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Every year, 45,000 people travel to the Appalachian Trail’s most photographed spot to take in 270 degree views of the Catawba Valley from an exposed cliff. McAfee Knob is a once-in-a-lifetime destination for hikers of all kinds, drawing families and sunset snobs from around the country. The Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs are incredibly popular hikes in the same region, with a similar allure. And all of these places are suffering from the same affliction: people. With growing concerns about litter, traffic, and bursting infrastructure, the National Park Service is seeking input from the public about the future of Virginia’s “Triple Crown.”
“We are thrilled that so many visitors are enjoying this section of the AT,” Wendy Janssen, the superintendent of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, stated in a news release. “We have also noticed and heard from our stakeholders that there are real concerns about overcrowding that we want to address so that the Trail continues to be an accessible, enjoyable, and sustainable resource for the region now and into the future.”
What changes the NPS makes, exactly, are still up in the air. Janssen says the NPS plans to host virtual meetings on March 9 and another on March 17 to start a conversation about the future management of McAfee Knob, the Dragon’s Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs. These meetings will introduce the project, the planning team, and give the community a chance to share its concerns.
Potential solutions to the most predominant issues that the “Triple Crown” is facing could include developing hiker shuttles, adding or changing the number of campsites in the region, or even changing the route of the trail in order to alleviate human impacts. The National Park Service’s visitor management plan is also widely expected to address congested parking areas and roads and visitor impact on the trails.
Over the past several years, the trio of popular lookouts have seen growing traffic, garbage, and animal encounters . Last year, the NPS warned hikers in the McAfee Knob area about heightened bear activity after visitors reported three encounters over the course of a single month; officials pointed to the large amounts of litter that had been left near the iconic location. In 2015, similar accounts of bear activity near McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs caught hikers’ attention, with some suggesting that the area’s growing litter problem had led some bears to become habituated.