Appalachian National Scenic Trail

 

Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, on the Appalachian Trail, photo by Carol Highsmith.

Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, on the Appalachian Trail, photo by Carol Highsmith.

“America needs her forests and her wild spaces quite as much as her cities and her settled places.”

— Benton MacKaye, Appalachian Trail visionary

 

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 2,185-mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally and historically significant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. America’s most beloved recreational footpath makes its way from its northern terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine to its southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia through the states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Benton MacKaye, left, and Myron Avery, who helped bring MacKaye's vision to life.

Benton MacKaye, left, and Myron Avery, who helped bring MacKaye’s vision to life.

The Appalachian Trail, commonly referred to as the A.T., was the vision of a Massachusetts regional planner and forester Benton MacKaye, who outlined his plan for a trail along the Appalachian Mountains in 1921. He envisioned a trail as a means to preserve the Appalachian crests and to provide a retreat from increasingly industrialized modern life.

MacKaye was also concerned about the loss of habitat and wildlife, diminishing recreational opportunities, and the deteriorating environmental health of the eastern United States. He envisioned more than a mere footpath, but rather a system of protected land dotted with mountaintop lodges where easterners could reacquaint themselves with nature in their own backyards.

MacKaye organized and convened the first conference of Appalachian Trail enthusiasts in Washington, D.C., in 1925. The assembled gathering of hikers, foresters, and public officials embraced his vision of creating a primitive trail experience in proximity to the urban centers of the eastern United States. They began by creating the organization that later became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The Trail was designed, constructed, and maintained in the 1920s and 1930s by volunteer hiking clubs.

Appalachian Trail Map courtesy National Park Service

Appalachian Trail Map courtesy National Park Service

The first section of the trail was constructed in Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks in New York, in 1923. Under the guidance of Appalachian Trail Conservancy chairman Myron Avery, thousands of volunteers constructed the Appalachian Trail throughout the 1920s and 1930s. By 1937 a continuous footpath from Maine to Georgia was completed. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of the Depression-era jobs program, built much of the original infrastructure along the trail, including rock walls, steps, cabins and shelters, and fire towers.

The national significance of the Trail was formally recognized in 1968 when the National Trails System Act established the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as one of the first national scenic trails in the United States. Specifically, this legislation directed the National Park Service, in consultation with the U.S. Forest Service, to administer the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The protected corridor surrounding the Appalachian Trail today is a direct result of a 30-plus-year land-acquisition program pursued by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and a number of states.

Mount Katahdin, Maine, by Carol Highsmith

Mount Katahdin, Maine, by Carol Highsmith

The trail follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, passing through 14 states and six national parks, eight national forests, two national wildlife refuges, 67 state-owned land areas, and more than a dozen local municipal watershed properties. The Appalachian Trail’s protected corridor, a swath of land averaging about 1,000 feet in width, encompasses more than 250,000 acres, making it one of the largest units of the National Park System in the eastern United States.

The national parks the trail passes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, C&O Canal National Historical Park, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Fisherman on the Housatonic River, Appalachian Trail by Carol Highsmith

Fisherman on the Housatonic River, Appalachian Trail by Carol Highsmith

The Trail offers opportunities for scenic enjoyment, ranging from the subtle beauty of a trillium flower to tranquil ponds and streams to the grand view of mighty Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. The trail threads through a diverse array of habitats, such as subalpine forests, open balds, rocky outcrops, meadows, and wetlands, providing a haven for abundant flora and fauna, including rare, threatened, and endangered species.

The lands along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail are also rich in history and include the stories of people — American Indians, pioneers, settlers, farmers, as well as early trailblazers and trail advocates.

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