Benton MacKaye, a forester, conceived the Appalachian Trail in 1921 to connect farms and wilderness work camps for city-dwellers along the Appalachian Mountains. The trail was published in 1922 and opened in 1923. The Appalachian Trail Conference was formed in 1925, inspired by MacKaye’s idea. Arthur Perkins and Myron Avery took up the cause, and Ned Anderson, a farmer in Sherman, Connecticut, was responsible for mapping and blazing the Connecticut leg of the trail. The trail ran from Dog Tail Corners in Webatuck, New York, to Bear Mountain at the Massachusetts state line.
Anderson’s efforts in 1932 led to renewed interest in the Appalachian Trail (AT), which was led by Myron Avery. Avery became the first to walk the trail end-to-end in 1936 and completed the trail to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine in 1937. Paul M. Fink, who was the guiding influence in establishing the Trail in Tennessee and North Carolina, was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame in 2019. The trail’s present highlights were not part of the trail in 1937, but the original trail often climbed straight up and down mountains, creating rough hiking conditions and prone to erosion. In 1936, a 121-day Maine to Georgia veteran’s group funded and supported thru-hike was completed, but the trail suffered major damage from a hurricane in 1938. Earl Shaffer of York, Pennsylvania, publicized the first claimed thru-hike in 1948, and Chester Dziengielewski was later named the first south-bound thru-hiker.
Extensions of Appalachian Trail
The International Appalachian Trail is a 1,900-mile extension of the Appalachian Trail, running northeast from Maine to New Brunswick and Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. It ends at Forillon National Park. Other branches are in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. The trail has been extended to Greenland, Europe, and Morocco. The Appalachian Mountains continue south to Flagg Mountain in Alabama, with the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail connecting to the southern terminus via the Benton MacKaye Trail. The Alabama Appalachian Mountain Trail Commission provides state resources for trail improvements.
Flora and fauna
Numerous plant and animal species can be found along the Appalachian Trail, including 2,000 rare, endangered, or sensitive species.
Animals on the trail
The Appalachian Trail is home to various wildlife, including the American black bear, which is the largest omnivore on the trail. However, bear sightings are rare, except in certain areas like Shenandoah National Park and New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Venomous snakes like the Eastern timber rattlesnake and copperhead are common, while large mammals like deer, elk, and moose are also common. Small mammal species include beaver, squirrel, river otter, chipmunk, porcupine, bobcat, fox, boar, woodchuck, raccoon, and coyote. Bird species include wild turkey, ruffed grouse, mourning dove, raven, eagle, wood duck, owl, hawk, and warblers.
Plants on the trail
The trail passes through various biomes and climates, with plant life varying based on elevation. In the south, lowland forests are mainly second-growth, with hardwoods like oak and tulip trees dominating. In the north, maples and birches replace tulip trees, while oaks disappear in Massachusetts. The trail transitions to subalpine, evergreen forests, and a higher break at tree line, where hardy alpine plants grow. The sub-alpine region is more prevalent along the trail than true alpine conditions, with some mountains in the south having subalpine environments, such as the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest. Appalachian balds are also found in the Southern highlands, believed to occur due to fires, grazing, or thin, sandy soils.
Management of appalachian trail
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is managed by a cooperative partnership between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the National Park Service (NPS), with assistance from other federal, state, and local agencies, as well as thousands of volunteers.
In popular culture
The trail served as the setting for both the 2015 movie with the same name and the 1998 book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.
After being utilized to hide Mark Sanford’s location during his private relationship in 2009, the phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” began to mean having an affair.
Use in research
The Appalachian Trail has been a valuable resource for researchers in various disciplines, including studies on maintenance, environmental changes, and hiker behavior. Research has been conducted by organizations like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the American Hiking Society, with support from the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Cornell University, the National Geographic Society, and Aveda Corporation. Hikers are primarily driven by fun, enjoyment, and relationships, with males being the highest demographic.