Celebrating Our Partners

Leaders in Conservation Awards Gala 2014//Photos courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Facebook page//Text by Olivia Pridemore, summer events intern

On July 16, we will be hosting our 6th annual Leaders in Conservation Awards Gala.  At first glance, awards ceremonies have an air of formality and prestige.  While that is certainly the case, it is easy to overlook the indirect benefits of such an event.  So what is it that makes an awards Gala truly valuable for a nonprofit organization like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC)?

Interestingly most, if not all, nonprofit organizations hold an annual awards Gala.  These types of awards ceremonies are great for revitalizing and invigorating current partners, as well as inspiring new members to join the cause.  For the ATC, the Leaders in Conservation Awards Gala is a time to reflect on all that we have achieved.  With more than 2190 miles, preserving the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is by no means an easy task.  Without the hard work of the ATC and our numerous partners, future generations would not be able to experience the natural, scenic beauty of the trail as we do today.  It is important to take a step back and recognize the progress we have made.

Due to the persistence of its champions, more than 99 percent of the A.T. is protected by right- of- ways, easements, state parks, and various other means of private ownership.  However, much has yet to be done.  Now that most of the corridor is protected, our focus can shift to maintaining viewsheds, curbing the impact of invasive species, and mitigating development proposals that threaten the quality of the hiking experience.  The Gala helps boost moral by offering encouragement and recognition of all we have accomplished by showcasing the fruits of our labor.  But it also reminds us to keep pushing forward.  For those who aren’t familiar with the ATC, the Gala offers enlightenment to the challenges involved with preserving and maintaining the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.  Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Leader’s in Conservation Awards Gala is also one of our biggest fundraising opportunities.

In addition to the fundraising aspect of the event, the Gala allows us to increase our presence in D.C.  Out of the 14 Trail states, 27 congressional districts are represented.  All of the Representatives of the aforementioned districts, as well as 28 Senators, are invited to attend the annual Leaders in Conservation Awards Gala.  The political opportunities associated with the Gala are absolutely invaluable.  The ATC’s connections within the federal government strengthen our ability to effectively preserve the Trail.  Together with our partners in the Department of the Interior, Congressional staff, and many other key individuals and organizations, the ATC uses its political front to lobby for land protection and obtain funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The Gala plays a large role in maintaining these political connections, as well as displaying our appreciation for continued support in preserving the Trail as a haven for all to enjoy.  Moreover, we strive to make the Gala a balanced, bipartisan event by honoring individuals from both political parties.  The main focus of the Gala is, in fact, the Trail.  By taking a fair and equalized approach to the Gala, we hope to create an environment in which we can foster friendly relations between all parties.  Therefore, when moving forward in the future, we can all work together for a common goal.  With bipartisan aid, we will be one step closer to fulfilling our mission:  to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail – ensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come.

This year’s Leaders in Conservation Awards Gala is sure to be a success.  We are excited for the opportunity to celebrate our achievements, recognize those who have helped us along the way, and look forward to the future.  This year we will be honoring one of our corporate sponsors (REI), Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) for their outstanding contributions to preserving and maintaining the Appalachian Trail.

Want to learn more about the Leaders in Conservation Awards Gala or purchase tickets?  Visit here

‘Hiking the Hill’ to protect the A.T.

Senior conservation staff Karen Lutz, Hawk Metheny, Laura Belleville, and Morgan Sommerville in Washington, DC during Hike the Hill//Donated photo//Text by Laura Belleville, director of conservation

This past week, our senior conservation staff have had their hiking boots on, but not for a jaunt along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Instead, we were in DC for the annual advocacy event “Hike the Hill,” along with many other national scenic and historic trail representatives from across the country, for nearly a week of organized meetings with agency and Congressional representatives.

That many meetings may sound boring, but it was a whirlwind! With about 60 visits scheduled, staff members Morgan Sommerville, Karen Lutz and Hawk Metheny, along with myself, Laura Belleville, and Executive Director Ron Tipton, were busy dashing from the U.S. Forest Service buildings to the National Park Service and back and forth between House and Senate visits. Our charge? To keep the A.T. on everyone’s radar and ensure that high-priority land protection projects are supported. We were also plugging re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and full annual funding—or $900 million total per year—of that program.

(A bit of backstory: The LWCF puts a portion of offshore drilling fees toward the protection of land and water, with money being intended for national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and more. And although money is deposited into the LWCF account annually, part of the funds are diverted elsewhere each year—meaning all of that money is not being used for its intended conservation and recreation purposes. Learn more about the LWFC here.)

Our experience at Hike the Hill was a bit unusual this year because the President’s budget was released before our meetings, meaning we knew beforehand which of our A.T. parcels made the budget and how they were ranked. While we have fared better in previous years, we did have several projects in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina that have been ranked high enough in the President’s budget to likely receive funding through appropriations. A Forest Legacy project in Virginia that we have supported was also included in the budget, but not ranked as well as we had hoped. This was the first year this project was submitted and, like many projects, it may take a couple of submissions to rank high enough to make the appropriations cut.

We also learned that another smaller project in Virginia will be funded by the U.S. Forest Service with funds set aside to acquire inholdings. Of course, if there is full funding of LWCF, the A.T. benefits even more. We did have projects in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania that did not make the cut this year—so we are re-doubling our efforts and will continue to work with agencies and Congress to highlight the importance of these priority acquisitions.

I want to shout out appreciation to Senator Richard Burr and Senators Kelly Ayotte and Michael Bennet for their leadership to sponsor and co-sponsor a new bill aimed at re-authorizing LWCF and providing full funding. (We expect that bill to be released in the next week or so.) I had the privilege to meet with Senator Ayotte yesterday and to thank her personally for her support. She is a very strong supporter of the A.T. and public lands in New Hampshire.

How can you help us advocate for full funding of the LWCF? Please let your senators know how important this legislation is and to vote for it!