Have you noticed the colorful slideshow on the Google homepage today? It is a Google Doodle that celebrates the Appalachian Trail, the world’s longest hiking-only footpath. The trail spans across 14 U.S. states, from Georgia to Maine, and covers a distance of 2,190 miles. It is a remarkable feat of nature, adventure, and community that has been serving sightseeing hikers for nearly 100 years. On this day in 1968, the National Trails System Act established the Appalachian Trail as one of the country’s first National Scenic Trails, recognizing its national significance and ensuring its protection and preservation.
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The history of the Appalachian Trail
The idea of the Appalachian Trail was first proposed by Benton MacKaye, a forester, conservationist, and lifelong outdoorsman, in 1921. His original plan, titled An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning, outlined a stretch of several self-sustaining agricultural camps along the way. He envisioned the trail as a way to promote social and environmental harmony, as well as physical and mental health, in the face of urbanization and industrialization.
Many like-minded people started joining his cause, and the community eventually became known as the Appalachian Trail Conference (now the Appalachian Trail Conservancy). In 1937, thanks to the combined efforts of many trailblazers, the Appalachian Trail became fully connected from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Ten years later, a hiker named Earl Shaffer reported the first thru-hike from end-to-end and ignited a wave of interest. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act in 1968, which declared the Appalachian Trail as one of the first national scenic trails and recognized it as federal land. Finally, in 2014, the last major stretch of land was acquired, turning the initial dreams for the trail into reality.
The features of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world and one of the most diverse and scenic. It traverses through dense forests, across rushing rivers, and over mountain summits along the east coast. It passes through eight national forests, six national parks, and numerous state and local parks, forests, and game lands.
It crosses the highest peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, such as Clingmans Dome in Tennessee, Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and Mount Katahdin in Maine. It also offers stunning views of valleys, lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife. The trail is marked by white blazes, which are rectangular paint marks on trees, rocks, or posts. The trail is divided into sections, each with its own characteristics and challenges. The trail is open year-round, but the best time to hike it depends on the weather, the season, and the personal preference of the hiker.
The flora and fauna of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is home to thousands of plants and animals, including 2,000 rare and endangered species. It offers a chance to witness the beauty and diversity of nature, as well as the changes and adaptations that occur along the way. The trail passes through four distinct ecological zones: the southern Appalachians, the central Appalachians, the northern Appalachians, and the New England-Acadian forests. Each zone has its own climate, soil, vegetation, and wildlife. Some of the plants that can be found along the trail are rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels, blueberries, ferns, mosses, and wildflowers. Some of the animals that can be seen or heard along the trail are black bears, deer, moose, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, skunks, porcupines, beavers, otters, minks, weasels, snakes, turtles, frogs, salamanders, birds, butterflies, and insects.
The challenges and rewards of the Appalachian Trail
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not an easy task. It requires physical stamina, mental fortitude, and logistical planning. The trail has an elevation gain and loss equivalent to climbing Mount Everest 16 times. The trail can be rocky, muddy, steep, slippery, or narrow. The trail can also be affected by weather conditions, such as rain, snow, wind, heat, cold, or fog. The trail can also pose dangers, such as falls, injuries, illnesses, dehydration, hypothermia, or animal attacks. The trail can also be lonely, boring, or frustrating. However, hiking the trail can also be rewarding, fulfilling, and life-changing. The trail can offer a sense of accomplishment, adventure, and freedom. The trail can also provide a chance to reconnect with nature, escape the stress of city life, and meet new people or deepen old friendships. The trail can also teach valuable lessons, such as perseverance, resilience, and gratitude.
The management and maintenance of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a collaborative effort to conserve its natural glory and cultural heritage. The trail is managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and many state and local agencies. The trail is maintained by over 6,000 volunteers, who dedicate their time, energy, and resources to keep the trail safe, clean, and enjoyable. The volunteers perform various tasks, such as clearing brush, cutting blowdowns, repairing erosion, building bridges, installing signs, painting blazes, and monitoring campsites. The volunteers also educate the public about the trail and its history, as well as the principles of Leave No Trace, which are guidelines for minimizing the impact of human activities on the environment.
The popularity and impact of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a popular destination for millions of visitors, from casual day-hikers to hardcore thru-hikers. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the trail receives about 3 million visitors each year, and about 3,000 people attempt to complete the entire trail each year. The trail also inspires many people to pursue their dreams, challenge themselves, and discover new aspects of themselves. The trail has been featured in many books, movies, documentaries, and podcasts, such as A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and The Appalachian Trail: An American Legacy by Sam Henegar. The trail also contributes to the culture and economy of the regions it passes through, by creating a sense of identity, community, and pride, as well as generating revenue, jobs, and tourism.
The future of the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a living and evolving entity, that faces many opportunities and threats in the coming years. Some of the goals and plans for the trail are to expand its protection, enhance its quality, increase its diversity, and celebrate its legacy. Some of the challenges and risks for the trail are to cope with climate change, prevent development, combat invasive species, and reduce overcrowding. The trail also depends on the continued support and involvement of the public, the government, and the organizations that care for it. The trail also welcomes the feedback and suggestions of the hikers who use it.
The Appalachian Trail is a remarkable achievement of human vision, cooperation, and perseverance. It is a national treasure that showcases the beauty and diversity of the American landscape. It is a source of inspiration, adventure, and learning for millions of people. It is a legacy that deserves to be celebrated, protected, and preserved for generations to come. Have you ever hiked the Appalachian Trail or any part of it? What was your experience like? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Grab your backpack, lace up your boots, and hit the trail. You won’t regret it. Happy trails!