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Archive for November, 2013

AT Mid-Atlantic Encroachments Map

Appalachian Trail Monitoring

Over the last three months, I have been working for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, as a Corridor Steward. Prior to the position, I did not fully appreciate what goes into maintaining the AT boundary. It is an easy thing to take fore-granted, and is just one of many invisible tasks that goes into preserving the trail for future generations. Many of those who have thru-hiked, have never seen the yellow blazes marking the boundary, and many regular trail users have little idea that it is there. Nevertheless, the yellow paint and the small metal monuments affixed to rocks and planted into the earth, mark the boundary of National Park Service fee land, that represents the corridor protecting the trail. Not all of the land is fee land. The AT is a checkerboard of easements and rights of ways, as well as forest service and state-owned land. But the trail is managed by the NPS at the top level, and much of the land is owned outright.

Fee land means you own the whole pie, (mineral rights, timber rights, etc.), and where this is the case the boundary is marked in yellow paint, and with monuments. With how closely guarded these monuments are, you would almost get the impression that they are holy items. But, with the NPS paying several thousand dollars a day to survey a tract, the monuments reflect some of that cost. They are plotted in lines, that when following the compass bearing between them, make up the property lines that separate AT lands from privately owned lands. There is a reason this is all important…

When private land owners over step their property lines and wind up on park service fee land, it is called encroaching. Often times the encroachments are minor, as in brush piles, or over-mowing… Other times, we have found bulldozers and illegal structures on fee land. It is important to remember that AT land is protected for its wilderness quality, and while that is not always the case in reality, that is the goal. It is important for the boundary techs to mitigate encroachments, to maintain the wilderness quality of the land. This, unfortunately, puts us in direct conflict with many land owners who consider forests to be very untidy places. They often feel that we are contributing to nuisance wildlife, or landscaping issues. They often take these matters into their own hands. Other people feel that as public land it is their right to hunt the land, even though the park service strictly prohibits it. As a boundary tech, I often serve as a sort of detective into these issues, gathering evidence that is then used to persuade trail neighbors into reforming their behaviors… This, believe it or not, is a huge problem, in the mid-Atlantic region. ArcGIS Map of Hunting Tower Encroachment.

Myself and another field tech working on the boundary.

Myself and another field tech working on the boundary.

Encroachments make it important to keep a well marked boundary. By doing so, we ensure that the trail remains intact in the future, despite efforts to fragment it. It is not as though there is some existing conspiracy against the trail, but there is a lingering discontent about the way land was procured for the trail (often through condemnation). Though the trail is meant to serve the people, there was undoubtedly a human cost to creating it. There is also a common misunderstand with neighbors about what public land means, and what uses are permissible. The more clearly a boarder is marked, the easier it is to push back against these issues.

While much of this work is done by paid professionals, most of it is done by trail club volunteers. Each fall they come out, when the vegetation has started to die back, to search out each monument, and to paint the blaze trees, to ensure that our lines are clear. Next time you hike the AT, remember them, and thank your local volunteers. Without them, the trail would not exist.

Encroachments Map

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