Nestled on the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the southwestern corner of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Buena Vista is an area of great natural beauty. Bounded on the west by the Maury River, a major tributary of the James River, and partially surrounded by the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, the area offers opportunities for a variety of outdoor recreation activities. This friendly city, located just 9 miles west of the Appalachian Trail crossing at US 60, encourages A.T. hikers to come into town and stay a while.
There is a great Trail Angel network often offering hikers rides into town (and back) to take advantage of the abundant services Buena Vista has to offer. The local post office keeps a hiker's box in the lobby, where folks can drop packaged food for hikers to take, while the library and Maury River Senior Center offer computer access, maintain a guest book, and are friendly and welcoming places for hikers. Many downtown merchants post "Welcome A.T. Hikers" signs in their windows, and hiker logs can be found in many businesses, where owners and local residents are anxious to engage hikers in conversation and listen to their stories. Several businesses offer mail drops for hikers since the local post office is closed on Saturday. The city's own Glen Maury Park, a 315-acre jewel with camping and other recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, offers heavily discounted rates and free showers for A.T. hikers wanting to spend a night in town.
Celebrate Buena Vista, a volunteer, grassroots organization, took the lead in applying for designation as an Appalachian Trail Community. This organization is dedicated to providing Buena Vista with the opportunities to strengthen local pride by promoting the community, celebrating its history and natural heritage, and encouraging its revitalization through the creation, management and sponsorship of events and programs. Their primary focus is Mountain Day, an annual street festival which brings several thousand visitors to the community every year on the second Saturday of October. The A.T. is an important component of this annual festival, reinforcing and celebrating the community’s relationship with the Trail.
The A.T. Community application process served as a catalyst in providing a framework for collaboration among organizations that do not usually partner and has strengthened regional relationships. The advisory committee that supported both Buena Vista’s and Glasgow’s designation is a regional one, bringing together representatives from both local communities and governments, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the NBATC, Rockbridge Regional Tourism, Rockbridge Regional Library, and the ATC.
As a designated A.T. Community, Buena Vista has made strides to strengthen the relationship between the community and the Trail in many ways:
- Playing a role in increasing the visibility and awareness of the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club and its mission to local residents, thereby helping to expand its membership.
- Expanding their offering of hiker services by engaging other local organizations, residents, and businesses; encouraging hikers to make themselves at home in their community.
- Encouraging hiker-related businesses to locate in Buena Vista.
- Partnering with Glasgow, a nearby A.T. Community, to provide regional support to hikers in terms of services, events, etc.
The City of Buena Vista revised its Comprehensive Plan to place more emphasis on the area's recreational and outdoor opportunities, their benefit to the community, and ways to enhance and expand them. Language was also included which directly referenced the Appalachian Trail and its importance to the community. Additionally, the city received a grant through the A.T. Community program to create a brochure that informs hikers about services available in Buena Vista, and to construct an informational kiosk at the trailhead wayside on Long Mountain.
Learn more about the City of Buena Vista: http://www.buenavistavirginia.org/.
Photos courtesy Patte Wood