In this episode of The Green Tunnel, we present an episode of the Virginia Outdoor Adventures podcast hosted by Jessica Bowser. To learn more about this great show and for the latest episode, visit virginiaoutdooradventures.com.
Hiking McAfee Knob and Virginia’s Triple Crown with Diana Christopulos, Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club
Often referred to as “one of the most spectacular hikes in the US,” McAfee Knob attracts hikers from across the world and is one of the most photographed spots on the entire Appalachian Trail. Former Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club President, Diana Christopulos, shares everything you need to know before hitting the trail in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, including where to gear up, what to do while you’re in town, and where to find the best local brew at the end of the day. Diana also gives us insight into what it takes to maintain and preserve a trail that receives 70,000 visitors a year. Let’s Go!
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A former fourth-grade teacher and conservation advocate, Jessica launched Virginia Outdoor Adventures Podcast because she wanted to provide a platform for individuals to tell their stories, to share their connection to the outdoors, and to build a local community where the outdoors are for everyone. She also wanted to tell these stories through a conservation lens to encourage others to be stewards of the outdoors. As a Virginian and outdoor enthusiast, Jessica is passionate about featuring outdoor recreation and ecotourism opportunities close to home while also supporting local businesses and economies.
Diana is the current archivist and former president of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. She is also currently a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s President Leadership Council. She hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from 1999-2008 as a section hiker and over the past few years has been very involved in environmental preservation work in the mountains traversed by the AT.
MILLS KELLY: Hello, and welcome to the Green Tunnel, a podcast on the history of the Appalachian Trail. My name is Mills Kelly, and I’m your host. Today, we’re headed back to McAfee Knob. Earlier this season, we explored the history of access to this iconic location. This time, we’re gonna get all the details you need before hiking to McAfee Knob from an episode of the Virginia outdoor adventures podcast. I’ve been listening to this show since it launched, and I really enjoy it. It’s a great show for learning about new ways to enjoy all the many wonderful outdoor adventures you can have in my home state of Virginia. One of the things I especially appreciate about this podcast is the fact that it highlights the more than 80 state parks and wildlife management areas in Virginia, almost all of which are excellent places to hike. And I do like to hike. The podcast is hosted by my friend Jessica Bowser. It features stories and recommendations from leaders and influencers across the Virginia outdoor community. In this episode, Jessica talks with former Roanoke Appalachian Trail club president Diana Christopulos, about what you need to know before hitting the trails in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. They also discuss what it takes to maintain and preserve a trail segment that receives 70,000 visitors a year. While we know that not all of you listening are located in or near Virginia, the state is home to more miles of the AT than any other. In fact, a quarter of the trail is in Virginia. And it’s also where The Green Tunnel is produced. We hope this episode might inspire you to come check out some of the amazing outdoor adventures our state has to offer. You can learn more about the Virginia Outdoor Adventures podcast in the show notes. I hope you enjoy this episode.
JESSICA BOWSER: Welcome to Virginia Outdoor Adventures podcast. We bring stories and recommendations from leaders and influencers across the Virginia outdoor community. Get the information and the inspiration to plan your own adventure right here in Virginia. I’m your host, Jessica Bowser, often referred to as one of the most spectacular hikes in the US. McAfee Knob attracts hikers from across the world and is one of the most photographed spots on the entire Appalachian Trail. Former Roanoke Appalachian Trail club president Diana Christopulos shares everything you need to know before hitting the trail in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, including where to gear up what to do while you’re in town and where to find the best local brew at the end of the day. Diana also gives us insight into what it takes to maintain and preserve a trail that receives 70,000 visitors a year. Let’s go. Diana, welcome to Virginia Outdoor Adventures.
DIANA CHRISTOPULOS: Thanks, Jessica. It’s great to be here.
BOWSER: What do you love about Virginia’s outdoors?
CHRISTOPULOS: Oh, gosh, well, one thing for sure is that it has four seasons that are just about equal in length. So you can enjoy whatever you like to do. And it varies by the season. And it looks different every season, which I call it the Goldilocks climate. It’s it’s really great.
BOWSER: Something for everyone, right? Yeah. So you live in the Roanoke area. And I often hear people saying that Roanoke is a hub for outdoor recreation in Virginia. Why do you think it’s considered a hub?
