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Improving the Sustainability of the Appalachian Trail

Trail and Recreation Site Conditions and Management

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) is a unique internationally recognized protected natural area encompassing more than 250,000 acres and a 2,190-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia.

by U.S. Geological Survey

photo credit: USGS

Cover: Improving the Sustainability of the Appalachian Trail


AT Trail and Recreation Site Research Final Rpt


The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) is a unique internationally recognized protected natural area encompassing more than 250,000 acres and a 2,190-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia. A.T. management responsibilities are shared through a unique collaborative partnership between the National Park Service’s Appalachian Trail Park Office (ATPO), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), federal, state, and local land managers, and 31 volunteer trail clubs. The diverse array of latitude, elevation, and moisture gradients traversed by the A.T. contributes to a rich biological assemblage of flora and fauna, while also accommodating opportunities for more than three million visitors/year. The A.T. attracts local, regional, national, and international visitors, supporting day hikes, weekend backpacking, and camping trips, section-hikes, and thru-hikes of the entire trail in a single year.

This research was funded by ATPO and administered by the ATC to accomplish the following core research objectives: 1) Provide quantitative, spatially-related, baseline documentation of the A.T. tread, informal trails, and recreation sites (overnight and day-use) to characterize the type, areal extent, and severity of visitation-related resource impacts to vegetation and soils, 2) Statistically analyze data to evaluate trail design and alignment attributes and recreation site biophysical attributes to develop sustainability models, ratings, and guidance, 3) Conduct analyses of tread and recreation site data to identify and describe the relative influence of key use-related, environmental, and managerial factors that can be manipulated through design and management actions to minimize resource and experiential impacts, and 4) Formulate Best Management Practices describing actions (educational/interpretive, regulatory, and site/facility management) that avoid or minimize resource and experiential impacts.

Published May 2020

About the Author


Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey has evolved over the ensuing 125 years, matching its talent and knowledge to the progress of science and technology. The USGS is the sole science agency for the Department of the Interior. It is sought out by thousands of partners and customers for its natural science expertise and its vast earth and biological data holdings.

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