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Posted April 22, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Town added to Trail community

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Hikers on the Appalachian Trail have for years stopped in town, often greeted by the community on their way through.

Now Front Royal joins more than a dozen other localities as part of the Appalachian Trail Community. Town officials and representatives with the community program and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy celebrated the designation during a daylong event Saturday which included demonstrations, a hike of a section of the trail and "questing."

Jennifer Buff, standing with a washtub bass, and her musical partner, John Kovac, seated at a small harp, played as the Appalachian Duo under a tree for the gathering crowds around the town gazebo. Both live close to the trail's nearby connections to town.

"I've dusted off my hiking shoes -- got a new pair, actually," Buff said.

"I've done it twice over because for years 'cause we'd just do the same section, you know," Kovac said.

"I've gotta do the whole thing," Buff chimed in.

"It's inspiring just to look at the map there of the whole thing," Kovac said. "I always pick up hitchhikers every year."

"So long before this was designated an AT community, the community supported AT, the thru-hikers comin' into town," Buff said. "You always see people just walking into town off [U.S] 522. Good people right off the trail."

"Usually they're a little ripe-smelling, but it's OK," he said.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, a volunteer organization founded in 1927 and based in Vienna, has more than 6,000 members, according to Dick Hostelley, Appalachian Trail ambassador of Luray and Page County. The group works to maintain 279 miles of the trail from Rockfish Gap at the southern end of the Shenandoah National Forest in Waynesboro to Pine Grove Furnace in Pennsylvania.

The club tested visitors' knowledge of "scat" by asking people to match the animal with the replica of its waste. While many people quickly spotted the black bear waste, the remaining samples created a challenge.

"You always think, 'I wonder what made that?'" said Kate Rudacille, also with the club.

James and Dawn Shamblin, who live in Shenandoah Shores, spent time at the exhibits with their daughters Makayla and Mary.

"We get up on Skyline Drive quite a few times a year so we're interested in this kind of stuff," James Shamblin said.

Most people who aim to hike the entire trail or as much as they can start at the southern-most point in Georgia and travel as far as they can, Hostelley explained. Hikers coming through the Front Royal area now likely could reach the end sometime in July given that many people try to travel 25 miles per day, Hostelly said.

"I kinda look at it as it's a community on the move," Hostelley added. "People move in and people move out and they have little things going on in the community between the members of the community and it's an interesting environment to be involved in."

"The thing about the trail, regardless of what you are off the trail, it makes no difference," Hostelley said. "Everyone is equal."

Thru-hikers go the entire trail, said Karen L. Lutz, director of the mid-atlantic region for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. But Lutz noted that millions of people -- the majority of hikers -- take sections of the trail, choosing to trek for a day or a weekend.

"There's this misperception that hikers don't spend money," Lutz said. "By and large they're people like Dick who are retired military, pretty high level, lots of disposable income, very well-educated. It runs the gamut."

Hostelley noted the mild winter and wam weather spurred many thru-hikers to hit the trail early and some already came through the Front Royal area.

The Front Royal Warren County Tree Stewards helped the community start its own trail -- the Royal Greenway -- a loop that runs along the Shenandoah River, by Skyline High School, through the Shenandoah National Park, by the library, to Happy Creek and through the middle of town.

"So we're really excited about Front Royal becoming a designated Appalachian Trail Community," said Cheryl Crabbe. "This will all tie in."

Appalachian Trail hikers could connect to the Royal Greenway by taking the Dickey Ridge Trail, according to David Means, also with the stewards. The Appalachian Trail also crosses U.S. 522 outside of town, at Va. 55 and by Heirloom Road near Linden, Means noted.

The club's Tom Johnson took a group of hikers aged 3 to 71 Saturday morning to walk 5.5 miles of the AT. Johnson noted that a 6-year-old girl in the group led the way.

"The weather was perfect," Johnson said. "It was model sunlight. I have never seen the park so pretty."


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