The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) announced in August that the Roanoke County Fire & Rescue Department had been selected as one of 11 winners in the VACo 2012 Achievement Awards Program. Last week, Jim Campbell, VACo Executive Director, was present at the Board of Supervisors meeting to officially present Roanoke County with the Achievement Award.
The Fire & Rescue Department received the Public Safety award for their entry entitled “Public Safety on the Appalachian Trail.” Over the last five years, Roanoke County Fire & Rescue witnessed a dramatic increase in rescue calls for lost or injured hikers on or near the Roanoke County portion of the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Most of these rescues were for minor injuries or lost day-hikers who were ill prepared. It was not uncommon for day- hikers to have little or no water, inappropriate clothing, and no flashlight, as well as being in poor physical condition for an entire day of hiking.
To effectively manage these types of rescues the Fire & Rescue Department realized that additional training needed to be completed to help mitigate these types of incidents, and moreover to ensure the safety of Fire & Rescue Department personnel who were tasked with responding. During this training, it was realized that a vast majority of hikers becoming lost stated that there were very few signs or trail markings to keep them on the correct path.
A public-private partnership was developed with all the stakeholders that have a responsibility to the AT to identify solutions to the problem of people becoming lost or injured. The group consisted of Roanoke County Fire & Rescue, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), U.S. Park Police, U.S. Park Service, U.S. Forestry Service, Virginia Department of Forestry and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.
The initial challenge of this group was to develop a shared vision on ensuring that all the stakeholders’ priorities were met. There was a very significant concern by the ATC and RATC that the natural experience of the outdoors would be impacted by an overabundance of signs for the day-hiker. Through a number of stakeholder meetings these concerns were addressed and a plan was developed to improve the signage on the trails while not taking away the natural experience of hiking on the AT.
This group moved the meetings from the office to the trail with two stakeholder hikes to actually identify where lost hikers and injuries occurred through detailed GIS mapping. During the hikes the representatives of each group developed strategies on what type of signage would work best, where additional information kiosks should be placed and improvement of public documents of the trail such as brochures and maps.
This Appalachian Trail Partnership took over three years and required multiple organizations that had very different missions to work together for a common goal. The outcome has been a tremendous success in reducing the responses to lost or injured hikers but more importantly has made hiking in Roanoke County a more enjoyable and safer destination for all citizens who want to experience some of Virginia’s most breath taking natural venues.
VACo processed 37 entries for the competitive statewide contest. The judges were very impressed by the quality of the program submitted and said that the competition was fierce.
“It always amazes me the level of competition for Achievement Awards,” said James Campbell, VACo executive director. “This year is no exception – all 37 entries were deserving but only the best received an award. I’m grateful we have outstanding judges because the task to pick winners is not an easy one.”
The VACo Achievement Awards is a competitive program open to local government members of the association.