Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Conference Meets In Western North Carolina

cars on Lake Shore TrailBears in Cherokee

Old cars remain on the Lake Shore Trail, left by people who moved out in 1943. Cherokee is peppered with painted bears all over town. Photographs by Danny Bernstein

SAVE THE DATES: Friday, July 19 to Friday July 26, 2013

Every two years, Appalachian Trail hikers, enthusiasts, supporters, and conservationists get together at an Appalachian Trail Biennial Conference. This year, the Deep South clubs will showcase the best hikes, workshops, and excursions of the region. We expect to host over 1,000 visitors at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, about an hour west of Asheville.

The biennial conferences 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.

Here are some highlights:

Hikes - Offered Saturday to Friday
More than 115 miles of the Appalachian Trail are featured in a series of section hikes from Deep Gap/Standing Indian Mountain in North Carolina to Mt. Cammerer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They range from strenuous hikes - Wesser Creek to Nantahala Outdoor Center (10.8 miles, 2,800 feet ascent) to easy - a family hike on the Oconaluftee River Trail (3 miles, 100 feet ascent).

One of my favorite hikes starts from Fontana Dam where the A.T. enters the Smokies going northbound. After about three miles, a side trail goes up to Shuckstack Tower, a historic fire tower that is barely hanging on. From there, you can see the world-a 360-degree view of the Unicoi Mountains west, the Snowbird and Nantahala Mountains to the south, the Blue Ridge Mountains to the southeast, and the Smokies to the east and north. Then you'll come down Lost Cove Trail to meet Lakeshore Trail. You'll pass old cars that were left when people had to move out as Fontana Dam and lake was being constructed. (11.6 miles, 2,600 feet ascent)

Workshops - Offered Saturday to Tuesday
Workshops are offered on hiking and backpacking skills, outreach, and education, cultural history along the A.T. and many more topics.

Van Hill from the Georgia ATC club will discuss fundamental concepts of making beautiful photographs along the A.T. Van has photographed A.T. iconic sites from Georgia to Maine.

Gary Eblen, of Diamond Brand Outdoors, will run a workshop entitled The Unbearable Being of Lightness. Diamond Brand, a local Asheville outfitter, has been providing clothing and gear for backpackers for 50 years. Gary will review how gear has changed from a thru-hike in 1970 to Jennifer Davis's speed hike.

As Gary has kept up with changes in gear design, Carolina Mountain Club's Howard MacDonald has kept up with changes in privy design and construction. Other A.T. trail-maintaining clubs have adopted Howard's innovative ideas on privies. He and his fellow retired engineers will discuss designs and operating methods on moldering privies.

Excursions - Saturday to Wednesday
Excursions are trips that show off the best of the area but are not hiking trips. You can raft with Nantahala Outdoor Center, visit the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, or explore the Biltmore Estate. Bikers can ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway or mountain bike at Tsali Recreation Area with Jim Parham, an experienced mountain bike instructor and guidebook instructor.

A day in Cherokee will offer a guided visit through the home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Besides the museum, you'll see art and craft galleries, a bookstore which carries maybe every book written by a Native American, Mingo Falls and even a peek into the Casino.

Entertainment
Two types of entertainment are offered most evenings: a slide show on an outdoor trip and local music. Jennifer Pharr Davis will talk about setting a speed record on the A.T. The next evening, I'll discuss my adventure on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy Meeting
This one-week conference is also the Appalachian Trail Conservancy 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.

Wendy K. Janssen, the new superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, will come if her travel budget allows it. Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Kristin Bail, Forest Supervisor of the National Forests in North Carolina, will be there.

The A.T. is managed cooperatively by the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), volunteers from 32 local A.T. Clubs, the USDA Forest Service, and other public land-managing agencies.

Mark Wenger, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says, "The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Biennial Conference provides the opportunity for our members, volunteers, partners, supporters, and the greater hiking community to come together and celebrate America's iconic Trail - the Appalachian Trail. Not only does this conference provide educational opportunities about the A.T., the ATC, and its partnerships, it also provides an opportunity to meet new people who are passionate about the Trail and its management."

Lodging and Meals
Almost all attendees stay in the campus residence halls. At WCU, the residence halls are new with air conditioning and private baths. You can tent camp on campus and even bring an RV, though there are no hookups. Meals will be served on campus and hiking lunches are provided.

Register early. Registration opens on April 15. Online registration is encouraged.

This Biennial is Personal
Lenny and I have been going to ATC biennials since 2005 but this one is personal.

Lenny is the chair of the Steering Committee for the ATC biennial, i.e. the head honcho. He and the steering committee started planning the biennial four years ago by securing the site at Western Carolina University. It's been ATC Biennial 24/7 at our house for quite a while.

I'm the chair of the excursion committee. I chose the excursions, worked on the logistics of each excursion, and found volunteers to lead the excursions.

But it's personal in another way. In my 35-year career, I worked for two employers, neither as long as 25 years. But for 25 years, Lenny and I have maintained a piece of the A.T. In 1988, we adopted a section from Lake Road to Mombasha High Point in New York State. Once we moved to Asheville, we got a section from Devils Fork Gap to Rice on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. This year, we get our 25-year certificate from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.