​pa act 24: a brief history & project implementation

In June 2008, the PA Appalachian Trail Act  was amended by Act 24, requiring the 58 PA municipalities along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) to take action to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the Trail and to conserve and maintain it as a public natural resource.  The legislation was prompted by a Commonwealth Court case related to a proposal to construct a country club for sports car enthusiasts, which threatened a portion of the A.T. in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.  Act 24 requires such actions – including the adoption, implementation and enforcement of zoning ordinances as the governing body deems necessary – to preserve those values.  The PA Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) was directed to assist municipalities with implementation.  An A.T. map showing the municipalities through which the Trail passes, enumerating Trail protection challenges, and discussing the amended PA A.T. Act can be viewed here.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) now manages the Act 24 implementation project with oversight from the National Park Service (NPS).  ATC has expanded its capacity on this project through a technical assistance partnership with Natural Lands Trust (NLT), a regional land conservancy with headquarters in Media, PA.

In September 2008, DCED appointed a Task Force to design a program to implement the intent of Act 24.  The Task Force identified the need for resource material to assist municipalities in developing the most appropriate zoning and other conservation strategies.  The resulting Conservation Guidebook for Communities Along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Guidebook)  identifies seven characteristics of communities that are most likely to be effective in addressing issues associated with the Trail.  Those characteristics – also known as the Seven Principles – provide the basis for a suggested checklist for municipalities to use in making their own assessments of how well the Trail experience is conserved in their community.  The Seven Principles are introduced here.  In addition to providing a checklist, the Guidebook offers sample zoning standards and other resources that municipalities can use to incorporate Trail and natural resource protections into their ordinances. 

atc conservation assistance mini-grant program

In order to help municipalities implement Act 24, the ATC established the Conservation Assistance Mini-Grant Program. Mini-grants are intended to stimulate sound local land use planning, zoning regulations, and conservation-related municipal actions that align with Act 24. $​20,000 in total funding is available for award in the 201​7 Round. Grant requests should not exceed $​17,​500. Additional funding may be available for exemplary projects. Funding priority will be given to projects that implement up to six of the Seven Principles. Funding cannot be used for land acquisition projects or for trail connections to the Appalachian Trail. Download application documents: Mini-Grant ​​Instructions/Application and Appendix A . 

Successful grant applications shall demonstrate how the project will protect the A.T. experience for future generations of residents and visitors. Priority projects will be those that bring local zoning regulations and plans into alignment with the Principles from the Guidebook, as well as build municipal capacity to address planning, zoning, and conservation issues related to protecting Trail values, as follows: 

  1. Local Recognition of the Trail and its Significance/Trail-Related Landscapes (see Principles 1.0 and 2.0).  Such projects could include amending a Comprehensive Plan to recognize the A.T. and its adjoining resources; conducting an Environmental Resource Inventory; mapping a municipality’s natural, scenic, and cultural resources and their relationship to the A.T; forming an Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) and/or developing training for EAC members to advise them on the range of resources and impacts associated with the A.T.; and adopting an Official Map under the Municipalities Planning Code, which displays those existing and proposed public lands and facilities in the A.T. landscape.
  2. Zoning for Landscape Protection (see Principle 3.0).  Municipalities can amend their zoning ordinances to conserve natural resources by limiting disturbance to steep slopes, woodlands, and water resources.  Natural Resource Overlay districts, or standards that address individual features such as steep slopes, are examples of this technique.
  3. Zoning and SALDO Mandates and Incentives for Conservation Design (see Principle 4.0).  These standards apply to residential development, setting aside open space each time a property is developed.  The resulting interconnected open space can add to local greenway networks and buffer the A.T. from the impacts of new development.
  4. Regulating Potentially High Impact Uses (see Principle 5.0).  Priority also will be given to zoning amendments that address high impact uses and the A.T. including light and noise pollution, wind turbines, power lines and pipelines, cell towers, and buffering of adjacent incompatible development.
  5. Municipal Capacity to Address Trail & Related Landscape Issues (see Principle 7.0). Such projects could include, but not be limited to formation of a municipal EAC, developing public education workshops to be conducted for / by the EAC, and working with the County Planning Commission and A.T. Communities to receive ongoing technical assistance. 

The ATC has completed an assessment, or review, of the Zoning and SALDO regulations adopted by each municipality along the A.T.  The ordinance updates suggested in the assessment are priorities for funding under the mini-grant program.  Please contact the ATC to discuss the assessment for your municipality.