National Scenic Trails - Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail was designed, constructed, and marked in the 1920s and 1930s by volunteer hiking clubs joined together by the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC). Formed in 1925 and now a nonprofit organization based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the ATC had the National Park Service, Forest Service, states, and local communities as active partners in the trail project from the beginning. The Forest Service and states acquired much of its land and administer 850 and 420 trail miles, respectively.

Most great ideas begin life as idle conversation. A "super trail" was much talked about in turn-of-the-century hiking circles of New England. "The AT" evolved from the 1921 proposals of Massachusetts regional planner Benton MacKaye to preserve the Appalachian crests as an accessible, multipurpose wilderness belt—a retreat from Eastern urban life. (Two-thirds of the Nation's population lives within 550 miles of it.) The old clubs that united behind MacKaye, plus the new clubs formed specifically to advance the AT idea, concentrated on the hiking aspects of his vision, under the leadership of Myron H. Avery, ATC chairman from 1931 to 1952. The clubs, the two federal agencies, states, and the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps combined forces to open a continuous trail by August 1937. Hurricanes, highway construction, and demands of World War II undid those efforts until 1951 saw all sections finally relocated, opened, and marked for hikers and nature lovers.

The 1968 National Trails System Act made the AT a linear national park and authorized funds to surround the entire route with public lands, either federal or state, protected from incompatible uses. The goal is to maintain the entire Trail environment as a place for everyone to hike, backpack, or otherwise enjoy the Appalachian mountains and wildlands, while at the same time conserving the natural, scenic, historical, and cultural resources of this one-of-a-kind park.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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