Author offers best practices on how to be an A.T. ‘Trail’ Town

In past years, a large board has been erected at the gazebo on Main Street during hiking season upon which Appalachian Trail hikers could sign their name. Hikers also use the spot for photo opportunities to document their progress. The board is one of the many ways Franklin welcomes hikers to town.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Since downtown Franklin is just 11 miles from the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) at Winding Stair Gap at mile 110 from the trailhead at Springer Mountain, Ga., the town became the first to be named a Certified Appalachian Trail Community. Franklin businesses now celebrate the designation with a month-long Franklin A.T. Celebration that runs from the end of March to end of April. 

Franklin is hitting the mark in terms of providing section and thru hikers, who are attempting the 2,200-mile A.T., with hospitality, services, accommodations, transportation and more.

Amy Camp, who penned the book “Deciding on Trails: 7 Practices of a Healthy Trail Town,” describes much of what the thousands of annual A.T. hikers find appealing when stopping at towns near trailheads. 

“One of the practices is to cultivate a trail culture,” she said, during an interview from her home in Pennsylvania. “That’s a bedrock best practice. Creating a hospitable, welcoming culture and having a good infrastructure to make it safe and easy for hikers to get in and out of town is what a good trail community is all about … it’s a community that embraces a trail and sees the value of it and takes steps to invest in it.”

Camp, who is expected to be a featured author for one of Mainspring Conservation Trust’s upcoming monthly virtual book clubs, wrote “Deciding on Trails” because she was involved in a regional trail town program. She begin to understand how towns along major trails, like the A.T., benefit from hikers as much as hikers benefit from the towns. Hikers rest, resupply, take in local culture, help a town’s economy, and more. 

Her seven recommended best practices are:

• adopt a shared vision

• physically connect trail to town

• extend an invitation

• cultivate a trail culture

• know your market

• share your story

• commit to quality trails

“And it really sounds like Franklin is doing a lot of the things right,” said Camp.

“The main focus of the A.T. Community Council is to support the hikers, the Franklin community, and the community around the hikers,” said Natasha Sebring, co-chair, secretary, and acting treasurer of the Council. “Franklin does a good job of providing amenities, support … businesses do a good job of knowing what hikers need. The Macon County Transit shuttle is especially helpful and valued.”

A representative from the Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC) sits on the Council, and the NHC is involved in Franklin A.T. Celebration activities. Said NHC’s president, Victor Treutel , “Thru-hikers have stated repeatedly that Franklin is a town they would love to come back to, following their journey. This is due to our friendly people, beauty of the area, how we embrace the hiker community, and the support we provide them.” 

A more detailed schedule is forthcoming, but the Franklin A.T. Community Council, hosts of Franklin A.T. Celebration, along with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, has planned activities for hikers and the community with such local businesses as Lazy Hiker Brewing Company, Curahee Brewing Company, Outdoor 76, Three Eagles Outfitters, Gooder Grove Adventure Hostel, The Rathskeller, and more. Plus, the Macon County Public Library offers a full schedule of adventure, nature, and hiking-related events and lectures that are free to the public.