The Town of Round Hill’s drive to become a recreational hotspot has landed it a national recognition as a key destination along the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has recognized the town as an official Appalachian Trail Community—meaning that it’s now one of 47 jurisdictions along the 2,190-mile trail, and one of 16 in Virginia, that actively promote and protect it. Sara Haxby, the conservancy’s Mid-Atlantic regional office manager, said the organization’s unanimous approval came as a result of the town’s impressive vision for its role in supporting the trail, which has a trailhead five miles west of the town.
“It was clear our major themes resonated with the [conservancy] members,” said Sean Lloyd, the vice chairman of the town’s Appalachian Trail advisory committee.
According to the conservancy’s website, the community program has multiple short- and long-term benefits for participants, including better visibility, enhanced partnerships with public land agencies and the option for local teachers to participate in the conservancy’s service learning program.
The town initially set its sights on becoming a hub for outdoor recreation in 2014, when it found that 35 percent of its residents were interested in active recreation. “The Town Council wanted to build on Round Hill’s location and embrace the community’s love for hiking, outdoors and active living,” Hynes said.
In 2017, the town set out to become an Appalachian Trail Community. Hynes and members of the town’s committee traveled to the conservancy’s Mid-Atlantic regional office in Boiling Springs, PA, last month to give a presentation on why the town should be recognized in the program.
According to Committee Member Jody Brady, who spent nearly two months hiking the trail in 2015,it was the town’s focus on environmental stewardship, rather than economic development, that caught the conservancy’s attention.
“Our focus became connecting our neighbors to the great outdoors and promoting environmental stewardship,” she said. “That’s why they accepted Round Hill into the Appalachian Trail Community program.”
Although the conservancy required the town to meet only two requirements to be considered for the designation, Round Hill met all four by forming the advisory committee, hosting an annual celebration, hosting an educational event, and including language that protects the trail in its Comprehensive Plan.
The town last summer formed its Appalachian Trail advisory committee, now called Round Hill Outdoors, to raise the next generation of hikers by promoting healthy living, active recreation, nature education and park and trail development. The committee now plans to meet six times in 2019 to organize and host trail-themed projects.
Earlier this year, the town held the first of its annual celebrations, the Appalachian Trail Art Show, which featured 30 pieces of art that depicted the trail in some fashion. The next art show is scheduled for March 2019.
As for an educational event, the town in May set up an informational booth at its annual Hometown Festival, in August gave a presentation on trail stewardship and now plans to hold at least three community hikes each year between April and September.
The Town Council last year also wrote language into the town’s 2017-2037 Comprehensive Plan aimed to maintain Round Hill’s natural resources, scenic vistas and wildlife habitats.
According to the plan, the town’s objective is to “promote community awareness and increase knowledge of the trail as a local asset.”
Moving forward, the town each year will feature a trail-themed booth at the Hometown Festival, create a guest speaker series for children to meet hikers and learn about the trail and create a Round Hill Appalachian Trail Challenge that will encourage residents to visit the trail and share their photos with the Round Hill Outdoors committee.
“Round Hill was a wonderful town before this designation, but the designation clearly signals what some of our core values are,” said Committee Member Carol Dennis. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”