Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail
Map of Appalachian Trail.png
Map of Appalachian Trail
Length About 2,200 miles (3,500 km) [a]
Location Appalachian Mountains
Designation National Scenic Trail
Trailheads Springer Mountain, Georgia
Mount Katahdin, Maine
Use Hiking
Elevation
Highest point Clingmans Dome, 6,643 ft (2,025 m)
Lowest point Bear Mountain State Park, 124 ft (38 m)
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Easy to strenuous
Season Early spring to autumn
Sights Appalachian Mountains
Hazards Severe weather
American black bear
Tick-borne diseases
Mosquitos
Yellowjackets
Biting flies
Chiggers
Steep grades
Limited water
Dangerous Fordings
Diarrhea from water
Poison ivy
Venomous snake
Website Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the A.T., is a marked hiking trail in the Eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. [1] The trail is about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) [a] long, though the exact length changes over time as parts are modified or rerouted. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy claims that the Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. [2] More than 2 million people are said to do at least one day-hike on the trail each year. [3]

The idea of the Appalachian Trail came about in 1921. The trail itself was completed in 1937 after more than a decade of work, although improvements and changes continue. It is maintained by 31 trail clubs and multiple partnerships, [4] and managed by the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy. [5] [6] The majority of the trail is in forest or wild lands, although some portions traverse towns, roads and farms. It passes through 14 states: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Thru-hikers attempt to hike the trail in its entirety in a single season — more than 2,700 people thru-hiked the trail in 2014 — and some hike from one end to the other, then turn around and thru-hike the trail the other way, known as a "yo-yo". Many books, memoirs, websites, and fan organizations are dedicated to these pursuits.

An extension known as the International Appalachian Trail continues northeast, crossing Maine and cutting through Canada to Newfoundland, with sections continuing in Greenland, through Europe, and into Morocco. Other separate extensions continue the southern end of the Appalachian range in Alabama and continue south into Florida, creating what is known as the Eastern Continental Trail.

The Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail form what is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking in the United States. [7] [8]

History

Marker on the trail near Mount Sugarloaf in Maine commemorating its completion.

The trail was conceived by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote his original plan—called "An Appalachian Trail, A Project in Regional Planning" [9]—shortly after the death of his wife in 1921. MacKaye's idea detailed a grand trail that would connect a series of farms and wilderness work/study camps for city-dwellers. In 1922, at the suggestion of Major William A. Welch, director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, his idea was publicized by Raymond H. Torrey with a story in the New York Evening Post under a full-page banner headline reading "A Great Trail from Maine to Georgia!" The idea was quickly adopted by the new Palisades Interstate Park Trail Conference as their main project.[ citation needed]

On October 7, 1923, the first section of the trail, from Bear Mountain west through Harriman State Park to Arden, New York, was opened. MacKaye then called for a two-day Appalachian Trail conference to be held in March 1925 in Washington, D.C. This meeting inspired the formation of the Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) (ATC). [10]

A retired judge named Arthur Perkins and his younger associate Myron Avery took up the cause. In 1929, Perkins, who was also a member of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and its Blue Blazed Trails committee, found Ned Anderson, a farmer in Sherman, Connecticut, who took on the task of mapping and blazing the Connecticut leg of the trail (1929–1933). It ran from Dog Tail Corners in Webatuck, New York, which borders Kent, Connecticut, at Ashley Falls, 50 miles (80 km) through the northwest corner of the state, up to Bear Mountain at the Massachusetts border. [11] (A portion of the Connecticut trail has since been rerouted (1979–1983) to be more scenic, adhering less to highways and more to wilderness, and includes a Ned K. Anderson Memorial Bridge.) [12]

Anderson's efforts helped spark renewed interest in the trail, and Avery (who led the charge after Perkins’ death in 1932) was able to bring other states on board. Upon taking over the ATC, Avery adopted the more practical goal of building a simple hiking trail. He and MacKaye clashed over the ATC's response to a major commercial development along the trail's path; MacKaye left the organization, while Avery was willing to simply reroute the trail. Avery reigned as Chairman of the ATC from 1932 to 1952 (he died that same year).[ citation needed]

Avery became the first to walk the trail end-to-end, though not as a thru-hike, in 1936. In August 1937, the trail was completed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, and the ATC shifted its focus toward protecting the trail lands and mapping the trail for hikers.

Many of the trail's present highlights were not part of the trail in 1937: Roan Mountain, North Carolina and Tennessee; the Mount Rogers high country, including Grayson Highlands, Virginia; the Pochuck Creek swamp, New Jersey; Nuclear Lake, New York; Thundering Falls, Vermont; and Saddleback Mountain, Maine. Except for places where the Civilian Conservation Corps was brought in (mostly in Shenandoah National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Maine), the original trail often climbed straight up and down mountains, creating rough hiking conditions and a treadway prone to severe erosion. The ATC's trail crews and volunteer trail-maintaining clubs have relocated or rehabilitated miles of trail since that time. [13]

In 1936, A 121-day Maine to Georgia veteran's group funded and supported thru-hike was reported to have been completed, with all but three miles of the new trail cleared and blazed, by six Boy Scouts from New York City and their guides. [14] The completed thru-hike was much later recorded and accepted by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association. [15]

In 1948, Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, brought a great deal of attention to the project by publicizing the first claimed thru-hike. The claim was later criticized for the hike's omission of significant portions due to short-cuts and car rides. [16] [17] [18] Shaffer later claimed the first north-to-south thru-hike, the first to claim to do so in each direction. [19] Chester Dziengielewski was later to be named the first south bound thru-hiker. [16] In 1998, Shaffer, nearly 80 years old, hiked the trail, making him the oldest person to claim a completed thru-hike. [20] [21] The first solo woman to complete the hike was 67-year old Emma Gatewood who completed the northbound trek in 1955, taking 146 days. She repeated the achievement two years later. [22]

In the 1960s, the ATC made progress toward protecting the trail from development, thanks to efforts of politicians and officials. The National Trails System Act of 1968 designated the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail as the first national scenic trails and paved the way for a series of National Scenic Trails within the National Park and National Forest systems. [23] Trail volunteers worked with the National Park Service to map a permanent route for the trail, and by 1971 a permanent route had been marked (though minor changes continue to this day). By the close of the 20th century, the Park Service had completed the purchase of all but a few miles of the trail's span.

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