CHRISTOPULOS: Well, for one thing, we’re in a flat valley, but all around us are mountains. And on the eastern side, we have the Blue Ridge. On the western side, we have that Allegheny and there are other smaller mountains that connect the two. So you’ve got a beautiful setting for anything that has to do with mountains. We have mountain biking, we have hiking, we have beautiful greenways we have one of the toughest marathons in the country. So and then we have blue ways. So the Roanoke River flows right through here, the greenways run along the river. There’s a blue way on the Roanoke River. The town I live in Salem, you can be driving through the middle of town and crossing the river and there will be people fly fishing for trout in season. So it’s just like it’s here for us. And thankfully people enjoy it and take care of it and take advantage of it.
BOWSER: I hear about all the festivals that go on in that area, especially from Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine, it seems like there’s always something happening in Roanoke. What are some of the highlights?
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, the the city of Roanoke in particular is really wonderful for outdoor types of things and the biggest festival they have is called go fast. And it goes on for several days. And it has all kinds of outdoor. They’ll have demonstrations of mountain bikes. and dog leaping into pond contests and you can try out bikes and you can there’s a climbing wall. So the Go Fest is a major, really fun activity. There are lots of races here of every length you can imagine. But the the most famed one is the Blue Ridge Marathon on the parkway, which is probably the hardest sort of road marathon in the US. And that attracts thousands of people, then there’s a half marathon. And there’s all kinds of races going on all the time. Roanoke has a festival, of course, these days with COVID that’s been put to the side. But there’s during the the, oh, there’s a big Dickens of a Christmas festival. And then there are their festivals during the warmer months of the year, just about every weekend, once we get back to normal.
BOWSER: So if you’re headed to Roanoke, you should probably check a calendar to see what’s coming up that upcoming weekend or that week. Correct. So let’s talk about McAfee now, because McAfee Knob is probably the most beautiful and photographed spot along the entire Appalachian Trail. So tell me what it’s all about.
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, so I’ve hiked the whole trail. And and I could say there’s lots of other places that are equally beautiful. But since it’s 20 minutes to the trailhead from my house, and I can see the backside of it from my back porch. I’m a bit partial to it. You know, and it’s been popular for a really long time. It’s an outcrop if you have never seen it that sticks out, it’s an overhang and get out there and get your picture taken and show your mom that it looks really dangerous, but it really isn’t. And in all directions, you can see mountains you can see all the way to West Virginia on a clear day. It’s it’s a really wonderful view. And it’s right on the Appalachian Trail. It’s actually been popular among the Europeans that lived here for over 100 years, we have pictures of people on it around 9010, they would drive their horse and buggy up there and park nearby and be all dressed up and go up on the knob. It’s a great place to get your picture taken.
BOWSER: The knob itself sort of juts out over the valley. And so if you’re standing at just the right angle, and you’re facing the knob it you don’t see what’s underneath it, it just looks like there’s a huge drop underneath the knob. So that’s, that’s the part that you were mentioning. You can take a picture and send it to your mom and make it look like it’s super dangerous when it’s really not correct. Yeah, it’s really cool. And the view up there is incredible 270 degree panorama, I believe something like that. Yeah, yeah, it’s like you can just see forever and ever. But it’s also really crowded when I was up there, I guess it was about a year ago. And it was during the week. When I got up there. There were people sitting all over the place, eating their lunch and taking pictures, enjoying the view. But that was a weekday and there were still quite a few people out there. So how many visitors does McAfee get every year?
CHRISTOPULOS: We think it gets about 50 to 70,000 people a year. The busiest times are spring and fall, especially on weekends. A lot of it’s driven by college students from Virginia Tech, Radford, Liberty, and other places. So if you’d really like to get up there, and not have it be too crowded, but at McAfee Knob to not too crowded means only a couple hundred people a day went up there. And crowded it probably means six hundred to a thousand. Up there.
BOWSER: Wow. Those are big numbers. Yeah, I’m sure that people probably even if they’re not sure what it is, if they look it up, they’re gonna go Oh, I know what that is. Because there’s a license plate in Virginia that has a McAfee Knob on it isn’t there?
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, if you get the Appalachian Trail license plate, it’s got McAfee Knob and I hope you do get it if you live in Virginia, because that extra money that you pay actually goes to the clubs like our club that maintain the Appalachian Trail and helps us do things like hire a ridge runner during the busy season to help hikers and take care of the resource. So yeah, it’s very famous.
BOWSER: So with that many people visiting every year what challenges result from its popularity.
