Franklin’s role on the Appalachian Trail
Franklin is an important town on the Appalachian Trail because it is one of the first or last towns depending on which direction you’re coming from. It is about 106 miles from the start.
Nantahala Hiking Club President Bill Van Horn said if hikers make it to Franklin, chances are they can hike the entire trail.
The trail is 2,175 miles long and runs from Georgia to Maine.
About the Nantahala Hiking Club
The NHC is one of 30 trail clubs that maintain the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail The NHC maintains 60 miles of the AT and 47 of those miles are in Macon County. The NHC, based out of Franklin, has a membership of more than 240. From October 2007 to September 2008, the club’s membership contributed more than 5,300 volunteer hours to maintain the AT and promote hiking.
Every spring, hundreds of Appalachian Trail hikers pass by the doorstep of Franklin en route from Georgia to Maine, many hitting town to buy supplies, clean up, check into a hotel and generally take a break from the trail.
But the town could do more to capitalize on its proximity to the A.T. A push is underway to seek designation as an official Appalachian Trail Community Partner, clearly associating the town with the world-famous trail.
In essence, it would make Franklin a “gateway city” on the trail, showing that Franklin welcomes hikers.
The Nantahala Hiking Club, which is leading the charge in making Franklin an AT Community Partner, believes Franklin and Macon County are not taking advantage of the Trail’s economic potential.
According to the hiking club, over 1,800 hikers pass through Macon County between March and May each year, and the Nantahala National Forest has one million day visits a year.
If Franklin achieves the designation and lures more hikers to ventuer the 10 miles into town and use it as a stop over, the trail could prove an economic boon.
The path to being an AT Partner
For Franklin to qualify it must meet at least two of four criteria, although Nantahala Hiking Club President Bill Van Horn said the town will probably meet all four.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which sponsors the program, is expected to decide in April whether Franklin receives the designation.
One requirement is establishing an advisory committee that focuses on the Appalachian Trail and the community. Groups such as the town, the county, the Chamber of Commerce and the schools may be interested in having a representative on the committee.
In order to receive the designation Franklin must also host an annual AT event.
Franklin already has an established event with the April Hikers Fools Bash put on by Ronnie Haven at the Sapphire Inn.
This will be the fifth year for the event that features music, food, and hiking vendors. The event allows hikers and community members to come together; last year about 1,500 attended.
During the hiking season, Haven runs a free bus service that picks up hikers at the trail and drives them into town to get supplies.
Franklin deserves to be designated an AT Community Partner given how much it offers hikers, said Haven.
He said the town has one of the nicer outfitters along the trail with Three Eagles Outfitters, grocery stores, drug stores, medical facilities, a movie theater, museum and post office.
Another requirement to becoming an Appalachian Trail Community Partner is using the trail for educational purposes.
Van Horn suggested fifth grade classes taking annual field trips to the trail could meet this requirement. He added that the trail offers a great opportunity to combine physical education and science.
And the final requirement deals with installing language in city and county ordinances that protects the trail from development.
The county could state in its ordinances that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will be notified and included whenever there is a proposal to impact the trail, Van Horn said.
Examples of developments that may disturb the trail are erecting wind turbines and cell phone towers nearby, Van Horn said.
A symbiotic relationship
One benefit of designation is simply increasing awareness that the trail is near Franklin and easy to access. If Franklin receives the designation there may be signs displayed in town identifying Franklin as an AT Community Partner.
Franklin would be one of the first to receive the distinction. The towns of Hot Springs, N.C., Boiling Springs, P.A., Erwin, Tenn. and Unicoi County, Tenn. were designated Community Partners in a pilot program.
Another benefit is the additional publicity Franklin would receive nationwide from being a member of the program. The town would be highlighted on the AT Conservancy Web site — appalachiantrail.org — as well as in the organization’s press releases, trail guide and quarterly magazine “A.T. Journeys,” Van Horn said.
Franklin teachers could receive training and education on how to incorporate the Appalachian Trail into their lessons.
And another benefit is that Macon County teachers could take workshops from the AT Conservancy on “placed-based” education that deals with teaching students about the area they live. For instance, instead of learning about the Himalayas, students could learn about the “Nantahalas,” Van Horn said. The workshops are called “A Trail to Every Classroom.”
Teachers could also receive special training from the AT Conservancy in service learning to teach children about volunteering. For example, students could take a class on the Appalachian Trail and could adopt a mile of the trail to maintain.