The Appalachian Trail is the Mt. Everest of the hiking world, read about its popularity here. It spans fourteen states and more than 2,000 miles, running from the Great Smoky Mountains north to Maine. It is rumored that the idea for the mountain trail originated from the dream of a regional planner named Benton MacKaye. He was the son of an actor and playwright, and his vision for the trail was as a utopian paradise with farming camps scattered along the way. He was able to gather support for the trail from his network of friends, but before the first shovel of dirt was dug he had a falling out with the chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization that was formed to see his dream to fruition. He had little to do with the trail after this time.
How Did The Trail Begin?
It was the 3rd of March in 1925 when the all-volunteer organization was formed to build the trail. It took 12 years to complete the initial construction, but the world would encroach over the next ten years. Gaps opened along the trail from the construction of the Virginia Parkway in addition to a New England hurricane. World War II left little time for thoughts for such leisurely pursuits as hiking. Not surprisingly it wasn’t until 1948 that someone decided to try to walk the whole trail, and this was attempted by a World War II vet who wanted to escape memories of being in the army.
The first section of the Appalachian Trail finished ran from Pennsylvania to Connecticut across Bear Mountain State Park in New York. On August 14, 1937 the trail was finished when a path was cleared from Spaulding and Sugarloaf Mountains in Maine. It was named a “ridge-line” trail since it ran along a path that hugged the highest points of the mountains. Conservation of the trail and the land around it was a concern from the very beginning, but politics pushed the final decision 15 years. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Trails System Act, which protected the trail and land extending ten miles on both sides from future development and pollution.
The Appalachian Trail is a popular hiker’s destination. Most visitors walk a segment of it during a short day hike, but there is the occasional “thru-hiker,” one who attempts to walk the whole length of the trail. Only twenty percent of those who attempt the 5-7 month journey succeed, but it remains a draw for outdoor enthusiasts and extreme hikers who wish to experience the beauty and culture of the Appalachian Mountains.