What if Big Bald on the Appalachian Trail was no longer bald? Worse, what if Max Patch became an enclosed maze of bushes, bramble and vines? See the picture above.
Balds stay treeless because someone mows them. There are many theories on how balds came to be. Lightning, fires, animal grazing but now the only way they stay bald now is by human action. For example, Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald in the Smokies are mowed once a year.
Traditionally, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail budget included money to pay the Forest Service to mow traditional balds. But this year, The National Park Service budget for 2012 contains no money for maintaining open areas, such as Max Patch and Big Bald, along the A.T.
Unless these areas are regularly maintained, they will quickly revert to brush and trees and we will lose some of the most iconic points on our section of the A.T. When and if money is restored, it will be harder and more costly to mow them again.
Yes, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy could institute a program to have goats mow the bald, as they do at Roan Mountain. But this is costly and time consuming work, not likely to happen this year.
Some say that “let’s just ask volunteers with large tractors to do this.” These large balds are not your backyard.
Volunteers are needed in lots of endeavors but I doubt if the US Forest Service would let non-forest service volunteers just mow away. Recently a mower accident on the Blue Ridge Parkway stopped all mowing for the whole NPS system for a while.
Losing that funding was a bureaucratic bungle. I don’t think that those who made the decision realized how iconic these balds are in the Southern Appalachians. We need to have them restore the money now.
Spread the word. Call your US representative, call your newspaper and put this on your face book page.