Appalachian Trail Natural Resource Condition Assessment

In 2018, the CLUS entered an agreement with the National Park Service Appalachian National Scenic Trail (APPA) through the Chesapeake Watershed CESU. The goal of this two and a half year agreement is to provide an assessment of the current ecological conditions and trends for natural resources and ecosystems of management interest to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, to identify data and knowledge gaps, and to highlight existing and potential threats.

The objective of a natural resource condition assessment is to document the state-of-knowledge and known conditions of natural resources using science-based, quantitative metrics, and to identify threats to resource conditions and gaps in natural resource information. The outcome of this project is a publicly available report that Park Managers can use to evaluate and prioritize habitats that may require restoration, enhanced protection, and/ or further study.

Natural Resource Condition Assessment Program

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program was developed in 2006 to help National Park Service Staff manage resources within a larger ecosystem context by providing a snapshot-in-time of their park unit conditions. Since 2008, more than 100 of 270 National Park Units have had assessments completed or have ongoing projects with expected completion dates in 2018.

NRCA projects contribute to strategic resource stewardship and a “systems level” approach by evaluating and reporting on current conditions, identifying critical data gaps, and analyzing a subset of stressors relating to the park unit. NRCA reports are used by resource managers to develop short and long term strategies for resource protection, helping to prioritize the protection of vulnerable resources with often limited staff levels and funding. Additionally, assessments support partnership building and education efforts by providing information and data to support resource preservation efforts.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The more than 2,100 mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail spans 14 states in the eastern United States, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. APPA is managed and maintained by multiple local, state, regional, and federal agencies, and has a complex land ownership pattern: it traverses 6 national parks, 8 national forests, and 67 state-owned lands – plus many lands owned and managed by local municipalities or non-profits. It is one of the largest and most accessible National Park units in the eastern United States.

As a narrow, linear trail corridor, APPA is exposed to development threats, including energy infrastructure development and residential development. Given the latitudinal and elevational range of APPA, the park is uniquely vulnerable to climate change, especially in the northern reaches, but also contains some of the most significant climate refugia in the eastern U.S. Other current threats to natural resources include invasive species, air pollution, and visitor use impacts.

APPA NRCA Approach

NRCAs follow a standard format, starting with background information on the NRCA program, followed by park resource setting and resource stewardship context. Subsequent chapters cover methods and provide an assessment of natural resource conditions. CLUS staff are working with APPA resource managers to develop the indicators and metrics that will be included in the assessment. The current outline of the NRCA is below.

Geology and Soil Resources
Biological Resources
      – Vegetation, Fauna, and Community Types
      – Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species or Rare Exemplary Communities
Air Resources
Water Resources
Resource Stewardship

Regional Landscape Context: Stressors
      – Stressor: Invasive Species
      – Stressor: Population Change and Urbanization
      – Stressor: Forest Loss and Fragmentation
      – Stressor: Climate Change (Climate, Phenology, and Forest Impacts)
Air Resources
Forest Soil Conditions
Biologic Integrity- Terrestrial
      – Rare, threatened, and endangered plants and animals
      – Rare or exemplary natural communities
      – Alpine and high-elevation vegetation
      – Open areas
      – Birds; land bird habitat (i.e. early successional habitat)
Biologic Integrity- Aquatic
      – Wetlands
      – Surface waters


The CLUS is developing an APPA ArcGIS Hub Site to compile all of the data and findings for this project. In the meantime, you can learn about 15 years of land use change along the Appalachian Trail using this story map. More analyses and data related to other resources will be available soon!

APPA Boundaries

Data for the AT are presented in a variety of units, from counties and states to watersheds. The study area for this project will focus on the “HUC10 Shell” as much as possible- an ecologically relevant area of interest commonly used by resource managers. The HUC10 Shell is the “outer” boundary for all USGS HUC10 watersheds that intersect a 5 mile buffer from the trail centerline.

