ATC Announces New Visitor Experience Updates
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has announced plans to restructure their visitor experience in the form of updated visitor centers and hiker resources throughout the length of the trail.
In addition to thru hikers, the AT is home to a diverse number of visitors including millions of day hikers, section hikers, bird watchers, and artists, and the ATC is committed to providing opportunities for education and empowerment for everyone, no matter how you choose to use the trail.
Although the ATC is still putting together a full vision for the best way to provide resources that meet these needs, they are striving to approach visitor services in a much more strategic way. Think, more than passing out hangtags or managing campsite reservations. Instead, the ATC will focus on interpreting the historical, cultural, and community based aspects of the trail, and highlighting the geology, biology, and ecology found along the route.
One of the ways they plan to accomplish this goal is to both renovate existing visitor centers and build a new center in Damascus, Virginia (expected to open in Spring 2022).
The ATC currently manages three visitor centers, with a fourth on the way. Monson, Maine, and Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania are both seasonal centers that offer services during the typical season of use for the trail. Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and the soon-to-be-opened Damascus, Virginia visitor centers will function as year-round purpose driven resource hubs for trail users.
Additionally, the ATC has developed a dedicated visitor services team with the purpose of spearheading many of these initiatives. The team – comprised of both new hires and long-time ATC employees – will help better involve partners and communities that rely on the trail, and will focus on forming thriving relationships with the people and towns that call the trail home.
In addition to the projects mentioned above, the team will be working on creating a more robust resource library than is already present on their site. The plan is to fill this resource with more information than just the logistics of hiking the trail. Instead, the updated resource would be an in-depth library that would appeal to trail users of all experience levels and interests.
One of the most exciting aspects of the future plans is an easy way to help former hikers of the trail get involved with trail maintenance. Currently, there isn’t an easy resource to help past hikers get in touch with trail crews about stewardship opportunities. The ATC is hoping to build out a tool that helps bridge the gap between recreation and conservation, and connect these two aspects of the trail for all hikers who are interested in taking their passion for the AT a step further.
The new programs and renovations are currently being worked on by the ATC, with some initiatives – like the dedicated visitor services team and the Damascus visitor center – already underway. Other programs are planning to be rolled out within the coming months.
Information courtesy of the ATC (Shalin Desai: Vice President of Advancement, and Dakota Jackson: Associate Director of Visitor Services).
Featured image via the ATC
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