director Tonya Stevens was asked by the panel to help the group take the next step toward completing the application — another meeting.
“We definitely don’t want to drop things here,” she said.
Stevens said she hopes the interest level stays high enough to finally complete this project.
“We’ve spawned some great conversation,” Stevens said. “There’s no doubt that the trail is an asset to all of Carter County and Elizabethton. We need to foster even more support.”
The application process alone can inspire a wealth of untapped opportunities in the community, Judkins said.
“The process of going through this application is really a catalyst for a lot of people and a lot of businesses,” Judkins said.
In order to complete the ATC’s AT Community application process an advisory board must first be created.
According to the ATC, board member can be, but are not limited to, elected officials, representatives from the chamber of commerce, business association leaders and local hiking clubs members.
The criteria also includes hosting an annual AT volunteer project, event or celebration, initiating AT educational or service-learning programs or projects, and including language for the protection of the AT in land-use plans, planning tools, ordinances and guidelines.
At least two of these requirements must be met before the ATC will consider the county’s application.
“I’m excited to create a marriage between the AT and Carter County,” said Jim Chambers, an Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association representative. “If you look at the application, we meet all the criteria already. This is exciting and probably long overdue.”
According to the ATC, the application can be turned in before September 1 or March 1. Approvals are considered by the ATC’s Regional Partnership Committee at their bi-annual meetings in April and October.
If Carter County is selected, they will receive signage to promote the designation and will also be featured on the ATC’s website.
For more information about the AT Community program, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/what-we-do/community-engagement/appalachian-trail-communities.