Appalachian Trail Histories

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Browse Exhibits (33 total)


These animals don't live in the forest, but they do know the trail like the back of their paws. People bring their pets on the Appalachian Trail for a myriad of reasons, mostly because it gets lonely out there, but also for support.

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Some say it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

The Appalachian Trail is not just a trail, but over two thousand miles of vast wilderness and nature stretching down nearly the entire length of the eastern seaboard. It is home to numerous indigenous species of wildlife and vegetation as well as home to many people who've lived nearby or dedicated their lives to walking, preserving and/or protecting the trail. It is also a century-long storybook that has captured countless historical moments, people and artifacts.

This exhibit is meant weave together the story of the Appalachian Trail through pictures taken by photographers, hikers, historians and other individuals throughout its existence. It will go as far back as the 1920s and 30s and come as far forward as the modern day, and include a special collection regarding those displaced by the federal government's attempts to acquire land for the trail.

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This exhibit is designed to display the accomplishments and experiences of African American men and women who've hiked the Appalachian Trail despite prominent stereotypes as it relates to people of color and hiking. Additionally, this exhibit also takes an in-depth look at not only people of color who hike, but organizations that support minority hiking endeavors as well. 

This project is catered towards minority men women and children who have always been curious about outdoor activity an interested in learning more about it, but just never took the opportunity to experience it first hand themselves.

The inspiration for this project stems from realizing that I myself am actually apart of this discourse community of minorities who’ve always been interested in hiking, camping, biking or fishing, but never actually took the initiative to do so. After doing some self-reflecting and conducting several interviews throughout this project, I’ve realized that there are several contributing factors as to why people of color in the United States don’t hike or partake in outdoor activities at the same rate as White Americans. Reasons vary widely from not hiking because your family simply hasn’t introduced it to you because they never have, or not hiking because you legitimately don’t feel safe alone in the wilderness. Although these reasons may appear to be completely separate from one another, as you will see navigating this exhibit, reasons as to why minorities don’t hike at the same rate as white Americans are more linked than they may appear to be.

Studying the demographics of the Appalachian Trail over time speaks not only to the history of the trail, but the history of the United States of America. Although people of color still may face some of the same racial and discriminatory experiences that may have deterred a person of color from hiking 60 years ago, the fact of the matter is, year by year, more people of color are willing to experience what nature has to offer them and this exhibit will focus on the experiences of minority individuals and organizations who have found a passion in being outdoors. 

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The Appalachian Trail came into being as the result of the labor of hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers who toiled ceaselessly to survey routes, break trail through the mountains, negotiate rights of way from private landowners, and build shelters along the route. However, several individuals deserve particular credit when it comes to the history of the creation of the Trail. Benton MacKaye had the vision and Myron Avery had the relentless drive to complete the Trail, but many other lesser-known volunteers contributed countless hours to the design, building, and maintaining of the Appalachian Trail.

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Backward, barefoot, unclean, hillbillies- they were called idiotic, frail, half-wits.  These are only some of the terms used commonly in the 1930s to describe the people who lived among the mountains of Shenandoah.  They were painted as uneducated, slow, drunks.  They were photographed, studied, given tests and documented for the parties interested in evicting them.  Their land was to become Shenandoah National Park.  They had to go.  To justify such an act, the "resettlement" of these residents was portrayed as a service to them.  The isolation of their lives was said to tear away at their physical and mental health.  Their hardships, the same hardships of many lowlanders, were used as proof of their dire need for relocation.  They were being thrown out of their homes- but, was it really for their own good?

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The Appalachian Trail occasionally suffers from incidents of crime both on the trail and in the surrounding areas. The majority of crimes are considered petty and within the misdemeanor classification. Marijuana use, alcohol consumption, and firearms possession all fit into this category and often go unreported. Because the trail lies secluded from nearby townships and police forces, it is often impossible for authorities to respond to the lesser incidents. If police are notified of such an incident, often times the perpetrator has long since moved on to another section of the trail by the time law enforcement has a chance to respond.

