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By Ben Orcutt - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Designation as an Appalachian Trail Community would put the area in select company, and could be a godsend to local businesses and hikers alike.
The town and Warren County are in the process of applying for the designation by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
"I think it's a great opportunity to reach out to even more of the hikers, especially the day hikers," said Jennifer Keck, director of tourism for Front Royal. "There's a lot of people that come and use the trail. [If] we highlight it even more, we'll get increased visitation. [It] increases the amount of people going to our shops and restaurants and spending money."
Members of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy briefed the Town Council last week on the merits of becoming an Appalachian Trail Community. Keck said the panel was "very receptive" and gave the local committee approval to apply for the designation.
"The committee's already together," Keck said. "That was one of the first steps, and now educating both the town council and the county was kind of a second step, and now we're just going to keep moving forward."
Kelli Hart, annual fund director for the Harpers Ferry, W.Va.-based Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said being designated as an Appalachian Trail Community offers a number of benefits.
"You'll get a sign for the community that says you're an official Appalachian Trail Community," she said. "We'll have information on our website for [especially] hikers like when they know this is the area they're going to be in they can go there and get information ... and they'll know the businesses that are there and anything special. It'll encourage people to stop or day hikers to come. We'll have press releases. We'll probably have recognition in our magazine."
Hart said on May 14, Damascus will be the first Virginia town to receive the Appalachian Trail Community designation. The 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine.
The application for the designation of Warren County and Front Royal will be voted on by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the regional Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Hart said.
"It has to show that there really is a partnership," Hart said. "Because what we're wanting to do is get increased community awareness that the trail is there and use of the trail.
One of the important benefits of being a trail community is we have an absolutely wonderful program called Trail to Every Classroom, where teachers are trained to use the Appalachian Trail as part of their curriculum, and the towns and counties that have sent teachers through this program absolutely love it.
"If a teacher is in a trail community, they get preference for the entry into the program because it's at a waiting list."
Warren County resident Tom Johnson, a former president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, said that it's important to the area to earn the designation for several reasons.
"It's important economically," Johnson said, adding that the trail runs for about 40 miles in Warren County. It also will help the conservancy build a better relationship with the public school system, he added.
"It really is important for the whole culture of Warren County to get a closer connection to nature and that trail town designation I think will help with that."
Johnson said a presentation was made to County Administrator Douglas P. Stanley about the benefits of such a designation, and he said the county is on board with the idea.
"The county is very much engaged in this and they're going to be co-partners," Johnson said.