In June, the state of Tennessee passed legislation allowing Appalachian Trail supporters to test the popularity and feasibility of a specialty license plate touting the AT. Supporters—primarily the Appalachian Trail Conference, which has a regional office in Asheville, N.C., and a national office in Harper's Ferry, W.Va., along with a solar system of satellite volunteer groups—have until the end of June 2009 to muster 1,000 applicants for the new plate.
"We already have 246 applicants," says Mark Shipley of Farragut, who sits on an ATC subcommittee in charge of promoting the plate. "I know that at least 30 of those are from Knox County. We're having a little trouble selling it in West Tennessee, as you can imagine."
As with the Sons of Confederate Veterans or Tennessee Arts Commission plates currently available, those wishing to pimp their ride AT style would pay an additional $35 on top of regular registration or renewal fees ($75 if you wish to customize the four available alpha-numeric spaces). $15.56 of those fees will stay in state and be applied to trail maintenance expenses on the Tennessee section of the AT.
Leanna Joyner manages the ATC's license plate program from the Asheville office.
"North Carolina already has an AT license plate," she says. "That program has raised around $240,000 since 2005, to support North Carolina trail maintenance initiatives."
Joyner says the best way to imagine how money raised by a Tennessee AT plate would be utilized is to look at some of the things North Carolina's plate program has accomplished lately. This summer it funded a botany experiment to determine whether or not goat grazing was an effective tool against woody encroachment of mountain balds. (Results are forthcoming.) It funded a program implemented by the Carolina Mountain Club to install bear cables in all North Carolina shelters along the AT. (These are simple cable/pulley systems that raise hikers' food out of a bear's reach.) And it helped the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club purchase the hand and power tools necessary for their volunteer trail maintenance projects.
Joyner says that even though the deadline for 1,000 applicants is June, the goal is to reach that mark early to send an even stronger message to the state and others that the trail is important to Tennesseans.
Production of the plates is expected to take roughly four months once 1,000 drivers sign up. Until then, all application fees are held safe in a non-interest bearing account. Should the effort fail to gather the necessary support in the allotted time, anyone who has applied will receive a refund.
To apply or learn more, visit appalachiantrail.org/tnlicenseplate.