Appalachian Trail Histories

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All along the Appalachian Trail hikers encounter remnants of the communities that once dotted the mountains through which the Trail passes. Stone walls, disordered cemeteries, bits of barbed wire on a rotting post, or a chimney standing alone in the trees often greet hikers as they pass north or south along the Trail.

In some cases the mountain communities that have faded away were much larger than the average Trail visitor might think, given the density of the forests and seeming wildness of the terrain. In 1930, more than 800 people lived on lands that today make up Shenandoah National Park. Few of the structures from those communities remain, either because the Park Service removed them, especially along Skyline Drive, or because the Park administrators decided to let the buildings rot away on their own.

One such remnant of the human past in the Park is the ruins of Pocosin Mission, one of many Episcopal misssion sites built along the Blue Ridge Mountains beginning in 1905. Little is left of that once thriving mission -- part of a wooden structure, some foundation walls, and the concrete steps leading up to what was once the front door of a small church.

Hikers who visit the site, less than a mile downhill from Pocosin Cabin which sits astride the Trail, can stop and imagine what it must have been like to live and work at the mission, or what it must have been like to be a member of the mountain communities that were the object of the missionarie's zeal.

This exhibit is about the type of animals that are endangered that live on the Appalachian Trail.  There are many reasons why they are endangered or near to being endangered such as, human impact, climate change, habit destruction, and pollution.  We need to be more careful and come up with other ways to not destroy their habitat and to protect them from endangerment or even to extinction. 

Homemaking liquor is a longstanding tradtion in Appalachia, even if the process isn't legal. 

Scenic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia lies at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. For Appalachian Trail Hikers, Harpers Ferry is significant as the approximate mid-point of the 2,178-mile trail. Harpers Ferry is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the headquarters for the AT.

Harpers Ferry is perhaps best known for abolitionist John Brown’s October 16, 1859 raid on the federal armory there. Brown hoped the attack on the armory would spark a slave rebellion. The raid failed, but it did help to focus the nation’s attention on the growing tension between pro and anti-slavery factions. Just 18 months later, on April 12 - 14, 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina launching the Civil War.

For those interested in Civil War history, Harpers Ferry is close to several battlefield sites. Antietam Battlefield is 17 miles away. Gettysburg Battlefield, in Pennsylvania, is approximately 60 miles northeast of Harpers Ferry. Manassas Battlefield is approximately 60 miles southeast in Virginia.  

The town of Harpers Ferry itself is a popular tourist destination offering restaurants, museums, and incredible views. Outdoor activities include rafting on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers and hiking the many trails. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive lie just to the south with an entrance to the park in Front Royal, Virginia.  

 

The American Chestnut tree once grew in abundance throughout the Appalachian Mountain region, from the southern United States to Maine.

Benton MacKaye dreamed that people would venture out to the Appalachian Trail as a way to connect with nature and rejuvinate their health.  He did not take into account the existance of microscopic parasites, microbes, and diseases that called the wilderness home. 

This exhibit will explore those illnesses, how people avoided contracting them, and how they handle being sick while on the trail.

For the most part, hiking on the Appalachian Trail is a safe activity.  In fact, for the 2016 Hiking year there is only one recorded case of an actual bear attack.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, approximately three million people visited the trail this year (2016). Taking the numbers in hand, the chances of a bear attack are roughly one in three million. 

 

However, along with bears there are several other dangers that come into play.  Some of which many overlook when planning to visit the Appalachian Trail. Many dangers, very easy to avoid but also just as easy to overlook and become a serrious problem. Before embarking on a hike, whether it be for a day, a week, or the full through-hike.  One should learn about what potential dangers there are and keep an open eye to their surroundings. 

The Appalachian Trail traverses history as well as Geography. In Virginia, the trail runs through Shenandoah National Park, established in 1935, as one of the first National Parks (along with Great Smokey Mountain and Mammoth Caves National Parks) in the Eastern United States and in the South. This presented a challenge to the National Park Service. The National Parks in other parts of the country were full integrated, at least in theory. Now that there were to be National Parks in the Jim Crow south, the Park Service was faced with the unsavory prospect of segregation in the new parks. The National Park Service policy at the time was to comply with local law and that meant the park would be segregated. This decision did not go down easily with everyone. From the Park’s beginning, African Americans and their white allies spoke out against the policy.

Nonetheless, initially at least the plan was for segregated facilities in Shenandoah National Park. Facilities for White visitors were constructed in the new park, while facilities for African Americans lagged behind. Complaints about the lack of facilities for African Americans were brushed off. As luck would have it, the Department of the Interior, of which the National Park Service is a sub-agency, was led by Harold Ickes, a longtime supporter of African American civil rights. Harold Ickes, aided by his advisor on Negro Affairs, William J. Trent, Jr., pushed for the creation of facilities for African Americans in Shenandoah National Park, but at the same time worked for desegregation of the entire park. Eventually a facility for African Americans was constructed, the campground at Lewis Mountain, but Ickes continued to push for desegregation and after World War II, the signs for segregated facilities quietly came down, the park was desegregated.

Thirty-five years ago hikers and backpackers on the Appalachian Trail hiked in jeans and tee-shirts. Today if a backpacker wears jeans they are gently pulled aside by friends who tell them that cotton kills. Cotton increases the chance of getting hypothermia because it absorbs moisture and retains it, cotton socks give people blisters, cotton underwear chaffs, anyone who wears cotton while backpacking is ignorant becuase everyone knows that wool and sythetics are best. What forces drove outdoor enthusiasts to throw off cotton with a rant on its evils? And what other fashion trends hit the Appalachian Trail since its creation.

Hiker in a Kilt.jpg

Since its introduction, the Appalachian Trail has brought wealth and tourism to cities and towns along its 2190 miles. Today, the outdoor, camping, and hiking industry is a multi-billion dollar one, with hikers spending thousands on their hikes on the AT. Hikers are subject to advertising and marketing that likely influenced their decision to hike the trail, as well as when they are purchasing their gear, and during the hike itself. Companies and Corporations have noticed this trend and are beginning to show their interest in National Parks, with branding and sponsoring Thru-Hikers.

 

Hikers, whether they like it or not, are subject to marketing and logos, and the effects of social media, as well as successful novels and movies while trying to escape it all in Americas wilderness. These effects include rises in attendance leading to overcrowding, the encroachment of corporations and creeping commercialism on the Trail, and questioning the future of the trail in terms of sustainability and preserving the wilderness of the Trail.