CHRISTOPULOS: Some of the more obvious ones would be trash lift around and damage to the trail because it’s really not designed to handle that many people. So that means we have to go back in and you know, it gets eroded. You have to repair it. But people getting lost. People count going up. I’m prepared like yesterday, I stopped several people from going up late afternoon because they don’t realize how far it is. They don’t have any water. They’re not wearing proper shoes, and when they go up there like that. They end up calling 911 And then the Roanoke rescue squad has to go up there and usually requires several hours and 10 to 20 people to do a rescue. So that’s very expensive also in terms of the time commitment, and the Roanoke county rescue people actually, they have helped us a lot in training and equipping volunteers to go up and patrol the area to help prevent problems like that.
BOWSER: Right. And I remember when I visited there was a pretty big parking lot, but just crossing the street from the parking lot to the trailhead felt a little dangerous.
CHRISTOPULOS: Okay, yeah, that parking is definitely an issue. So the trail itself to McAfee is the cross a state highway, that is the own, it’s a very busy highway, that’s the only connection for Craig county to the Roanoke area. And it’s a 55 mile an hour speed limit. And so actually, we have thankfully, with the work of all the partners and local counties, acquired funding through Virginia Department of Transportation to build a pedestrian bridge between the parking lot and the trail on the other side. And we think that’s gonna happen in 2023. We’ve already been working on it for a couple years, because it’s recognized this will tell you how unsafe it is. We asked for a crosswalk with flashing lights. And the dot told us we aren’t going to do that, because that would imply that it’s safe to cross the road there. Wow, yeah. Flashing lights in two locations saying slow down as you come up the hill, but they won’t put a crosswalk.
BOWSER: Well, if I remember correctly, the road, you’re in the mountains. So the road is definitely steep. And then it comes around a bend before you get to the crossing area. Right?
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, it’s crest in a blind curve. So that’s a really bad situation, because you’ve got people of all ages with their children and dogs, who don’t understand how fast these cars are coming. That are some of them, they’re really tired by the time they come back, and they’re not paying attention. We’re so lucky, no one’s been killed. There has been a bear cub killed up there. But no humans that we know of have been hit.
BOWSER: Let’s talk about the trail from the parking lot to McAfee itself, how long is the trail?
CHRISTOPULOS: It’s about four miles each way. And you have two options. You can do the whole thing on the Appalachian Trail, which has two shelters on the way and a campsite. It’s more up and down going on the trail. And what we encourage day hikers to do who are not Appalachian Trail campers is that you can take the fire road a third of a mile and there’s a split. And you can walk in old dirt road that for two and a half of the four miles is a lot easier and doesn’t go up and down as much. So you can do two and a half miles that way, you’re still left at the end with a mile and a half or so on the Appalachian Trail. That’s probably the steepest part of the hike. But there is an easier option for day hikers.
BOWSER: When I did it, I went to McAfee on the AT and then took the fire road coming back. And I thought that was a really great way to do it because you got the experience of both. And they’re both very different because even on the fire road, you’ve got some really interesting rock formations that are really cool to explore on your way back.
CHRISTOPULOS: They are in fact those rock formations. If you hit it at the right time, you know, these mountains here are used to be the bottom of a seabed floor. And so if something happens to break up and at the right time, you can find seashells in those rock formations and fossils. Yeah, I remember when I first understood, you know, long time ago that wait, these mountain tops were on the bottom of an ocean floor and these mountains here used to be as high as the Himalayas. They’ve worn down just the hard sandstone is left.
BOWSER: Right. So the evidence of that is there and it’s really cool to explore. Yeah. So who maintains the trail with all of these visitors coming and all the work that needs to be done? Who actually does the maintenance?
CHRISTOPULOS: Okay, so the way the Appalachian Trail works, we call it an inverted pyramid. And so if you imagine upside down pyramid, at the bottom of it is the National Park Service because the Appalachian Trail itself is a unit of the National Park System. It’s the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that’s headquartered in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It only has less than 10 employees for 2200 mile trail under federal law. The next level up is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which is a nonprofit that’s also headquartered in Harpers Ferry, and it has a regional office here in Roanoke. It has fewer than 100 employees but they manage a lot of the day to day policymaking and activities and support for the Appalachian Trail. But the actual maintenance of the trail is done by 31. Maintaining clubs, and most of them are 501C3 is our club is the Roanoke Appalachian Trail club. Our club doesn’t have any staff or buildings nor do most of the clubs. Some of the big ones up north do but we have 120 miles of the trail and we have about 700 volunteers. And every inch of the trail here has a couple of people who are responsible for cleaning and taking care of it, we have two people in charge of our 16 shelters that get help taking care of the shelters and privies. And then we have a trail supervisor that does the work crews, we have people out at least once a week doing repair, rebuilding and relocation of the trails. So it’s kind of those three plus, we get other partners for on forest service land, we work very closely with them. But the actual day to day maintenance of the trail is almost 100% done by volunteers.
