The story below was written for the Hot Springs N.C. Tourism Association.

Hot Springs, North Carolina is one of over 40 trail towns recognized by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that the 2,193 mile national scenic trail crosses through. During the ongoing threat of COVID, outdoor spaces received record visitation in 2020 as travelers sought safe spaces outside, and our small trail town was one of them. The popular summit along the Appalachian Trail at Max Patch drew travelers from across the United States, and with that came increased human impact and waste left along the trail. A photo taken at Max Patch in the fall of 2020 made national news, displaying one afternoon of high traffic trail use that left the popular bald mountain looking more like an afternoon music festival than a scenic rural cow pasture in the mountains of N.C. Luckily, two nonprofits have been long-time stewards of our trail space, helping to maintain, advocate, and protect our beloved historic scenic trail, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Carolina Mountain Club. 

One way the two have joined forces is in creating a Trail Ambassador program to help educate visitors on Leave No Trace principles, monitor use, and help grow and protect the native habitat on the bald for future generations. 

“We’ve had various crews in place maintaining 94 miles of the Appalachian Trail for a long time, since before the Appalachian Trail itself was built. In fact, volunteers in the club helped build the trail back in the 1930s” shares Carolina Mountain Club Appalachian Trail Supervisor Paul Curtin. “Last year during COVID was the worst of both worlds because we really weren’t allowed out there on the trail to help maintain it and yet more and more people were coming out with no indoor spaces to gather. That’s why this big picture happened, yet we’ve known long before that snapshot that trail traffic and the human impact generated has been an issue.” Read the full article at hotspringsnc.org

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