The Appalachian Trail
At approximately 2,180 miles in length and spanning fourteen states, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world. Starting in Georgia and ending in Maine, the Appalachian Trail traverses the entire length of America's iconic Appalachian Mountain range. It is also home to a diversity of wildlife and plants, making the Trail a destination for hikers and nature lovers alike.
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History of the Trail
In 1921, former forester and then regional planner Benton MacKaye proposed the idea of a "super trail" in his article "An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning." MacKaye imagined a natural refuge that could offer an alternative and escape from industrialized cities, with farming camps along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Garnering support from friends and the hiking community, by 1925, MacKaye and the Regional Planning Association organized the first Appalachian Trail conference with the hopes of organizing workers to start constructing the Trail. This established the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) that still manages the Trail today. A few years later, Connecticut judge Arthur Perkins and lawyer Myron Avery took charge of the efforts, and helped to establish local clubs across the east coast and start identifying and blazing trails. On August 14, 1937, a continuous wilderness footpath was marked, spanning 2,000 miles from Mt. Oglethorpe, GA to Katahdin, ME.
Over the decades to come, the Trail encountered many setbacks and challenges. The limited resources available during WWII and the development of the highway system both threatened the A.T.'s continuation, causing activists to protest for its preservation. Finally in 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act (NTSA) into law, which designated national scenic trails as part of the national park and forest system. The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail were the first paths to be named national scenic trails. (For a more detailed history of the Appalachian Trail, please visit: http://www.appalachiantrail.org/about-the-trail/history)
Hiking the Trail
Today, the Appalachian Trail attracts between 3 and 4 million visitors each year. Some will only hike a portion of the Trail, while others will attempt a "thru-hike." A thru-hike is when a person hikes the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2,180 miles, in a single trip. Those who succeed are forever known as "2,000-milers." The first ever 2,000-miler was ATC Chair Myron Avery in 1936. Since then, 12,662 people have completed thru-hikes on the A.T.
Most individuals who attempt a thru-hike will start in at Spring Mountain in Georgia and work their way north to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The ideal time to start is in early March or April, finishing the hike in the fall. Beginning a thru-hike in the spring ensures relatively good weather throughout the trip. Most people prefer to hike from south to north since the most difficult sections of the Trail are in the Northeast, and thus they can work up to them. However, there are those who attempt southbound hikes, preferring instead to start their journey in June or July in Maine, and make their way to Georgia by December. The average thru-hiker will take a full 6 months to complete the trek.
However, not everyone can devote 6 months out of the year to hiking the Trail from start to finish. Many choose instead to be "Section-hikers," and piece the Trail together by hiking smaller sections over a number of years. There are also some hikers who are considered "Flip-floppers" because they hike the whole A.T., only in discontinuous portions to avoid crowds, extreme weather or rough terrain.
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In order to keep track of the Trail as you hike, you should look out for "Blazes" along the path. A blaze is a rectangle of paint on trees, posts or rocks. For the A.T., the blaze will be a white two-inch by six-inch marking. You may see other blazes along the Trail as well, since the A.T. intersects and overlaps with many other trails throughout the 14 states it traverses. Where the trail goes into high altitude areas and trees are scarce and fog often obscures vision, rock cairns, which resemble small stone towers, will identify the Trail.
For those interested in hiking part of the Appalachian Trail or learning more, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website.
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