BOWSER: So why is trail maintenance so important?
CHRISTOPULOS: The trail itself, let’s say you had no volunteers, you would not be able to find the trail in this wet environment that we have. In fact, that’s what happened in World War Two, you know, when people were all drafted and so on, the trail kind of disappeared in a lot of places. It grows fast, you know, you need to cut it back. You need to if it erodes, you need to get rocks and stuff and smooth it out and put in water bars, so the water runs a different direction. So just keeping the footpath passable trees fall down we had last year with all the wind and rain. And again, now this year, trees fall down every day on the trail and big ones. And if nobody goes out and moves them, it’s really hard to use the trail. So that aspect of trail maintenance is important protecting the resource. So you know, you’ll get people that’ll come in and they think it’s okay to just cut trees down or throw trash all over the place. We like to keep eyes on the trail so that we can in a positive way, almost always let people know hey, you know, this is a national park here, we need to take good care of it for ourselves and for future generations. So the presence of people on the trail, we’re pretty proud of the way that we clean up the McAfee section I patrol that yesterday and I carried out less than a pint of trash was just tiny little micro trash and to aluminum cans. There was a time five or six years ago when I would have been carrying out gallons of trash. And that still happens occasionally.
BOWSER: The trail runners who are patrolling the area, what are they looking for when they’re patrolling.
CHRISTOPULOS: I usually try to talk to as many people as I can, because that’s when we count everybody and we count how many we talk to best place to talk to him if you can is pretty early in their hike. So that you most people who come to McAfee have never been there and won’t come back again. So they don’t they don’t even know it’s a national park. They don’t know how to get there. So you want to make sure they head in the right direction that you know you’re on the trail, I’ve plenty of in the head the wrong way. They don’t understand that it takes four to six hours to hike those eight miles. Yesterday, I was telling them you probably need two liters of water each day and a hard hike for eight miles. They don’t wear proper shoes. And you know, just sort of things like that. So that’s the first sort of like on Maslow’s hierarchy, the first thing you’re looking for is is is everybody safe. Then when we go and look at the trail itself, we look if there’s a tree down, we’ll take a GPS reading and send it to the person that maintains that section so they can come and clear it. If it’s too big for us to clear. We check we have bear boxes in most of the shelter areas because we had a real bear problem in 2016. So we got the big grizzly proof ones from outwest the steel ones so you can store your food. Some people think that’s where they should put their garbage. So we have to go check them and you know, haul out things that shouldn’t be there we check the shelters. So that and on the trail we look is anyone having trouble. Also, dogs should be on a leash. It’s not so much you know that we’re worried about that dog. It’s the eight dogs that are on the trail that might not get along. Dogs, if they see a deer will run away. Dogs if they see a bear will want to chase it and actually being with a dog in a bear isn’t a good thing we’ve heard from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries that a lot of bears associate dogs with humans and they think the humans are the adult and the dog is the child and so if the dog harasses the bear the bear goes after the human and so you know it just we want to kind of keep the wildlife and and the dogs separate from each other. And of course we pick up trash everywhere that we find it we look at how the trails doing just anything at all. camp fires, people start put campers where they shouldn’t be they leave them on there, we’ve come up on smoldering campfires, so gotta use water to put those out. Just graffiti, any kind of a problem that you can imagine on the trail that our job is kind of to find it and fix it or prevent it in first place.
BOWSER: So remind me when I was hiking up to McAfee my recollection is there was a section of the trail that was signed and there were quite a few camp areas all around the sign. It was like several campsites is that a good place for people to camp if they’re interested in doing that.
CHRISTOPULOS: So that section of the trail, and there’s there’s a map at the trailhead in several other places, there’s only seven places where you can camp and that’s next to a shelter or in a designated campsite. So, camping up on McAfee is not legal, nor nor on Tinker cliffs, which is about six miles away. Those sections we’re trying to protect the resource, we’ve had a couple of wildfires started by people that were camping in head illegal camp fires. So it’s very clearly signed, if you get on our website, or ATC Roanoke Appalachian Trail club.org or atc.org, you’ll see a page we have an entire page devoted to McAfee Knob and Triple Crown. And it shows on the map where it’s legal to camp and we’re not. And again, this isn’t to be mean or anything, it’s to protect the resource. Because if we let everybody can’t be everywhere, it makes huge bear spots and you got campfires go into dangerous places. We did have a camp, we had a fire on McAfee just a few years ago, some people camped illegally up there. And they wanted to break up their fire. So they threw their smoldering log over the over the knob to down below, which started wildfire. They call 911. But you know, we just really don’t want people having a fire up there.
