Trail Champions Honorary Committee
Former long-term Appalachian Trail Conservancy Executive Director
David Startzell, retired in 2012 after more than 25 years as executive director of Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). He served the longest tenure of any executive director of ATC, as well as the longest of any officer of the organization, having joined ATC in January 1978. He is widely recognized as the person who did the most across two decades to secure almost $200 million in federal appropriations for the Appalachian Trail land-acquisition programs of the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. Under his stewardship, membership and staff grew, and more than 250,000 acres of public lands were protected along the A.T.’s 2,000-mile corridor. He also directed major reorganizations of ATC to position it as a true centrifugal force in Trail policymaking and operations.
Startzell also has worked with the Partnership of the National Trails System confederation, on the executive committee of which he served more than a decade; the American Hiking Society, where he eventually served two terms as chair; and the fledgling American Friends of the Lebanon Mountain Trail, for which he now serves as a board member.
In the mid-1980s, he served as chair of a federal task force that produced Trails for All Americans, a report on national trails planning that was the centerpiece of a project of the National Park Service and American Trails. The following decade, he served on a federal task force developing guidelines for increasing access to outdoor-recreation resources for disabled persons.
He first became involved with the Appalachian Trail through work trips with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club while a graduate student in planning at the University of Tennessee, following his 1971 graduation with a sociology degree from Miami University of Ohio. He held a number of consulting positions while a student in Knoxville and, for a year prior to joining the ATC staff, was an assistant in the planning department of the city of Oxnard, California.