Monday, April 14, 2014

Major Section of the Appalachian Trail in Southwest Virginia Permanently Protected

After nearly 30 years, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in Giles County, Virginia near the New River will be on permanently protected lands through the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Columbia Gas of Virginia, Columbia Gas Transmission, Celanese Corporation, the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, the Outdoor Club at Virginia Tech, and local governments. With this action there are only a few short segments of the 2,180-mile Trail corridor not in public ownership.

The final alignment of the A.T. in Giles County had remained unresolved due to challenges with Trail design, land ownership, and hiker safety issues. The current footpath location is on private property owned by Celanese and is open only at the discretion of the landowner. The current route parallels US 460, passes by Celanese’s manufacturing plant, provides minimal recreational or scenic values, is difficult to maintain and poses a barrier to certain land uses.

Through the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Forest Service and the ATC, in negotiation with the managers of Celanese and the local community and government, a new alternative route was identified on the Celanese property that provides a scenic and safe route from the New River to the summit of Peters Mountain. The new route alleviates impacts to adjacent private landowners, and minimizes the impact from nearby manufacturing operations. This is receiving broad public support. Celanese has generously donated an easement across 2.5 Trail miles for the new route.

The completed Trail will provide the local community with a much improved recreational experience. The proposed new A.T. route crosses the New River and U.S. 460 and immediately enters the woods. The new Trail will follow the New River for approximately one mile, offering scenic vistas of the river below before ascending a ridgeline onto Hemlock Ridge through terrain that provides a more remote experience and minimizes conflicts with Celanese’s operations. As it ascends Peters Mountain, it affords spectacular vistas of the surrounding terrain.

“The acquisition of this route is a landmark achievement for everyone who cares about the Appalachian Trail,” stated Ron Tipton, executive director/CEO of the ATC. “With this action more than 99 percent of the entire Appalachian Trail corridor is now in public ownership and permanently protected. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy salutes all of the parties to this agreement, and especially the U.S. Forest Service and Celanese.”

This Trail project dovetails with the southwest Virginia regional interest in enhancing local economies through outdoor recreation with a new initiative called “Appalachian Spring.” The A.T. provides numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, picnicking, hunting, observing wildlife, photography, and backpacking, to numerous populations along the length of the Trail. In western Virginia alone, the proposed new Trail section lies within a short distance of several of the largest population areas, including Blacksburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville.

This final protected section of footpath represents a monumental milestone as the A.T. management partnership can now fully apply its resources toward the protection of critical viewsheds, improvements to trail sustainability and expanding the corridor of A.T. lands. A $40,000 grant from Columbia Gas of Virginia and Columbia Gas Transmission will allow the ATC to complete this capstone Trail project. The ATC plans to build the 2.5 miles of new Trail during the Spring of 2014 and open this final section as quickly as possible, providing access to visitors from the local community, across the U.S., and around the world.

“The opportunity to make the final protected section of the Appalachian Trail a reality is consistent with our sustainability strategy and philosophy to be good stewards of the environment,” said Carl Levander, president, Columbia Gas of Virginia. “Each day, we work hard to build and maintain a modern energy infrastructure which incorporates innovative environmental conservation approaches like this collaborative effort in Giles County.”

Hiking in the Smokies

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