Two thousand twelve marks a major milestone for the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Seventy-five years ago, on August 14, 1937, the A.T. was first completed. This task of building the original trail took more than 15 years and involved a few hundred volunteers, state and federal agency partners, local Trail-maintaining clubs, workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The A.T. is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length. The Trail goes through fourteen states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the Trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine.
Since the A.T was first completed in 1937, it has undergone a remarkable transformation. Most—probably 99%—has been relocated or rebuilt. Hundreds of miles of the original route were along roads and passed through private lands. Thanks to the determination of Myron H. Avery and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) he chaired for more than two decades, passage of the National Trails System Act, and the work of many partners and volunteers, more than 99.7% of the A.T. is now in public ownership. Not only is the footpath itself protected, but a corridor of land, averaging one thousand feet in width, is also protected.
The Trail today is not only better protected but traverses more scenic landscapes than the original route. Many of the A.T.’s most cherished highlights were not part of the A.T. in 1937: Roan Mountain, Tennessee; the Mt. Rogers High Country, including Grayson Highlands, Virginia; the Pochuck Creek swamp, New Jersey; Nuclear Lake, New York; Thundering Falls, Vermont; and Saddleback Mountain, Maine, to name a few.
The treadway itself each year becomes more sustainable. Except for places where the Civilian Conservation Corps was brought in (mostly in Shenandoah National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Maine), the original Trail often was routed straight up and down mountains, making for rough hiking and a treadway prone to severe erosion. The ATC’s trail crews and volunteer trail-maintaining clubs have relocated or rehabilitated countless miles of Trail, and each year continue to improve the treadway.
Today, 2-3 million people visit the Trail every year and about 2,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the Trail. People from across the globe are drawn to the A.T. for a variety of reasons: to reconnect with nature, to escape the stress of home and work life, to meet new people or deepen old friendships, or to experience a simpler life.
The A.T. is a unit of the national park system and is managed under a unique partnership between the public and private sectors that includes, among others, the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, an array of state agencies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and 31 local Trail-maintaining clubs.