BOWSER: It’s amazing what people do.
CHRISTOPULOS: Murphy’s Law, the way people get lost. The other thing we look for is our people getting lost in a certain area. And that goes on all the time. Because, you know, we’re up there all the time. So we know how to get there. And it would be hard for us to get lost. But most people, they’re only going to be there one time. So the signage, you know, has to be good because they’ll get they get lost anyplace it’s possible they get lost.
BOWSER: So you’d mentioned just a few moments ago Tinker Cliff so I think this is probably a good time to talk about Virginia’s Triple Crown. So what is Virginia’s triple crown?
CHRISTOPULOS: Oh, gosh, you know, it was named not by us but by a guy that led a meetup group in the DC metro area. It’s three rock promontory keys that are pretty close together on the Appalachian Trail. One of them is south of McAfee Knob of 10 miles or so. And it’s called Dragon’s Tooth. And it’s a really cool toothy looking thing that sticks up that you can hike up and climb up and get a pretty good view. And then north of McAfee less than 10 Miles is Tinker cliffs. And that’s actually a long stretch of boulders and stuff that has beautiful views. You can look back at McAfee, you can actually on a clear day, see all the way to Tinker Cliffs. It’s not as crowded as McAfee, I actually kind of like it better in some ways. And so people come to hike all three of those. And one way they do it is they’ll park at any of the three trailheads and do all three of them and loop them together by hiking North Mountain which is runs from Tinker if you go down take a cliffs and across the valley then you get on North Mountain and you walk about 12 miles and you’re back to the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot. Or you can run a shuttle there’s a lot of different ways we talk about this on our website page. There’s a lot of some people just do it as day hikes. But it’s it’s three places that on a clear day, you’re gonna get some great views on all three of them. So people come from all over the country to hike.
BOWSER: And can that hike be done in one day?
CHRISTOPULOS: If you are a marathon distance champion, and where there are some people who are it’s about 36 or 7 miles and it’s not easy. It’s actually maybe more than that, because you know, it’s climbing up and down. So the answer for a normal person would be no. I know people that have done it with a car where they go to each trailhead and do it. And it’s challenging to do that. But more typically you do it in probably two nights and three days.
BOWSER: Sounds like a great backpacking trip.
CHRISTOPULOS: It is and if you if you do it straight like you could do it, get a shuttle and leave your car at one end. Like it. Let’s say you left your cart at the Tinker Cliffs trailhead, and started Dragon’s Tooth or the opposite than that, then you’re only doing you could do it in one night. So you know, great, great trip and too many people do it on weekends, of course get pressure on the campsite. So if you want to do it, I would strongly recommend a weekday.
BOWSER: There’s no reservation for a campsite, right? It’s first come first serve.
CHRISTOPULOS: That’s correct. And that probably will will change at some time in the future but not in the near future.
BOWSER: Good to know great information. Let’s go back to trail maintenance and for just a moment. So for people who are listening, who might not be familiar with trail maintenance, you did a great job of describing why it’s so important. How can hikers who are listening to this or people who are going to be using the trails contribute to maintaining the trails?
CHRISTOPULOS: Oh, that’s a really good, really good question. I think the first thing is to leave no trace. So you know, whatever you carry in please carry it out, because we have to do it otherwise. One thing we’ve had a big problem with, and especially trail runners tend to do this is, you know, we, we, we make switchbacks so that instead of going straight up a steep slope, you go back and forth. So it’s more gradual. But there are people, especially trail runners that like to run straight down. And so they’ll create new trails. And what that does is cause a lot of erosion. So we would ask that you stay on the trail. And in fact, when you’re walking it, don’t make it super wide. It’s intended to be about two feet wide. And so walk single file rather than right next to each other. And try not to make it a big wide trail. Because again, once you do that, it just keeps getting eroded further and further out. And what our maintainers then have to do and they’ve been having to do a lot of this lately, is put boulders close together. And these aren’t, this is all done by hand labor, we don’t use any, the strongest thing we use as a hand chainsaw, you know, we have to do it all ourselves. So if you make the trail wider and wider than the maintainers have to come in and put little fences and you know things like that. So basically stay on the trail, Leave No Trace, don’t make new social trails.
