Every two years, Appalachian Trail hikers, enthusiasts, supporters, and conservationists get together at an Appalachian Trail Festival and Biennial Conference to swap stories, take a hike or two, and attend workshops.
Hikes, Workshops, Excursions, Entertainment ...
You can come for a day, the weekend, or the whole week. There are enough interesting events for a month. Some people come to hike sections of the A.T. near the conference site. Others want to learn about trail maintenance or how to get their children outdoors. Many attend because it's an inexpensive and easy way to see a new part of the country.
These meetings are held up and down the East Coast every two years. They're planned and hosted by Appalachian Trail Conservancy member clubs - there are 32 such clubs, from Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to Maine Appalachian Trail Club.
You don't have to be a "hard core" thru-hiker or an environment specialist to attend this event. The A.T. Festival attracts about 1,000 participants. So what happens at an A.T. Festival?
Hikes - Offered Saturday to Friday
More than 190 miles of the Appalachian Trail are featured in a series of section hikes from Dennis Cove Road in Tennessee to Kimberling Creek in Virginia. They range from easy (geology hike of 1.4 miles) to very strenuous (A.T., Iron Mountain and Feathercamp Trails Loop - 13.5 miles, 2,800 ft. ascent). You can hike to the Settlers Museum, which tells the story of people who settled southwestern Virginia. Several easy hikes end with a swim.
Lenny, my husband, and I are leading a hike through a magnificent section of the A.T. from Massie Gap to Elk Garden including climbing to the top of Mt. Rogers, the highest mountain in Virginia. We'll hike through a spruce/fir forest with open balds and might even see feral ponies.
Workshops - Saturday to Monday
Workshops are slotted in different tracks. This way, people interested in a particular subject can attend several workshops in the same track and not have a conflict. Examples of tracks include Natural Wonders with workshops on Birding by Ear and Digital Nature Photography. The Trail Management Track will interest trail maintainers and builders. If you've ever thought about thru-hiking the A.T., there's a Hiking and Backpacking Skills track for you.
I will be presenting A Hike through the Cultural History of the Carolina Mountains in the Cultural History along the A.T. track. Lenny will be leading a workshop on implementation of the climate change resolution, which commits the ATC to reducing its carbon footprint.
Julie Judkins, Appalachian Trail Community Program Manager in ATC's Southern Region office, will lead a discussion on Sustainable Tourism: Balancing Nature and Commerce. This workshop will examine the growing trend of sustainable tourism and highlight strategies that international and trailside communities are taking to conserve their natural resources while increasing their viability and economic strength.
And there will be international participation, including a discussion of The Great Ocean Walk on Australia's southwestern coast.
Excursions - Saturday to Thursday
Excursions are trips that show off the best of the area but are not hiking trips. You can kayak on the New River and bike the Virginia Creeper Trail. Less physical excursions will be led to the Barter Theater, the state theater of Virginia, and Abington Vineyards. You can visit the historic Mabry Mill, one of the most photographed landmarks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 176.2.
Trail Work Trip
All 2,181 miles of the A.T. are maintained by volunteers. Two trail work trips will be offered during the festival. Beginners are encouraged and will be guided by experienced trail maintainers. Tools and personal protective gear will be provided.
Evening programs and Entertainment
Major activities are planned for each evening. The festival is in the middle of the Virginia Blue Ridge where bluegrass music rules.
On Saturday evening, Wayne Henderson, a master guitar builder and bluegrass musician, will share the program with Jeff Little, a fantastic piano player steeped in the Blue Ridge tradition. I heard Mr. Little live and he is great.
You can watch July 4 fireworks in Abingdon, the closest "big town" to the conference. On another evening, you'll dig in at an ice cream social or attend a slide show on international hiking.
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Meeting
This one week trail festival is also the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Biennial meeting. This is where you learn how ATC works and meet the key players, including National Park Service staff. The A.T. is a National Scenic Trail under the National Park Service umbrella and managed cooperatively by the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, volunteers from 32 local A.T. Clubs, the USDA Forest Service, and other public land-managing agencies.
Pam Underhill, superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, will certainly attend. Dennis Reidenbach, regional director of the NPS Northeast Region, and Mike Reynolds, deputy regional director, have been invited.
Ned Kuhns, of the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, will chair the conference.
"The Steering Committee comprises volunteers from each of the seven A.T. maintaining clubs of Central and Southwest Virginia along with representatives of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy located in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia," Mr. Kuhns explains. "We've been working on this event for the past three years. By the time the conference concludes, thousands of volunteer hours will have been committed by dedicated ATC and maintaining club members."
But where do you stay?
You can stay in the campus residence halls, where most attendees usually stay. You can camp on or off campus or stay in a motel in Abington, Virginia.
Emory & Henry has a new dorm with private bathrooms for every room. The first people who register for the conference and request an air-conditioned double will be assigned to this new dorm, so register early. There are a very limited number of single rooms available. You can request a roommate for a double room or a roommate will be assigned.
Meals will be served on campus and picnic lunches.
Emery and Henry College is a small, historic college dating back to before the Civil War. The whole college is on the National Historic Register.
Register early. Registration opens on the web on March 1.
If the air-conditioned rooms don't get you to register early, an excursion through the pits and backrooms of the Bristol Speedway just might. There's only room for 20 people and I plan to be one of them.