President’s Letter
President’s Letter

Resilience, Dedication and Aspiration

AS THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL Conservancy’s (ATC) president/CEO, it has been my privilege to share in the rich A.T. legacy. When I joined in 2017, I was immediately impressed by the passionate dedication to the Trail shared by our members, volunteers, partners, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and, of course, the ATC’s board and staff. I’ve had an incredibly fast, exhilarating, and wonderful run, so I’m sure that this being my last column will catch many of you by surprise — more about that below. Initially, I want to address a number of important items:

First, the incredible efforts made by first responders, hikers, and the whole A.T. community to the horrific assault that led to the death of U.S. Army veteran Ronald Sanchez Jr., and which severely wounded another hiker, reminds us all how much we depend on one another. Our hearts go out to the victims and to their families and friends — clearly reflected by the outpouring of love and support that the A.T. hiking and volunteer community has directed their way. Not long after this tragedy, Appalachian Trail lovers from around the world gathered for the 33rd Annual Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia. The yearly festival of celebration, learning, and fellowship was made more profound by our shared shock at this senseless violence.

Late summer sunset over the Nantahala National Forest/Blue Ridge Parkway

Late summer sunset over the Nantahala National Forest/Blue Ridge Parkway – By Jerry Greer

The mantle is ours to take up from Benton MacKaye in building and protecting the Trail. It’s our job to protect the “scenic” in the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and to pass along to future generations the Trail community’s legacy of resilience, dedication, and aspiration — the essence of “A.T. Strong.”

MacKaye’s goal was to provide residents in the eastern U.S. with a natural refuge and retreat from daily urban life. Knowing today that the A.T. is one of the last remaining contiguous open spaces in the East, ATC has sought to create a nationwide sense of urgency about Trail issues. We launched a public awareness campaign called “Wild East,” which has served as the common banner uniting the most inspiring and important treasures along the A.T. This past year alone, with our landscape partners, we have protected more than 35,000 acres. ATC is making your voices heard on Capitol Hill, and with state and local governments; rolling up our sleeves with A.T. communities, documenting scenic views…and doing what we do best — supporting the ongoing stewardship of the Trail and welcoming millions of visitors.

Serving as the president/CEO has been the fulfillment of many of my professional dreams. My decision to leave ATC as of August 31 comes only after deep reflection on my professional and personal needs and my belief that ATC is on a solid foundation to move ahead to realize its visions. The wonderful impact that ATC has had on me is something that will guide my future career.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to our board, members, and staff for giving me the opportunity to be the president/CEO of this remarkable organization, and for every experience shared, friendships made, and the good times we had together. Thank you all for all that you have done, for all you are doing, and for all that you will do. I leave ATC with wonderful memories, and with relationships with friends and colleagues that I hope will continue for the rest of my life. I wish you all the best.

In closing, we need to UNITE urban with wilderness, to UNITE the countless dedicated volunteers with hikers seeking to fulfill their personal aspirations, and to UNITE 14 States of varying terrain in one of America’s most remarkable undertakings — the Appalachian Trail.

See y’all on the Trail!
Suzanne Dixon