BOWSER: Good advice. And what about supporting the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, I’ve noticed you’ve got some really cool things for sale on your websites.
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, check our store. So one thing we really like is we have t shirts that have our logo on them. We were founded in 1932. And it’s got the logos got a picture of McAfee Knob and the year 1932. And then on the backside it says easy on the eyes hard on the thighs. And it’s got pictures of McAfee, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth with the name on it. And they come in a really nice forest green and a red, we’ve got hats. And so those are, I think we’ll probably have our patches and stuff now too but the the hats and the T shirts are the the main things that we sell. And that money again goes, we don’t have any overhead. We don’t have any buildings and we don’t have any staff. So if you buy something from us or make a donation or join the club, basically that money is coming to help the trail.
BOWSER: They’re nice looking merch too. I’ve got the green t shirt and the black trucker hats that I wear all the time. And we’ll put a link to that in the show notes so that listeners can click directly to it if they want to check out the shop themselves
CHRISTOPULOS: Thanks a lot I had I had the shirt and a hat too. I really like. Yeah.
BOWSER: Okay, so you know, what is your role with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club?
CHRISTOPULOS: I’ve been a volunteer with the clubs since about 2004. I moved here in 2003. And I have led hikes, though not lately. I’m a former president of the club. But right now the two things that I’m doing. One is that I’m an a very active member of the McAfee knob Task Force. And what that means is we’re the people that patrol the Triple Crown. And to do that, all you have to do is join the club, which is pretty inexpensive, go through a one day training and a practice hike. And then it’s really cool. It works well for working people. You go out whenever you want. We have a meetup page where you can sign up to live the rest of this, oh, okay, I’m going to be at Tinker Cliffs you just sign up and you go out and do a patrol. And you can do one hour or 10 hours. And we just asked you to do it one time a month during the busy season. So it’s fantastic in terms of the flexibility. And I do that pretty much every Sunday. Now, the other thing I’m doing that’s really fun. My doctorate is in American history, I was a college professor for a while. And every historian loves to find a set of archives that no one knows about. And our archives were living in basements and barns and places like that. And we’re not ever really written about. And so we’ve managed to bring them all together just literally in the last week. It’s taken two years to do it. And I started writing blogs and I can give you a link to the first one. We’re learning history that is not been told at all. And McAfee Knob is part of that. The trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy originally in 1932 wanted to build that trail east of Roanoke along the Blue Ridge, but they needed a club to maintain and build the trail and the clubs that they got to Do it here where people from Roanoke College, Hollins College, and a women’s hiking club called the nomads. They were all hikers. And when Myron Avery, who’s one of the founders of the ATC said, we want to put it over here on the Blue Ridge. They were like, no, no, that’s not where you want to put it. You want to go over here, get off the Blue Ridge, go to Tinker Cliffs and pass just below McAfee Knob. And they showed it to him. And he said way, right. So starting in 1933, when it was built here, because of the people that lived here, the hikers, the trail was built on two of the three pieces of the Triple Crown. So that’s the first story I’ve told them, there’s going to be a whole bunch more like that, that come up to the present time that are fun and interesting history.
BOWSER: So you’re out on the trail, and you’re doing all the archivist work as well.
BOWSER: Awesome. So you kind of sound like an all star volunteer. And I think I’m not the only person who thinks so. Because not too long ago, you received a hero or do you want to talk about that?
CHRISTOPULOS: Well, Cox Conserves and the Trust for Public Land and Cox. Cox is a cable company. I didn’t even know I’d been nominated my good friend, Rupert Cutler, who’s probably the most outstanding environmentalist in our area. He nominated me, but he didn’t tell me he had done it. And I think it was just in 2019, I get a phone call, you need to call Cox. I’m like, why I don’t even I’m not in their territory. I can’t even get their cable. No, no, you’ve just won the state of Virginia award for being an environmentalist and helping to conserve land. And well, I was impressed because I didn’t know I’d been nominated in the state level award is $10,000. And it doesn’t come to me you designate a nonprofit to receive it. So I designated the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Virginia to protect viewsheds here, and when you’re in the state level, and the next thing that happens, I think they had eight people nominated nationally from different states than they do online voting to determine who wins an additional $50,000. And so we got all of our Appalachian Trail friends, and I’m very active in the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy which conserves those conservation easements on properties in 17 counties in this part of the world. So we get everybody all riled up and managed to win the national championship. And so I got a check for it wasn’t to me, but it you know, $60,000 made out to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which is really exciting and very gratifying.
