About the Trail
The Appalachian Trail was a vision of Benton MacKaye, who launched the project through his article “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” published in the October 1921 issue of The Journal of American Institute of Architects. His idea, acknowledging the beneficial effects of trips to the wilderness on increasingly citified Americans, explored constructing a long-distance walking path, accessible from many cities, to encourage American families to interact with nature. The original trail route proposed by MacKaye ran from Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. MacKaye’s proposal gained support, especially in the industrial areas of the northeast. Less than a year later, the New York-New Jersey Conference began work constructing a new trail, intending for it to become part of the Appalachian Trail. Seeing that work, MacKaye began the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1925 to guide volunteers building the trail. In the next ten years, volunteers created over 1,900 miles of the Appalachian Trail. On August 14, 1937, Civilian Conservation Corps workers constructed the last section of the 2,025 mile long trail in Maine. This linear park ran along the crest of the Appalachian ridges from Mt. Oglethorpe to Mt. Katahdin—much longer than MacKaye had originally envisioned.
The trail experienced extensive damage when a hurricane hit in the following year. Additionally, the Blue Ridge Parkway, a Skyline Drive extension, displaced more than 120 miles of the recently completed route. In 1948, the trail had reached a critical point in its history. Maintenance had lapsed in many areas during World War II, with many active workers serving in the armed services. Storm damage, logging operations, and natural growth obliterated or obstructed much of the trail way, and marking had faded or disappeared. The long-distance trail seemed to disappear and reach a point beyond repair. The trail was not reconnected until after World War II. The National Park Service, thanks to legislation in 1968 and 1978, gained the power and money to purchase a corridor of land from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Only a small portion (less than 1%) remains unprotected, but congress has appropriated the money to fully protect these remaining portions of the trail. The trail experiences relocations and other improvements each year, which causes mileage changes, but the trail remains over 2,000 miles, crossing through fourteen states. The trail remains blazed and maintained entirely by volunteers.
The Appalachian Trail, the world’s first linear park and long-distance hiking trail, has beckoned hikers from all over the world. This long-distance challenge attracted Earl Shaffer, who returned from a tour in the Pacific during World War II and decided to “walk the war out of his system.” Hiking from Mt. Oglethorpe to Katahdin in 2,050 miles and four months, Shaffer became the first thru-hiker in 1948. A thru-hiker is someone who hikes the entirety of the trail in one continuous journey. Since Earl Shaffer’s thru-hike, thousands of backpackers have hit the trail in the attempt to do the same. Only 25% of thru-hikers that begin the trail complete it. The most common reasons for leaving the trail are blisters, injuries, lack of money, and lack of preparation. For this reason, I have started this Appalachian Trail blog on my preparations for thru-hiking to help potential thru-hikers to succeed and to document my efforts for those interested. My journey will begin after graduation in May, and I hope to reach Mt. Katahdin in October. If you would like to join me on the trail and experience the beauty of Appalachia and the hardships and joys of thru-hiking, please subscribe. Happy hiking!