Other types of crime, however, are more serious and have lasting effects on the trail. Most notably, vandalism has been on the rise since the late 1970s. The most common form of vandalism on the trail is graffiti, which litters certain areas of the trail in abundance. Graffiti has often been considered acceptable by hikers as long as it remained within moderation, but recent snowballing effects have produced an increase of spray painting and wood carving near scenic locations. Local trail clubs and hikers are becoming increasingly upset at the ongoing defacement of natural locations, prompting restoration and cleaning efforts along the most popular sections of the trail.

Though not historically a commonly-reported crime, incidents of arson along the Appalachian Trail have spiked recently. From the southern range of the trail in northern Georgia to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, individuals are deliberately setting fire to the national forests. Arson suspects are very difficult to identify but several arrests have been made in the 2016 cases.

Other types of crime are more unorthodox and include individuals on the run from the law as well as those with strange concepts of personal conduct. Public acts of lewdness (nudity) as well as the occasional fugitive can sometimes be encountered, and though while these incidents are generally non-violent in nature, they can post a threat to the well-being of children and adults alike.

The most famous crimes along the Appalachian Trail are murder, and there have been several high-profile cases throughout the years including the 1996 double murders of Julianne Williams and Lolli Winans and the 1988 double murders of Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Ramsay. Because of the trail's seclusion in certain remote areas, several murder cases are still unsolved.

Please browse through this exhibit to learn more about these interesting criminal acts, and always hike with a buddy.

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Trail communities along the Appalachian Trail are significant accommodations to hikers and tourists alike, providing visitors with stores, restaurants, hotels, and recreational activities. One such community is Damascus, Virginia. Known as "Trail Town, U.S.A" and the "Friendliest Town on the Trail," Damascus is a small town with a unique history that lives up to its nicknames, providing a friendly atmosphere with various recreational activities inspired by tourism and Benton MacKaye's "return to nature" philosophy.

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The Appalachian Trail provides an escape to the natural world. Those who believe the trail is too treacherous for all to experience or those who are under the impression that thru-hiking is the only way to benefit from the Appalachian Trail, are highly mistaken. People of all backgrounds and histories can gain the experience Benton MacKaye envisioned when visiting the trail. According to The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, "many folks with disabilities have visited and even spent a lengthy amount of time on the Appalachian Trail", plenty of whom kept daily journals of their inspiring journeys. Currently, new advances in technology have provided people with disabilities greater opportunities to visit the trail and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has put together a guidebook, providing increasing opportunities for accessibility. 

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There have only been eleven murders since the early 1970s, making the Appalachian Trail seem relatively safe. Most considered the outdoors to be an escape from soicety, and an escape from the dangers that came with civilization. However, somewhere between May 24, 1996, and June 1, 1996, Julianne Williams and Laura Winans were brutally murdered along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. This murder was not only signifcant because it took place in a relatively popular location, but because the victims were also lesbian lovers.

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Among the thousands who take to the Appalachian trail each year, many of them come without nature or exercise on their mind. Many come with the mindset of drinking, doing drugs, and activities, of that likeness. While these individuals don’t have in mind one of Benton MacKaye’s visions for the Appalachian trail: using the trail for the improvement of one’s health, some are. Through using the trail directly to overcome substance addiction or using it to provide awareness many embody this aspect of MacKaye’s vision fully.

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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.

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The Appalachian Trail as we know it today is the result of both private and initiative and governemental action. While the original version of the Trail was created largely by volunteers, they made extensive use of federal and state land creating the Trail, especially in the region south of the Susquehanna River. As early as 1945, members of Congress took an interest in the Appalachian Trail as a national cultural and recreational resource, but it was not until 1968 that the Appalachian Trail entered the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. This exhibit charts the history of the migration of the Appalachian Trail from a volunteer project based largely on private land to a National Scenic Trail under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.

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