BOWSER: That’s wonderful. Do you know how that money is going to be used.
CHRISTOPULOS: So that money, actually part of it was used to buy a piece of property adjacent to the McAfee Knob parking lot. The woman whose dad owned the place where the parking lot is still owns two, three parcels adjacent. And those were in danger of being developed into, you know, somebody’s retirement home. And but she wanted to sell it to us. And so we successfully raised the money to do that. And I gave some seed money for it. And then I think the rest of it was used to sustain the efforts to protect you sheds here in the Virginia area with the COVID. There were some real budgetary crises. And so we wanted to make sure that staff could continue to find and acquire land because it’s, it takes a lot of time to do that properly. And so I think that’s what the rest of it went to.
BOWSER: That’s amazing. Diana, how exciting for everyone. So what resources can you recommend for people who are looking for more information about hiking and outdoor recreation in general in Roanoke?
CHRISTOPULOS: Roanoke Outside, I think is a really good choice. They really support all the different efforts outdoors, they are the ones that put on the go outside festival every year. And so that website will tell a lot of things that are happening around here. The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has a we have a meetup group and if you’re a member of meetup, you can just sign on to it for free. And we list all of our hikes and all of our work hikes and all of our fun parties and things that we do there. And so that’s a great place to find out what we’re doing. There are a lot of running clubs here and bike clubs, and I’m sorry, I’m not well enough informed about all those but I think if you put bicycle Roanoke or whichever your favorite sport is, then that would probably come up because we have a lot of people here that it’s a combination of the really young ones and the working ones and the retirees that just like to play outside.
BOWSER: And there’s so much to do. I think Roanoke is probably one of my favorite towns in Virginia because there’s always something going on. But you know, you could spend all day hiking or kayaking or mountain biking, and then immediately come off the trail and go right into a local brewery or a winery and and there’s so many resources available to people in the area that you’re never. You’re never looking for something to do because it’s always right there. Do you have any favorite places that you like to go or businesses that you would recommend to the listeners?
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, absolutely. So the town I live in Salem is actually right off of I-81. And it’s the closest town to McAfee Knob. And my house is 20 minutes from the trailhead. And in that town, there’s actually two really cool brew pubs. One is called Old Salem Brewing Company. It’s right on Main Street and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Cub has a happy hiker hour there, the third Wednesday of every month. The other one is called Parkway Brewery. And it’s really super popular locally, most of its outdoors. And then if you’re in Roanoke, the city of Roanoke I think there’s about seven brew pubs that you can walk to hopefully you wouldn’t try to do it all in one day. But you could if you wanted to. They’re all within a mile or two of each other in downtown Roanoke. So those are good. There are lots of local wineries, they’re more spread out. So yeah, so that’s breweries and wineries. What else were you thinking about?
BOWSER: How about outfitters?
CHRISTOPULOS: So yeah, we have Walkabout Outfitters, right downtown in Roanoke. And another really fun new store downtown is called the Mast General Store m-a-s-t. And it’s part of a chain, small chain, the regional that started in North Carolina. I think maybe in Asheville, they took a big building that was vacant downtown Roanoke and it completely gutted it and turned it into a beautiful two story building that’s wide open on the inside, beautifully crafted wood, a lot of oak and pine. And the upstairs of it is like a playground for outdoors adults, there’s all kinds of gear and clothing any any sport that you like, especially the things that I like, there’s a lot of stuff there. The downstairs is fun for everyone. There are all kinds of candies and, and unusual gifts and cards. And just like a toy store, I would take people there. If you were visiting from out of town, that’s one of the places I would ask you to come to.
BOWSER: And I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the amazing farmers market in downtown Roanoke.
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, it’s one of the things I love the most about the place. It’s right in the middle of the city. It’s, I believe, the oldest continuous farmers market in the state of Virginia. The original market building has been turned into a home of numerous restaurants and they’re all one of the cons. There’s no no chain restaurants there. And then the farmers market itself has outdoor stalls. And it’s especially spectacular on Saturdays. But it’s it’s open, I think almost every day, and it’s full of food and crafts from a local people. So it’s it’s also where they have the Dickens of a Christmas Festival in Christmas time. So it’s it’s used all year round.
BOWSER: Well, I’m definitely eager now to plan my next trip to Roanoke.
