ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — The National Parks Service and local trail groups are asking for public input as they address growing numbers on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
The Triple Crown, right here in the Roanoke Valley, is one of the most popular parts of the trail. It’s a 35-mile loop linking McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs. McAfee Knob alone sees 50,000 visitors a year and is the most photographed spot on the entire trail.
“In 2021, we removed over 500 gallons of trash from the different trailheads,” said Visitor Use Projects Manager for NPS, Rachel Collins. “This is a symptom of a larger issue.”
Erosion and damage to vegetation are other symptoms along our local trails as more people flock to enjoy the natural beauty. The larger issue is building an infrastructure to embrace greater numbers. The Parks Service doesn’t want to discourage people from coming; on the contrary, the crowds are a boost for our area says Kathryn Lucas at Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
“They hear about this most photographed spot on the whole Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine and that’s going to in turn bring them down to stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants, go see a show after their hike that evening or see one of our many incredible museums,” she said.
Instead, Collins and her colleagues are putting together a new Visitor Use Management Plan. It aims to meet critical needs for large crowds, like extra camping space and trash disposal. The plan also addresses parking and traffic issues at trailheads and messaging to encourage visitors in the off-season.
The public was able to pitch questions and ideas at the end of Monday’s virtual meeting, but Tuesday at the Salem Civic Center, there will be an in-person open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. where locals can share their thoughts on the future of the Triple Crown.