President’s Letter
The Appalachian Trail is a path that we walk on — but it is also a path that leads us in ways that we do not know or understand until we are well along the journey.
The Appalachian Trail near Roan High Knob Shelter in North Carolina.
Photo by Jason Breland
It’s springtime and there is change in the air. The landscape starts to emerge with green peeking out from brown and, maybe, snow cover. Bird songs fill the air and temperatures shift, sometimes with wide swings in a single day. The days are longer, and the sun is warmer. Accompanying all of this, for me at least, is a renewed energy and a feeling of anticipation. Surely all these changes can bring only good things.

Working on behalf of the Appalachian Trail, it is hard to not think about the importance and impact of change. As the Trail emerges from winter, the sounds of chainsaws fill the air as volunteers clear out the detritus of winter storms and winds — making sure the tread is clear for hikers. At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), we are hiring our seasonal staff and starting large-scale projects to support the Trail and the surrounding landscape. It is spring cleaning at its most intense.

There is also the kind of change that is broader and farther reaching. Looking towards our centennial anniversary in 2025, the ATC is recognizing that preparing for future changes requires us to also change our current way of doing business. We must be faster, more inclusive, and more audacious in our goals. Our large-scale landscape protection work, coupled with a growing science and stewardship focus, is one example of how the ATC is making sure the Trail, and the Trail experience, is healthy and protected not just for the coming season but also for the next 100 years. Developing programs that bring in new volunteers and offer opportunities for the digital generation to connect with nature will ensure that we have a broad base of support for the Trail as well as a dedicated future volunteer corps to continue the work.

While all this outward-facing work to prepare for or in reaction to change fills my thoughts, there is also a personal component to this contemplation. Those of you who know my story well know that my finding myself here, in this role today, was not something that I necessarily foresaw a few years ago. But that’s how change works — sometimes we direct the change and sometimes it directs us. Recently I have come to realize that regardless of what I thought, my life’s path — both professionally and personally — prepared me for this current role in ways I never imagined. It also has allowed me the rare privilege of doing work that fully aligns with both my skills and my passions. The biggest surprise for me is that I am surprised at all by this outcome. Yes, the Appalachian Trail is a path that we walk on — but it is also a path that leads us in ways that we do not know or understand until we are well along the journey. It is a place that changes everyone who steps foot on it.

The ATC wants to make sure that 100 years from now, people will still look to the Appalachian Trail for this experience. The purpose of the work we are doing and planning for is to prepare us to respond to things that could change this experience — climate impacts, increased demands for urban development, and growing numbers of people looking to connect with nature through the Trail. In some ways it is a conundrum — to mitigate change, the ATC must change. Resolving conundrums takes ingenuity, creativity, broad perspectives, and steadfast support. The ATC is ready and already working towards this resolution.

Thank you for continuing with us along this path towards our next century.

Sandra Marra / President & CEO
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