Stay updated on the development of a Natural Resource Condition Assessment for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail!

Affiliate Scholars

    Amber Millison

    CLUS Graduate Student Fellow

    Amber is a graduate student in Shippensburg’s Geoenvironmental Studies program. Born in Frederick, Maryland, she graduated summa cum laude from Salisbury University in May of 2020 with a double major in Earth Science and Geography, concentrating in Atmospheric Sciences. She is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and the Gamma Theta Upsilon geographical honor society. Her academic interests include climatology, coupled natural and human systems, and projects involving field work. In her free time, Amber enjoys hiking with her dog, crocheting, and visiting new cities and places. Amber is excited to apply her geographic skills and knowledge to help protect natural systems while working for the CLUS.

    Projects: Mountain Creek Trail Assessment; Appalachian Trail Natural Resource Condition Assessment

        Kate Nicholson

        Undergraduate Student Fellow

        Kate is a junior Sustainability major, pursuing a biology minor and Geographic Information Systems certificate. Her interests within the field include climate change, rare and endangered species, carbon footprint assessments, and tracking pollination habits and bee populations. In her free time, Kate enjoys hiking and competitively powerlifting.

        Projects: South Mountain Research Corps (2019), Appalachian Trail NRCA (2019)

            Ben Stine

            Undergraduate Student Fellow

            Ben is a senior pursing a Bachelor’s degree of Political Science with a minor in Human Communication Studies. Academically he is driven by issues such as campaign finance and environmentalism. He is the current Representative for Commuter Students in Shippensburg’s Student Government Association. He enjoys the arts, travelling and spending time with his family and friends.

            Projects: General CLUS Support (2019)

                Jim Smith

                Undergraduate Student Fellow

                Jim is a junior Geography/Economics major and Religious Studies minor at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is excited to work with the CLUS this summer on the Appalachian Trail NRCA and other ongoing projects. In his spare time, Jim likes to hike, golf, and work on his stamp collection.

                Projects: Appalachian Trail NRCA (2019)

                    Paige Steffy

                    Undergraduate Student Fellow

                    Paige will graduate in 2021 with a BS in Geo-Environmental Studies and a minor in Geographic Information Systems. She is a Wood Honors College student and a member of the Geography Honor Society, Gamma Theta Upsilon. After graduation, Paige plans to pursue a master’s degree in Geo-Environmental Studies.

                    Projects: General CLUS Support (2019), Appalachian Trail NRCA (2019)

                        Tyler Costlow

                        Graduate Student Fellow

                        Tyler graduated in December 2016 from Pitt-Johnstown with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Geography with a certificate in GIS. He is currently pursuing a M.S. in Geoenvironmental Studies at Shippensburg University. Tyler recently completed a year in AmeriCorps working with The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. During his time there, he served managing invasive species and contributed towards restoring the red spruce population in West Virginia.

                        Projects: General CLUS Support (2018-2019), Appalachian Trail NRCA (2018-2019)

                          Tim Hawkins, Ph.D.

                          Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator, Department of Geography-Earth Science

                          B.A. from Colgate University
                          M.S. from Arizona State University
                          Ph.D. from Arizona State University

                          My research focus is hydroclimatology. Specifically, focus on future streamflow and watershed-wide hydrologic conditions in a changing climate. I also dabble in urban climatology.

                          Claire Jantz, Ph.D. – Director

                          Professor, Department of Geography-Earth Science

                          B.A. in College Scholars from University of Tennessee
                          M.A. in Geography from University of Maryland
                          Ph.D. in Geography from University of Maryland

                          Dr. Claire Jantz is the Director of the CLUS. She has extensive expertise in land use and land cover change analysis and modeling, and interdisciplinary research. Dr. Jantz has particular expertise within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Delaware River Basin, and the Delmarva Peninsula. She has participated in several collaborative research efforts funded by NASA, Maryland SeaGrant, NPS, and the William Penn Foundation.