What the heck is an RPC Committee?
Well, before you start, be advised that this post has no photos of people having fun in the woods--it has no photos at all. So if you'd rather not dig into the management of the AT, feel free to skip to the next post where Jim, Don and Cosmo are messing around in the snow at Crystal Mtn Campsite.
So, for those of you brave enough to keep reading, an RPC Committee is a "Regional Partnership Committee". At a minimum it has representatives (trail volunteers) from each AT maintaining club in the region (ours is the New England Region: CT, MA, VT, NH, and Maine) and staff from the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) and the NPS (National Park Service). At every other meeting, staff from other agency partners (US Forest Service, various State Parks, and even occasionally Baxter Park) also join us. Our New England RPC just met last week to address upcoming trail projects in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut--as well as discuss policy regarding overnight fees at campsites, wind turbine development in Maine, maintenance of the Trail Corridor Boundary and invasive plant mitigation on some sections of Trail.
What is it for?Briefly (a nearly impossible task), the four RPC's (New England, Mid-Atlantic, Virginia, and Deep South) are the way for both ATC and NPS to connect to the trail maintaining clubs in each region. NPS is the overarching Federal administrator; the "APPA" park office is the lead agency for land acquisition, law enforcement and natural resource management. They address encroachment or misuse of Trail Corridor Lands, criminal activity, and inventory and monitor historical/cultural sites and rare plants and animals on the Corridor. They also maintain an inventory of all trail 'deficiencies'--places where the treaway is eroded, damaged, or requires other physical repair. They collaborate with the US Forest Service where the Trail is on National Forest lands. APPA is also the conduit for Federal funding for the Trail. They are big brother, but in a friendly way--as long a communication remains open.
ATC staff assists the clubs in compliance with NPS regulations and supports volunteers in the 31 trail maintaining clubs in the areas of trail and overnight site construction, Corridor Monitoring and Natural Heritage monitoring; and in general, navigating the federal regulatory and funding maze.
All of this is stitched together with "Delegation Agreements" (documents transferring responsibility from the NPS to ATC, and then from ATC to the individual trail clubs). Further, each trail club has an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with all of the partners in their state. In Mass, for example, there are 12 different signatories from MassHighway to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Finally, all of this is put together in a "Local Management Plan" (LMP) created by each club and ATC that describes how everything from Hang Gliding to Military Manouvers on trail lands will be addressed.
So back to the RPC.As you can see, it's Complicated. Its a long trail that must address a wide range of regulatory environments, and the different styles and resources of all of the Trail Clubs. Regular face to face meetings--as well as e-mails and phone calls are necessary to discuss current issues and plan for new and ongoing work projects and maintenance.
ATC is governed by a Board of Directors who are advised by a Stewardship Council. The Council advises the Board on Trailwide policy, and the RPC is that critical connection between the Council and the trail clubs. It pretty much works, but it requires a lot of open communication between all parties. Especially since our agency partners (NPS, USFS and various state agencies through out the Trail) can have significant staff turnover, the voice of the volunteer clubs and their collective historical knowledge resides with the RPC--they play a crucial role in putting the words in all of the documents listed above into physical results on the trail and the experiences of every hiker.
For more info, contact your local AT Trail Club, or check out the ATC website at www.appalachiantrail.org. It's actually not a grim as it sounds, you are working with great people who have a passion for the Trail and are committed not only to its physical maintenance and protection, but also to maintaining the unique hiking experience that can only be found on the AT.