The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has selected five Appalachian Trail Community™ Ambassadors for the state of Virginia. J.D. Hibbitts has been selected to serve as the volunteer ambassador of Damascus, Diana Billips will serve as the ambassador to Bland County, Tim Miller will serve as the ambassador to Troutville, Jennifer Keck will serve as the ambassador to Luray and Page County and Alyson Browett will serve as the ambassador to Front Royal and Warren County. Each will serve as a community liaison to the ATC and their respective local volunteer clubs to encourage volunteerism and stewardship of the Trail at the local level. This year there are 17 ambassadors serving 15 different communities along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.).
“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited about building its volunteer base by providing A.T. Ambassadors to designated A.T. Communities to help increase local stewardship of public lands and support healthy lifestyles for community citizens,” stated Julie Judkins, Community Program Manager of the ATC.
Hibbitts, originally from southwest Virginia, has traveled the world as an enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force. After completing his enlistment, he enrolled at Emory & Henry College where he received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Creative Writing. While in school, he completed a thru-hike of the A.T. and received certifications in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. Most recently, he attained a Master of Fine Arts degree at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His writing also appears in A.T. Journeys magazine.
Billips, a board member of the Piedmont A.T. Hikers, operates the club’s hiking program, including monthly hikes and the “70 Mile Club.” She is responsible for maintaining a section of the A.T., is a lifelong resident of southwest Virginia and an avid hiker. This is Billips’ second year as an A.T. Community™ Ambassador.
Miller attended Virginia Tech and attained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Forestry and Wildlife and a Master of Arts Degree in Education. He is currently a teacher at Central Academy Middle School in Botetourt County where he completed the ATC’s Trail to Every Classroom program in 2011. Miller is an Eagle Scout, lifelong hiker and backpacker.
Keck graduated from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture. She is the president of the Shenandoah Valley Tourism Association and the former Director of Tourism for Front Royal. Keck is a trained Master Naturalist and hopes to promote Trail-friendly policies in the local government.
“The Ambassador program will contribute to my knowledge of both the Appalachian Trail and Appalachian Trail Conservancy programs that enhance and protect the Trail and Trail experience,” stated Keck.
A new member of the Front Royal/Warren County A.T. Community™ committee, Browett is an avid hiker and naturalist who has spent time in the woods around northern Virginia her entire life. As a public health professional, personal trainer and chef, she is interested in making people more mindful of how health, exercise and nutrition intersect. She hopes to use her position as an A.T. Ambassador to build a stronger awareness of the Trail, encourage volunteerism, conservation efforts and inspire community members to go outside for some fresh air.
The Appalachian Trail Community™ program is designed to recognize communities that promote and protect the A.T. Towns, counties and communities along the A.T.’s corridor are considered assets by A.T. hikers and many of these towns act as good friends and neighbors to the Trail. The program serves to assist communities with local initiatives such as sustainable economic development through tourism and outdoor recreation, while preserving and protecting the A.T. Since the program’s inception in 2010, 28 communities have been designated with five-10 communities expected to be entered into the program in 2013.
The ATC was founded in 1925 by volunteers and federal officials working to build a continuous footpath along the Appalachian Mountains. The A.T. is a unit of the National Park System, stretching from Georgia to Maine, at approximately 2,180 miles in length. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Volunteers typically donate more than 220,000 hours of their time doing trail-related work each year and about two to three million visitors walk a portion of the A.T. each year.