Natural Resource Monitoring along the Appalachian NST

Appalachian trail scenery
The iconic white blaze mark along a lush forested section of the A.T.

Virginian Highlander photo.



The Appalachian National Scenic Trail traverses more than 2,170 miles across the highest ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to Maine. Along the way it crosses through 14 states, eight National Forests, six National Parks, six Inventory and Monitoring networks, a National Wildlife Refuge, three Tennessee Valley Authority properties, one Smithsonian Institute property, and over 280 local jurisdictions. The Trail is managed in partnership with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and its 30 affiliated Trail-maintaining clubs under an extraordinary cooperative management system that provides for an annual contribution of nearly 200,000 hours by more than 5,000 volunteers.

The trail's length, north-south alignment, changes in elevation, and numerous peaks and ridges it crosses along this ancient mountain chain creates one of the most biodiverse units of the National Park System.

The Appalachian Trail is uniquely situated to serve as a barometer for the air, water, and biological diversity of the Appalachian Mountains and much of the eastern United States. That is what makes the A.T. an attractive place to explore scientific questions, and which lead to the creation of the A.T. MEGA-Transect. To this end, the National Park Service and ATC, in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and a host of other agencies and organizations, are focusing their energies on assessing, understanding, and monitoring the vast wealth of natural resources present on the Appalachian Trail’s 270,000-acre land base.

The A.T. MEGA-Transect is built around four fundamental goals:

  • Monitor-- Collect and synthesize existing and new data on key indicators of environmental health from agencies, organizations, researchers, and citizen scientists
  • Understand-- Transform status and trend data into knowledge through analysis, synthesis, and modeling
  • Inform-- Provide early warning of undesirable conditions or trends, such as climate change, as a means of better protecting the resources and reducing costs of management
  • Engage-- Share knowledge by engaging, educating, and involving decision makers, stakeholder organizations, and citizens

The Appalachian Trail is monitored through NETN's Vital Sign Monitoring Program. The goals of monitoring along the trail include:

  • Determine the status and trends in selected indicators of the condition of park ecosystems to allow managers to make better-informed decisions and to work more effectively with other agencies and individuals for the benefit of park resources
  • Provide early warning of abnormal conditions of selected resources to help develop effective mitigation measures and reduce costs of management
  • Provide data to better understand the dynamic nature and condition of park ecosystems and to provide reference points for comparisons with other, altered environments
  • Provide data to meet certain legal and Congressional mandates related to natural resource protection and visitor enjoyment
  • Provide a means of measuring progress towards performance goals

Anticipated uses of monitoring results:

  • Adaptive Management and Science - Provide sound scientific baseline and trend information about environmental conditions on the Appalachian Trail to help inform practice and science
  • Public Policy and Action - Utilize large-scale data sets to inform the public and influence decisions
  • Public Engagement and Education - Involve citizens and use the Appalachian Trail's iconic status to convey key findings to the public.

Long Term Monitoring Programs for the Trail


Park Basline Inventories

The Inventory and Monitoring Program provides guidance, funding, and technical assistance for parks to complete a set of 12 baseline, or "basic", natural resource inventories. These basic inventories are common to all parks with significant natural resources, and are intended to provide park managers with the minimum information needed to effectively manage the natural resources of their park.


Appalachian NST Science Stories

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    Tags: netn

    Last updated: November 20, 2018