Parting Thought
Parting Thought
North Carolina – By Daniel Burleson

A.T. – North Carolina – By Daniel Burleson

AS THE FIRST APPALACHIAN TRAIL PROJECT manager for the National Park Service, from 1976 to 1987, Dave Richie led a pivotal era of partnership building and land acquisition — he was also my father. His leadership and vision inspired a collaborative approach, which energized participation from the grassroots to the highest levels of federal and state government. He engaged the right people in the right place at the right time to protect a very threatened Trail.

My father had a knack for hiring extraordinary people. He was strategic, creative, and willing to look beyond the written resume for untapped talent. Then, he’d set the course, turn over the reins, and let that person shine. He championed volunteers and Trail clubs. When he arrived on the scene in 1974 as National Park Service deputy director of the northeast region, the A.T. was one responsibility of many. The Trail resembled nothing of the protected public corridor of today, with hundreds of miles on roads and private lands. The 1968 National Trails System Act established the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, but funds were sparse.

The challenge was on. Dave convinced the park service to create a fulltime position of A.T. project manager, a role he took on in 1976, and soon moved the office from Boston to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. An anti-bureaucrat, he put forward his vision for cooperative management with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) playing a prominent role. When Jimmy Carter was elected President, Dave was instrumental in securing a $90 million authorization for land purchases and easements in 1977. (Over the next 30 years, those would total some $220 million).

Despite his unassuming demeanor, my father was competitive, as I knew well from running long distances with him. He ran the Boston Marathon twice at a fast clip. Losing the race to save the Trail was not an option. A naturalist and avid hiker, he also believed in firsthand experience — covering the entire Trail in sections, from 1979 to 1986. I joined him on his final backpack from Monson to Katahdin. On that first memorable day, we met Dave Field (still active in the Maine A.T. Club) and bushwhacked a flagged relocation, covering a grueling 20 miles. While I fought exhaustion, the two Daves exulted in the promise of a new route.

My father never stopped learning and believed in new ideas. If he were alive today, he would be thrilled with the Wild East vision of an expanded wildlife corridor, climate resilient stronghold, and lively Trail communities. After pouring through writings from his colleagues, I made a list of qualities they saw in him. Shun authoritarianism. Share responsibility. Choose principles over detailed prescriptions. Keep meetings brief. Listen well. Credit generously. Be kind. Greet adversaries with respect. Take flexible approaches to problem solving. Negotiate without compromising Trail values. The list goes on to form a theme, one that David Startzell (ATC executive director from 1986-2012) articulated well: “He helped me and many others to look beyond the thick haze of the challenges of the moment toward the bright light of the possible and to have the courage and faith to embrace a bold vision.” As my father’s daughter, I know he found his greatest joy in the success of others, and is there in spirit cheering us on to stay strong as we trek toward the next peak.

By Marina Richie