Congratulations to Clarke County and the Town of Berryville for being named Appalachian Trail Communities. As most locals know, the Appalachian Trail, or AT, straddles the Clarke and Loudoun county line atop the Blue Ridge as the trail meanders its way from Georgia to Maine.
It’s sometimes called the Long Green Tunnel by through hikers who walk miles and miles with their lives on their backs beneath the canopy. And it’s often called a footpath through the wilderness. Indeed, it does pass through wilderness areas.
It also traverses national parks like Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains, and national forests like the Green Mountain and White Mountain National Forest in New England and the George Washington and Jefferson here in Virginia.
But the AT is much more than a footpath through the wilderness. It’s a footpath that preserves a sense of wild nature even when it passes adjacent neighborhoods. Tony Hiss, the great American architecture writer who once wrote a book called The Experience Of Place, called the AT America’s Central Park. That’s a good description. The AT, after all, is a 2100-mile conservation corridor. Protecting the wild in it had to be figured out state-by-state, county-by-county, yard-by-yard. It’s an ongoing process.
For a trail to be both a world-class destination for backpackers and a community pathway for Sunday strolls takes a lot of people who get the vision. It takes many volunteers and thoughtful public leaders to use all appropriate tools at their disposal to take care of something so special. It takes conservation easements, county parks, state parks, and, when needed, federal land.
Figuring out how to do thousands of conservation deals, tweaks in local zoning, and strategic planning over successive generations is a greater testament to American ingenuity than both the technologies to enable smartphones and the ones enabling government to listen in.
When Benton MacKaye first proposed the idea for the trail in 1921, he did so in an article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, under the title: An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning. Back then, he wanted a way for city people to escape the city and enjoy nature. Now as cities have grown toward the trail, the project is maintaining that sense of place whatever changes in the land nearby.
When you’re up on the Blue Ridge, looking over the Shenandoah Valley, you know you’re walking through a special place. Unknown, though, is how much work and collaboration and civil dealings it takes to keep it that way.
So, way to go, Clarke County and Berryville! There will be an event to commemorate the County and Town’s new honor. See details on page 6.
Postscript: The AT lost a longtime hero with the death of Charles Sloan of Virginia in early July. As a volunteer lawyer, Chuck engineered the conservation of thousands of AT lands—including thousands in Virginia. Thank you, Chuck. We miss you already.