voices from the trail
Reflections on the A.T. and a career in the National Park Service
By Wendy Janssen

I am writing these words as I prepare to retire after 35 years with the National Park Service, including nearly 10 years as Superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Fulfilling the National Park Service’s mission has been my life’s work. I have been honored to work at incredible parks with amazing stories and landscapes, with people who have made a lasting impact in both my life and the lives of others, and for an agency with colleagues who exemplify the very best of government service. My career has taken me to many places and provided me with unforgettable experiences. I have had so many opportunities to contribute, to improve the resource, to work with those who helped write our collective American history, and to encourage the youth who will lead our future.

I want to thank the wonderful partners in the A.T. cooperative management system for your tireless efforts to preserve and protect this national and international treasure. The A.T. would not be what it is today without your hard work, expertise, passion, and commitment. All of you exemplify the power of one and of many — the work you do as an individual and the work we do collectively. The A.T. is truly a trail by and for the people. It is a tangible example of the importance of our national trails, partnerships, and communities.

As you may have heard me say before, the history of the A.T. is a collection of stories, as many as there are miles of trail, and as varied as the changing landscape from Georgia to Maine. I am so very proud of the stories written during my tenure and of all that has been accomplished with the small but mighty National Park Service team and our partners.

Super-intendent Janssen with a visitor
Superintendent Janssen with a visitor to the Minidoka National Historic Site who had been incarcerated at the internment camp during World War II. Photo courtesy of Wendy Janssen.
green scenery of national park
The view from Annapolis Rocks in Maryland is one of the scenic views documented in the visual resources inventory project begun during Janssen’s tenure as superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Photo by Bethany Coomes.
Highlights of Our Achievements
  • Created the largest landscape conservation initiative in the eastern United States — the Appalachian Trail Landscape Partnership — as co-convenors with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This included the completion of a strategic plan and a science and stewardship symposium.
  • Advanced our active National Park Service land acquisition program, including Bald Mountain (Maine), Hudson Farm (New Hampshire), Killington (Vermont), Hottle-Fahey Forest and Fernside (Massachusetts), Corbin Hill (New York), sites acquired in Pennsylvania with Susquehanna-Roseland mitigation funds, Hogan Hollow/Morgan’s Mill/Mountain Pass (Virginia), and more on the horizon.
  • Addressed a range of developments that had the potential to impact the Trail experience. These included a missile interceptor site in Maine, a casino in New York, transmission lines, wind farms, and pipelines.
  • Completed the first-ever inventory of all Trail assets (and an innovative web app), which has enabled a better understanding of facility resources, greater competition in project proposals, and receipt of more funding year after year.
  • Removed incidentally acquired structures along the Trail, with more to come.
  • Completed safety assessments and corrective actions to ensure visitor and partner safety.
  • Compiled and utilized natural resources data such as a vegetation map, geologic resources inventory, and a natural resources condition assessment.
  • Worked to remove non-native species, restore native habitat, and address species such as the golden-winged warbler.
  • Nominated for a National Register of Historic Places designation for the entire A.T., with 14 individual state segment nominations.
  • Completed a trailwide wayfinding plan to ensure consistent messaging across 14 states and multiple jurisdictions.
  • Advanced educational and youth-oriented programs, preparing the next generation to care for the A.T.
  • Completed visual resources inventories for Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which document the quality and components of scenic views so that changes to them can be measured over time. We also established a trailwide visual resources program and completed pilot inventory work in each of the four ATC regions.
  • Established the Triple Crown Partnership in Virginia, which included the development of a visitor use management plan and the completion of a transit feasibility study. This work has resulted in the pilot shuttle service to McAfee Knob, launched in September 2022.
National Trails are some of the best examples of 21st century conservation, and the National Trails System Act (of 1968) was far ahead of its time.
National Trails are some of the best examples of 21st century conservation, and the National Trails System Act (of 1968) was far ahead of its time. The purpose of the system was and remains visionary: “…to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and… to promote the preservation of public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation…”

I like to say that we’re in the “perpetuity business.” We are here because of so many who have come before, and what we do now is for future generations. The collaborative environment that we have amongst the partners of the A.T. and the level of community engagement are a model in the National Park Service.

The Comprehensive Plan for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail established the very successful and enduring cooperative management system — a unique partnership between many public and private groups involved in the management of the Trail. This system provides opportunities for federal, state, and local agencies, communities, tribes, and conservation organizations to work collaboratively so that we can leverage the natural, cultural, scenic, and recreational value of the A.T. towards common goals. My hope is that all of you continue to nourish and sustain an inclusive cooperative management system and make space for even more partners and fellow stewards.

The A.T. is a place for not only recreation, but for solace. It is a place for communion not only with nature, but with each other. It is a powerful expression of the relevance of our public lands and preservation in perpetuity.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail possesses the power of place, the power of people, and the power of partnership. Its story will continue to be written by all of you.

Superintendent Janssen retired in December 2022. An acting superintendent, Ed Wenschhof, was named on February 27, 2023. He will serve a 120-day term.