Iconic Appalachian Trail Viewshed Officially Preserved After ATC’s Multi-Year Effort

One of the most iconic viewsheds along the Appalachian Trail has officially been preserved thanks to a multi-year effort by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).

What is now referred to as the “McAfee Vista Preserve” is made up of 6 adjacent properties, which were previously privately owned. The ATC was able to work with the multiple landowners to acquire the land, which makes up a significant portion of the McAfee Knob Viewshed.

Development of this viewshed “would have fundamentally changed the AT in Central Virginia,” according to Andrew Downs, Senior Regional Director (South) at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Andrew was a fundamental part of this effort and played a crucial role in working with The Conservation Fund, the local AT trail club, and previous owners of the land that is now the McAfee Vista Preserve.

View of land protected by the McAfee Vista Preserve project. Image by Christin Healey, via the ATC

The project came to light four years ago when a local realtor – who is also a member of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) – called the ATC to let them know that a key property within view of the McAfee Knob overlook was listed for sale. In about a week’s time, the ATC and RATC raised enough money to get the property taken off the market.

A Shifting Mission

Before this project began, one of the ATC’s main goals was to protect the trail itself by ensuring that all parts of the footpath were federally protected and no longer on private property. When this mission was officially completed in 2014, the ATC’s core mission shifted to protecting and maintaining the trail corridor and related viewsheds along the trail.

When additional property owners in the McAfee viewshed area approached the ATC looking to sell additional swaths of land, the ATC jumped at the opportunity to get this iconic scenic area protected.

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Andrew states that many landowners approached the ATC preferring that their land go towards preserving the Appalachian Trail rather than be sold to a developer. He believes this is a testament to the strength of not only the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, but of the connected network of 30 local trail clubs up and down the AT corridor.

Made Possible By Local Involvement

The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club is incredibly active and well-respected within their local community. This, in turn, ensured that landowners in the McAfee viewshed first considered the trail when looking to sell their land. Andrew’s hope is for all trail clubs to be equally as integrated into their community, which can help bring local awareness to the importance of the AT as well as create a local culture that respects and cares for the trail.

Funding for the project came from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Forest CORE Fund and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, as well as generous donations from members and supporters of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club and the ATC.

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Altogether, the McAfee Vista Preserve is 850 acres situated beneath McAfee Knob in the Catawba Valley (although a total of 1,300 acres have been protected through the efforts of the ATC and its partners). The largest single tract of land acquired during the project was 354 acres, and the smallest was a highly visible 48 acres. Although no trails or hiker access to the land is currently planned, Andrew says this might be a possibility in the future. For now, the ATC’s vision is that “the land will be managed to protect trail values, including wildlife restoration and viewshed protection.”

More Than Just a Footpath, and Far From Finished

In talking with Andrew Downs about this project, he made it clear that although having the AT’s continuous footpath and a handful of viewsheds protected is an incredible accomplishment, it can not be overstated how much work still needs to be done to protect the trail we currently have. At times, the AT corridor is only a few feet wide and vastly under-protected, with adjacent land only a stone’s throw away having the potential to be developed or dramatically changed at any time.

Hikers often make the assumption that they are walking through vast wilderness while on the AT, when in reality walking a few feet off the trail to dig a cathole often places you on private property.

Andrew urges all trail lovers to join a local AT trail club or become an ATC member. Even if trail maintenance isn’t your thing, trail clubs offer a vast number of ways you can help the trail and tap you into an expansive network of people who want to protect the AT. The McAfee Vista Preserve project is a great example of how people who love the trail are working through both local trail clubs and the ATC to do the necessary protections for the trail.

To get involved, find your local trail club on the ATC’s website or donate to the ATC here.

Featured image via the ATC

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