SALEM, Va. – A local woman has won a national award that brings with it money to help maintain the beauty of the Appalachian Trail.
Diana Christopulos is the national winner of $60,000 in total grant money, which she will hand over to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to go toward conservation efforts in Virginia. She takes the top prize of the 2019 National Cox Conserves Heroes program, announced Tuesday.
Friends and company leaders surprised her with the news, and a large check, in Salem.
"I think it means that the little guy wins, the underdog. It means that a lot of people love the Appalachian Trail, and we're going to have some money to help protect the land along the trail," Christopulos said.
Earlier this month, Christopulos was named one of nine national finalists for the award, an honor for which she received a $10,000 grant.
The money could go toward buying land visible from trail overlooks in order to preserve its beauty.
"We are lucky to have protected most of the actual trail but there's a lot of land on each side of it -- places like Catawba Valley, Nelson County, that has a lot of pressure for development -- and we'd like to keep it the way it is and be able to enjoy it for a long time in the future," she said.
Christopulos leads volunteer groups who maintain sections of the trail.
"She has done a tremendous amount of great work right here in the Roanoke Valley, but beyond that, it's seen all up and down the whole Appalachian Trail," said Jeff Merritt, Marketing Vice President for Cox Communications in Roanoke.
Christopulos works with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, which handles about 120 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and she's the president of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.