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Remodeling the Appalachian Trail

If you think remodeling your kitchen is a lot of work, what if you had a fixer upper that’s more than 2-thousand miles long. Yes, the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Florida and through Virginia is getting a makeover so it can be more accessible to people of various skill levels. 

Literally, one step at a time, volunteers have been remaking sectionss of the Appalachian Trail that are too vertical, too precarious or just worn out.

Bruce Agnew is a Volunteer Steward of the AT.  “Back in the old days, they just ran it up the side of the mountain. And we've been maintaining those steep grades for 50 years, 75 years. So, let's make the grade a little bit gentler."

We met up with him on a New Year’s Day Hike in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness that comprises Virginia’s Giles and Craig Counties. “It’s a three-year project, 6,000 linear feet, a lot of stone steps and a, a, a lot of cutting side Hill. Literally cutting into a hillside, pulling the dirt out, creating a nice flat trail as it winds around the side of the mountain.

And let me just show you one photo of a section of trail that we finished about a year ago,

He shows us a picture of one section with what looks like a gently curved a staircase to a stone mansion. But at the top, all there is more wilderness.  “Hey, great picture,” the hikers with us say.” “Very straight, and even."

The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has been doing this work and more volunteers are more than welcome. People come from all over the country and the world to help in these efforts. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, based in Blacksburg, makes sure they have tools and training to get the job done.

“We use local material within a very short distance of where the steps are going in. We're hauling heavy tools, but we're not hauling a stone any further than we have to.”

Several years ago, the Appalachian trail Conservancy decided it’s better to have a trail that is less steep. “People like people like me can make it up a gentler slope.”

Agnew is retired but he doesn’t appear to have slowed down.   “The new, gentler trails follow the available topography when possible. Some are relocated to make them more sustainable.”

“A steep trail erodes much more rapidly than a gentler sloping trail because water running down hill has a erosional capabilities. The gentler the slope, the less erosion, the less erosion, the less maintenance, the less maintenance, the less work that the trail maintainers have to do to maintain that section of trail that they're responsible for.”

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's flagship Konnarock crew program, founded in 1983, named after its original base camp in southwest Virginia, is looking for volunteers of all experience levels and backgrounds, any age over 18. No experience necessary. The ATC provides training, equipment, room and board.

“Here's a section of trail that we put in about 40 or 50 stone steps. It takes about three people, four people to move one of those steps into place. And I mean, to be a part of that and to be able to come back five years, 10 years down the road and step on these things and make sure they don't wobble….” Agnew Trails off:  Well, that’s a job well done.

Click here for more information about the Konnarock Trail Crew

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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