Appalachian Trail Histories


Benton MacKaye's proposed map of the Appalachian Trail, March, 1925. (Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College) All Rights Reserved.


The Appalachian Trail is America's most iconic long distance hiking trail. Each year, more than 3 million people set foot on a segment of the Trail for a few hours, a few days, or for longer distance hikes. Since the 1930s, more than 15,000 hikers have completed the entire length of the Trail, either in one continuous trip, or in multiple sections spread over one or more years.

The Appalachian Trail project began with the founding of the Appalachian Trail Conference in Washington, D.C. in March 1925. At that meeting, Benton MacKaye presented a plan for a hiking trail that would span 14 states from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Those early Trail builders completed their work in 1937. In 1968 the National Park Service assumed jurisdiction over the Appalachian Trail following the passage of the National Trails System Act. Although the trail corridor belongs to the NPS, the Appalachian Trail is maintained by 31 local trail clubs, coordinated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The history of the Appalachian Trail is a complex tapestry of interwoven narratives. From the earliest days of the trail building project until the late 1980s, much of the work of the trail builders focused on issues surrounding land rights, state and federal authority, and what the relationship should be between those who built and maintained the Trail and the National Park Service.

But the history of the Appalachian Trail is also a history of race, gender, and class in America's public lands. It is a history of the intersection of environmental activism and economic development. It is a history of individual adventure. And it is a history of the technologies of leisure.

This website offers a series of exhibits, many of them created by undergraduate students at George Mason University, on the many histories of the Appalachian Trail. These exhibits provide a glimpse into the complexities of the history of the Appalachian Trail, and what that history can tell us about the history of the United States.

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