CHRISTOPULOS: But if you do that it also there’s a couple hotels right downtown one is the historic ld Roanoke Hotel, which is original railroad hotel that was put there. And if you stay there, you’re right across the tracks from downtown market. And there’s a pedestrian passageway to walk from one side to the other. And when you’re there at the market, there’s also the Taubman Art Museum. There’s a building that’s got three other a science museum and Virginia history museum, a black history museum. So there’s all these different things to do. There’s a theater, mill, mountain theater, those are all right there within half a mile of each other.
BOWSER: I’ve stayed at Hotel Roanoke a few times already, and it does not disappoint. It’s impactful. The architecture is really unique, which I think is what makes it so cool. how can listeners connect with you, Diana, if they’re looking for the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, or they’re looking for you? What’s the best way to find you?
CHRISTOPULOS: Well, the rotc.org is the website. We have a Facebook page. I’m on Facebook, so you can find me there. Let’s see the meetup group would be the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. And so those are all I think, really, really easy to find.
BOWSER: Excellent. I will add those to the show notes. So listeners should check the show notes for those links.
CHRISTOPULOS: Okay, I’m gonna do a shout out for something that might not have been on your mind. But one of the reasons we retired is there’s great health care, and I appreciated that one I fell down and broke my elbow on the trail last spring because I was only 20 minutes from the ER.
BOWSER: I remember that.
CHRISTOPULOS: Yeah, so it’s actually a really wonderful thing to have great health care and rehab and all that available. The college and in universities, the thing I love about this area, we moved from a major metro area. And we were tired of the traffic and you know, the bad air and all that. And we find that here, it’s like it’s big enough that there’s a lot going on. But it’s small enough that you almost always see someone you know when you go out. So you have to be a little bit careful about how you behave. But it’s like a really nice combination of a city and a small town.
BOWSER: That’s right, it definitely has that city and small town field going on at the same time. So Diana, what’s one piece of gear you can’t live without?
CHRISTOPULOS: I could live without it. But my newest one that I really love is my one pound Helinox chair that folds all up. And when I’m patrolling, I can unfold it and have a backrest. And I used it yesterday on the trail three different locations because I like to sit in patrol and talk to hikers as they come by. And I’ve got a good friend that I’ve done a lot of backpacking with who’s out in the wind rivers in Wyoming right now. And she said, I know I take it with me everywhere I go, even the extra pound is worth it. I guess we’re getting old and decadent now.
BOWSER: No, I’m gonna have to check that out because on a lot of the Facebook groups for backpackers and hikers that that chair gets mentioned quite a bit. I think, especially if you’re out for multiple days at a time people appreciate having something to sit on. That’s not the ground or a rock. So I’m going to look into that. All right, that’s a good choice. And what’s your next big Virginia outdoor adventure?
CHRISTOPULOS: Golly. I’m enjoying the kind of thing I did today, I’m on the Stewardship Committee of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy. We just went out today and looked at a beautiful piece of property that fronts on the New River. And these properties, you go out there with the landowner and you know, it’s some of the walk ins a little bit tricky because you’re down by the river and going up and down steep hills, but I’ve been doing that for several years. And we have if they do have a conservation easement, then we go out and check those easements once a year to make sure everything’s okay. And we have over 80 of them now. So I am just enjoying getting to see a lot of properties that are so beautiful all over the south eastern southwestern part of the state, we go east and west of the Blue Ridge. So I think that’s my adventure right now aside from doing stuff with the with the Appalachian Trail.
BOWSER: Excellent. Diana, thank you so much for being a guest on Virginia Outdoor Adventures and for sharing with us the information that we need to know if we want to hike McAfee Knob or Virginia’s Triple Crown, and also ways that we can give back and help maintain the trail and be good stewards of the trail. And it was just really interesting to hear about your role and your work with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Clubs. So thanks for being on the show.
CHRISTOPULOS: Thanks, Jessica. Really appreciate it.
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KELLY: If you enjoyed that episode of Virginia outdoor adventures as much as I did, I hope you’ll follow the show wherever you get your podcasts. If you’re out on the Appalachian Trail this summer, keep an eye out for The Green Tunnel team. We’ll be doing some trail magic, meeting with our podcast ambassadors and interviewing hikers in the wild. The Green Tunnel is a production of R2 Studios at George Mason University. I’m your host, Mills Kelly. Today’s episode was produced by Jeanette Patrick. Abby Mullen is our executive producer. Our original music is performed by Scott Miller of Stanton Virginia, and Andrew Small and Ashley Watkins of Floyd, Virginia. This summer, we’ll have a bonus episode for you about these wonderful musicians. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you soon