The Appalachian Trail was built through the town of Hot Springs over seven decades ago, and today white blazes still mark the path through town and over the bridge across the French Broad River, before heading north up to the vista, Lover’s Leap.
The Trail is unequivocally intertwined with the town - it is the first town, headed on a northbound hike, through which the Trail literally overlaps the town’s main street. Because of fond experiences, recreational opportunities, and scenic beauty, the town is quickly gaining popularity among second-home owners and people seeking to relocate entirely to Hot Springs.
Though many new residents are often familiar with the Trail, some long-time citizens are unaware that the A.T. passes right through town. However, there is an indication that awareness and attitudes about the Trail and its visitors are changing. One town resident expressed this change of heart: "I used to wish those strange hikers would just go quickly through town. Since being involved with the Trail this year, now I see the hikers are real people."
The program in Hot Springs illustrates the success of partnerships to preserve the town’s unique heritage while growing its economy and preserving its appeal.
An advisory committee was created to provide a framework for collaborations to enhance the health and economic well being of the Hot Springs and Madison County, while protecting the A.T. as one of many important natural and cultural assets of the region. The committee formed new partnerships with local and county leadership, several businesses, and organizations serving the town. Relationships have been significantly strengthened between the ATC, the Town of Hot Springs, Land of Sky Regional Council, Hot Springs Tourism Association, Madison County Parks and Recreation, Madison County Arts Council, Mars Hill College and Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
The community forum, organized by the advisory committee, brought 115 citizens together to celebrate the A.T. in November 2006. The event provided information on the Trail and other services, and helped organizers gain an understanding of the impressions of the Trail within the community. It was an opportunity for the ATC to formally acknowledge and thank the town for its support over the years. The resounding result of the forum placed an emphasis on working with the town and County to ensure that ordinances and land-use planning regulations do not negatively impact the A.T.
The Hot Springs School adopted and continues to maintain a section of the Trail near the school. Students have removed invasive exotic species and participated in water quality and ozone monitoring. The school is now actively engaged in writing to hikers and reading their responses using a journal at the local diner.
Working with Land of Sky Regional Council, the ATC has participated in the Madison County Recreational Inventory and has been an active participant in the comprehensive planning effort for the town. As part of the 10-year visioning meeting for the comprehensive plan, community members voiced a need to create an A.T. information center and museum, historic preservation, green space protection, and land-use planning that takes the surrounding forests and farms into consideration.