100 years ago, the Appalachian Trail was born

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In the fall of 1921, Benton MacKaye published “An Appalachian Trail: a land use planning project” in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, suggesting that a continuous trail should be constructed from “highest mountain in the north” to “highest mountain in the south”, creating a trail between Mount Washington and Mount Mitchell.

Although MacKaye’s vision was not fully realized until 1937, when the trail was completed, it was his initial proposal that made the effort possible. This year, we are celebrating the centenary of the creation of America’s Favorite Trail.

Earl Shaffer became the first person hike the entire trail in one season in 1948 (although at least one researcher questioned he hiked the entire trail). His journey took him from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, where the trail started and ended at the time. One hundred years after MacKaye shared his vision, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that approximately 3 million hikers hike all or part of the Appalachian Trail, which ultimately passed MacKaye’s vision in length on its way from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.

The summit sign on Maines Mount Katahdin seen at sunrise. Katharine is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. (Photo: Chris Bennett via Getty Images)

While MacKaye, who would be a 142-year-old Methuselah this year, understood that the trail had immense power for hikers, his idea of ​​what it meant was a bit more literal than that of researchers today. In 1921 he wrote: “The oxygen in the mountain air along the Appalachian skyline is a natural resource (and a national resource) that radiates its enormous health powers to the heavens with only a fraction of a percent used for the human rehabilitation. Here is a resource that could save thousands of lives. People with tuberculosis, anemia and insanity cross all strata of human society. He added that employment opportunities could also arise from this construction.

When MacKaye proposed the Appalachian Trail, the United States was in the midst of a profound demographic shift. The 1920 U.S. Census revealed that, for the first time, the United States had become a predominantly urban country. He hoped those who had moved to cities in search of employment could return to the country near the Appalachian Trail, in an effort to facilitate “recreation, recovery and employment.” His plan also suggested the continued maintenance of the Appalachian Trail in sections and the construction of shelters like those that already existed in the White Mountains to support trail communities.

The idea for the Appalachian Trail first came to MacKaye after trekking Stratton Mountain in Vermont in 1900. He has always been an advocate for connecting local trails, and he himself helped shed light on many. number in New Hampshire. Yet MacKaye wondered, “Would the development of outdoor community living – as compensation and relief from the various hindrances of commercial civilization – be achievable and useful?” “

It seems that contemporary hikers think so. Since Conservatory of the Appalachian Trail started recording hikes in 1936, over 20,000 hikers reported completing it. In the 1930s, only 5 people reported their hikes. By the 2010s that number had grown to nearly 10,000. Further proof that while we may no longer look to the Appalachian Trail for tuberculosis treatment, the lure of a long walk in the mountains. wood will never get old.


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