Researchers Seek Ecological Data about the Appalachian Trail

Jeff Marion, right, collecting data on the Appalachian Trail with Holly Eagleston.   (Virginia Tech photo)

Jeff Marion, right, collecting ecological data on the Appalachian Trail with Holly Eagleston. (Virginia Tech photo)

Researchers from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, announced they plan to gather ecological data about the Appalachian Trail in 2015.

According to a story published by Virginia Tech News on June 30, 2014, they will collect "the most comprehensive data set about trail and campsite conditions in the Appalachian National Scenic Trail's more than 90-year history."

(They're off to a slow start, in our opinion. We're not sure where they came up with the AT being 90 years old. The Trail was completed 77 years ago, as of August 14, 2014. The Appalachian Trail Conference was founded in 1925 ... but we digress.)

Click Here for Appalachian Trail History

Some scientists believe studies regarding the impact upon the Trail's natural resources by recreational users is lacking. To correct that oversight, a U.S. Geological Survey member will lead a team of skilled partners from Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University in 2015 to study the Trail, thanks to a $300,000 grant from the National Park Service.

Adjunct Professor of Natural Resource Recreation in Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment and Recreation Ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Jeff Marion will collect and analyze data "to characterize visitor impacts on vegetation and soils, develop sustainability guidance to minimize impacts, provide workshops on trail design for maintenance staff and volunteers, and provide education materials about Leave No Trace practices and outdoor ethics for schools, youth groups, and trail users."

Jeff's education goes beyond the classroom. He's been section-hiking the AT and, according to the story on the Virginia Tech site, Jeff only lacks 188 miles to complete the Appalachian Trail.

During his northbound hikes, Jeff noticed the Trail became more rocky and steep. He is concerned for the sustainability of the Trail's design.

Jeff Marion says, "Trails in the Northeast -- New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine -- were largely created by early hikers, not designed by trail professionals, so they tend to go straight up and down slopes rather than weave across the landscape, which is a more sustainable design. On the other hand, the north is heavily glaciated, exposing a lot of rock. It is reasonably durable, but constructing sustainable trail is more difficult."

Tropical Storm Irene destroyed trails in Vermont, for example, along with roads in that region three years ago. Such disasters cannot be prevented but can be mitigated through wise design and consistent maintenance.

Marion hopes their survey work "will apply a comprehensive set of measurements to assess the conditions and sustainability of the trail tread, shelters, and campsites, creating a comprehensive, spatially referenced database to conduct statistical modeling and geographic information system analyses."

According to Jeff, "The research results will be able to be applied immediately to improve the sustainability of trails and overnight camping. The National Park Service wants to ensure that the clubs have the information they need for science-based trail and campsite design and management."

We look forward to following the progress and constructive conclusions Jeff and his team will offer to protect the Appalachian Trail far into the future.

Click Here for Info on Jeff Marion's Plans to Research the AT

Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, and News

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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