A Hike “Thru” the Appalachian Trail

A look at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Madeleine BienPark Partner Stories
Orange flowers blooming along the lush Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Along a nearly 2,200-mile stretch of the eastern United States, a single trail connects fourteen states and leads its travelers through countless natural, historical, and cultural treasures. Built by private citizens and completed in 1937, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (commonly referred to as the A.T.) was designated as one of the first two official National Scenic Trails in the National Park System – the other being the Pacific Crest Trail – when President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the National Trails System Act in 1968.

The A.T.’s history, however, extends far further than its formal recognition. From following the path on which slaves on the Underground Railroad found their way to freedom, to passing through eight national forests, six national park units, two national wildlife refuges, 24 wilderness areas, eight National Natural Landmarks, and three national historic landmarks, the stories of the A.T. are the stories of the eastern United States.

A hiker walks along a ridgecrest on the Appalachian Trail

Hikers on the Franconia Ridge along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Jeff Pang, Wikimedia Commons

Over three million people travel on the A.T. each year, whether on a several month-long “thru-hike” that traverses the entire length of the trail or just for an afternoon walk.

Throughout the A.T.’s long history, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has served as the consistent entity dedicated to the protection and management of the trail since the group was founded as the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1925.

Today, the ATC leads a cooperative management system that includes the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, 31 trail-maintaining clubs, and a variety of state and local agencies, bound together by a dedication to preserving the A.T. in its entirety. In this commitment to collaboration and conservation, the ATC strives “to connect the human spirit with nature – preserving the delicate majesty of the Trail as a haven for all to enjoy.”

Hundreds of communities live adjacent to the A.T., from small mountain towns to some of our country’s largest cities, and the ATC has been a partner in education and community development throughout each of its fourteen states. 

An emphasis on engaging young leaders and multicultural groups has positioned the ATC to be an important voice in the effort to make the stories of national parks representative of the full history of the grounds on which they are dedicated.

Recently, the ATC had the opportunity to partner with Outdoor Afro to recount the history of the A.T. and its surrounding lands as the foundation of the Underground Railroad, retracing the path taken by Harriet Tubman and other “conductors” leading slaves to freedom. From October 6-9, 2016, six members of the Outdoor Afro leadership team hiked the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail as they backpacked along the South Mountain Ridge Top to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. In the spirit of connecting the full natural and historical heritage of our lands, Outdoor Afro’s 40-mile trek was “done in tribute to the thousands of African Americans in history who found their freedom in nature.”

To learn more about the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s programs and events or to support their work in your state, visit their site at www.appalachiantrail.org.

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