Appalachian trail beginnings
The longest trail on the East Coast, the Appalachian Trail has gained immense popularity throughout the years, quickly becoming one of the most admired and revered trails worldwide. Hikers come from all across the globe to find solace in the Appalachian Mountain Range, seek enlightenment and inner peace, or simply get enjoy the beauty of the mountains and the community of the trail. While the wonder of the AT is not lost on those who’ve hiked it, and even those who haven’t, the history of the trail remains muddled to some. Though it seems that the AT has been here forever, many are surprised to find that it is not even 100 years old.
Back in the early 1920s, regional planner Benton MacKaye (yes, THE Benton MacKaye) publically released a proposal for a project he called, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.” By 1925, MacKaye had generated enough interest and enthusiasm for the project that he was able to form the first Appalachian Trail Conference where the first detailed plans were presented.
Years passed and while MacKaye was passionate about the project, progress on the trail was nowhere in sight. So, during the late 20s, the ATC was taken over by retired Connecticut Judge Arthur Perkins who quickly garnered attention from federal lawyer Myron Avery and several others who formed the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Soon the PATC started blazing trails in West Virgina and Virgina and before long Avery took charge from Perkins, fueling the efforts of volunteer clubs and trail enthusiasts. And by the late 1930s, a pathway from Maine to Georgia was complete.
Although forging the Appalachian Trail was the sole purpose of the ATC and MacKaye’s original proposal, Avery and several interested National Park Service organizations began making plans to build overnight shelters along the 2,000 trail, encouraging long-distance hiking that is now the foundation of AT culture.
Over the years the trails success increased, but fear of the land being unprotected as conservation lands made many on the ATC nervous for the future of the trail for hikers. In the 1960s, under the leadership of Murray Stevens and Stanley Murray, the ATC (which had grown to more than 10,000 members) began working toward federal legislation to protect the footpath from future devastation. It didn’t take long for the idea to catch fire and by 1968 President Johnson signed the National Trails System Act, declaring the Appalachian Trail as under federal protection, which guaranteed that no harm would come to the then nearly 50-year-old project. The AT was the first official trail to be placed under the protection of the National Trails System Act.
For a little over a decade, the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service were considered the sole tenders of the land, but the trail soon became neglected from lack of consistent maintenance and by the late 70s the ATC was once again pushing for better protection and conservation of the AT.
It didn’t take much for the ATC to see more proactive conservation results, though, because in 1978 the National Parks Service officially handed over completely control of the AT lands to the ATC to manage and preserve. And it has remained that way ever since as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (the name changed in the early 2000s to better reflect the organization’s mission) continues to raise awareness, manage, and protect all the beauty, serenity, and magic of the Appalachian Trail.
national trails day
When the Appalachian Trail came to town, it brought a lot more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails with it, especially in the realm of environmental law. Prior to the AT, not much thought had gone into preservation and conservation of public land, aside from National Parks. But that soon began to change during the late 1960s.
Spurred by the AT and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act in1968 to protect certain lands for public use, creating recreation spaces, hiking and scenic trails along the way. After the National Trail System Act was put into effect, efforts to continue environmental conservation began to increase, especially in relation to the hiking world.
In the late 1980s, a joint venture between the National Park Service and American Trails (which was started in ’76 and brought about indirectly by the National Trails System Act to specifically promote national foot trails) was founded to closer examine national trail issues and evaluate the need for future trails across the country, known as the National Trails Agenda Project.
Through these explorations over the years, the National Trail Agenda Project came out with a set of recommendations named “Trails for All Americans” that highlighted the necessity of hiking, walking, and backpacking trails in the U.S.
“Trails for All Americans” was released in 1990 and a year later the American Hiking Society began working toward an interactive program for the public to respond to these recommendations.
And thus, in 1993, National Trails Day was born.
From the start of the program, National Trails Day has been widely celebrated by hundreds of organizations and groups across the country in National Parks, State Parks, along national hiking trails, riverbanks, private land, public land, and even in backyards.
Over the last 25 years, the American Hiking Society estimates that more than 150,000 Americans participate in the event yearly with trail clean ups, watershed trash pickups, and many other conservation and preservation activities.
Saturday, June 2 marks the 25th Anniversary of National Trails Day in the U.S. And, of course, the people of the Blue Ridge aren’t hesitating to celebrate the beloved day, with several activities available in Blairsville on the special day.
If you’re looking for some clean up action, head over to Gooch Gap to hike some of the beautiful Appalachian Trail, catch some killer views, and give that portion of the A.T. a little loving. Gooch Gap can be found in Suches, not far from Preacher’s Rock, on Cooper’s Gap Road.
And if hiking the gap for trash is a little too extreme but you still want to participate, that’s okay too because Vogel State Park is making a day of it on Saturday with leisurely hikes, activities, exhibitions, clean ups, presentations, and more to celebrate.
Check out either one of those National Trails Day extravaganzas if you’re in the area, or just hit up your favorite trail or a hike you’ve been itching to try out.
No matter your preference, take a little time out of your day on Saturday to appreciate the intricate hiking trails of America, the gorgeous mountain ranges, the beautiful watersheds, and all that makes getting outside one of the most awe inspiring experiences this life has to offer.