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 a hike that might traverse the entire 2,189 miles of the Trail.
The history of the Appalachian Trail is a complex tapestry of interwoven narratives. It is a history of hiking, a history of the struggle over land rights between private citizens and their state and national governments. It is the story of volunteerism. 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 race, gender, and class in America's public lands.
Construction of the Appalachian Trail 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. It took 12 years for MacKaye's idea to reach fruition, by which time he had become estranged from the project.
This website (still under construction) 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. To learn more about the history of the Trail, you can either begin with this introductory essay, or dive right into the exhibits and the student research.
Thirty-five years ago hikers and backpackers on the Appalachian Trail hiked in jeans and tee-shirts. Today if a backpacker wears...