Waynesboro, VA has long been a destination for outdoor adventurers. Residents and visitors alike share an enthusiasm for the city’s unique access to the beauty and opportunities of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. One of those nearby natural treasures is the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), the longest hiking-only footpath in the world.
Two Thousand Miles and the Adventure of a Lifetime
What began as a proposal in 1921 is now a federally-protected national scenic trail stretching 2,190 miles between Maine and Georgia and crossing 14 states. Those miles of trail are protected and managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It can take 5-7 months to hike the entire A.T., and every year thousands attempt the physically and mentally strenuous journey. Only 1 in 4 will complete a “thru-hike,” but most will agree that time spent on the A.T. is a life-changing adventure.
Good Nature Abounds
Over 100 miles of the A.T. run through Shenandoah National Park. The trailhead at Rockfish Gap is just three miles from Waynesboro, making the city a welcome stop for hikers needing to restock and rejuvenate. And trail-weary travelers needn’t huff it into town. Listed near the trailhead are the phone numbers of “Trail Angels,”community volunteers who will shuttle hikers between Rockfish Gap and Waynesboro.
Jim Wilson is one of these Trail Angels and for the past eight years has been on “the list.” “When I pick up hikers at Rockfish, I generally give them a short tour around downtown before dropping them off at the campground or Quality Inn,” says Wilson. “We already have the reputation as ‘Home of the Ming Garden Buffet,’ so most hikers know about us before they get here. Downtown is compact, with pretty much everything hikers need: a place to stay (motel, hostel, or free campground), food (fast food to sit-down), library (books and wi-fi), YMCA (free shower), post office, barbers, shoe repair, and outfitter. We also have an urgent care facility run by the regional hospital that does well by hikers. But most of all, friendly people.”
One of those friendly faces is Connie Mercier, a volunteer at the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center. In addition to shuttling hikers, Mercier is one of many in the community who help at the A.T. Thru-Hiker Hostel, a service Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church provides during the high trail activity months of May and June.
In 2012, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy designated Waynesboro as an Appalachian Trail Community™, recognizing the city’s commitment to the Trail and its visitors. “Waynesboro is often described as one of the friendliest trail towns, and that can be attributed to the collective work of community members and businesses providing rides, meals, and lodging, as well as great conversation and big smiles,” says Amy Allamong, Waynesboro’s Appalachian Trail Community Ambassador.
A Lasting Impact
As many thru-hikers and Trail Angels will tell you, the Trail can lead to lasting friendships and a renewed sense of goodwill. “For me, being a Trail Angel is largely a matter of paying it forward,” says Wilson. “I was fortunate enough to have traveled around the world for business and pleasure during my working life, and was treated kindly everywhere I went.” Sandy Schroeder has shuttled over 60 hikers in the two summers she’s been a Trail Angel. She insists she’s the beneficiary. “I love meeting all the various people attempting this feat and hearing their stories. These hikers inspire me with their tenacity and goals.” She’s met hikers of all ages and from all over the world and remains in touch with many of them.
Advocating Community and Preservation
As a liaison for the A.T., Allamong’s experiences include community education and engagement as well as maintenance and sustainability of the the Trail. “A Trail Angel can take on many forms,” says Allamong. “The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s description of a Trail Angel focuses more on a selfless advocate for the Trail: its history, proper use, maintenance and future preservation. A hiker might describe a Trail Angel as someone who gives them a ride, provides a free meal or place to shower and rest.”
The Trail and its users need both types of Trail Angels she emphasizes. “Waynesboro is part of a much larger 2,190 mile A.T. community. The A.T. is so much more than just a trail to hike on, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy does much more than physically maintain the trail and provide maps. They fight environmental devastation and promote the trail as an education tool and a retreat from everyday stress and anxieties.”
Do you need a retreat? Want to get a taste of the Appalachian Trail? Try one of these scenic day hikes near Waynesboro.
Or is your bag packed, boots laced for a thru-hike? Download Waynesboro’s Hiking Guide which includes a map and information about transportation, lodging, and services.
Whether you’ll be hiking through or enjoying the Appalachian Trail just for the day, we’re glad your journey is bringing you to Waynesboro!