Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
At an August 9 meeting at the Macon County Public Library, the Franklin Appalachian Trail (A.T.) Community Council met to discuss upcoming trail and hiker needs – and how to bring more awareness and education to residents and visitors regarding the popular trail that extends from Georgia to Maine.
At the meeting were representatives from the library, Mainspring Conservation Trust, the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, Nantahala Hiking Club, and local businesses. Unable to attend were representatives of county and city government as well as someone from the U.S. Forest Service.
The group’s main annual goal is planning, logistics, and funding of celebratory spring events for hikers of the A.T. since Franklin was officially designated an A.T. Community by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, located in Harpers Ferry, Va. Franklin is the first main resupply/resting point of the south-to-north hikers, and many are picked up before the trail crosses Highway 64 at Winding Stair Gap 10 miles west of Franklin so they can come into town and stay, eat, and restock, before heading back out on the trail. From mid-to-late March until late May, thousands of hikers stop in Franklin.
For 2020 and 2021, typical celebrations involving food, music, giveaways have not occurred due to the pandemic, but the Council is moving forward with 2022 plans. The library’s Kristina Moe said she will be focusing on securing grants to help pay for the event as well and moving forward with A.T.-related lecture and event plans typically offered by the library each spring.
“It’s so important for as many people and groups as possible to provide general education to Franklin citizens about the wonderful resource they have in the A.T. and how we as a community can steward it,” said Rachel Newcomb, Conservation Outreach Associate at Mainspring. She and others discussed the possibility of establishing a “one-stop” website about the local A.T. efforts to include all the different organizations, trail safety information, events and more.
Also discussed was how to link 18-34 year-olds with the Next Generation Advisory Council so that they will be informed on the A.T.’s needs in the community. The Next Generation Advisory Council provides young adults an opportunity to network, volunteer, speak, and lead.
“It is in our interest to get more young people in organizations such as this,” said Natasha Sebring, who co-chairs the Franklin A.T. Community Council with Dani Hansen.
Victor Treuteo, who is the Nantahala Hiking Club’s new president as of July, pointed out that the 350 member club has active volunteers, but it is always “of value” to encourage young people to get involved. “The ultimate goal of all our efforts it to make the trail accessible and better for hikers, and to let the community know the value of the trail.”
Newcomb also shared with the group that Sept. 20-21 is when the National Trail of Tears Association will meet in the area for its annual conference. She added that attendees from all over the United States will come to Macon County and Cherokee and tour the Cherokee Cultural Corridor (a map of which is on the Nikwasi Initiative website) and stop in Franklin to view the Nikwasi Mound, part of the Corridor. The group discussed opportunities to bring attention to the A.T. while the association is visiting the area.
An A.T. Community Summit is planned for November in Damascus, Va., and the group considered the feasibility of sending representatives to brainstorm and gain insight into how the A.T. can be better promoted and supported locally.