Appalachian Trail Histories

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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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"Since life began on Earth, countless creatures have come and gone, rendered extinct by naturally changing physical and biological conditions."

In the Appalachian trail area and in the Appalachian Mountains, the population of many animal species have been declining over the years. Some species are even disappearing before our very own eyes, or have disappeared in the past without our generation not even getting to see or discover them.  What is causing these beautiful creatures to disappear or to be on the brink of extinction? Throughout my exhibit you will learn and discover the reasons why these species are declining or some miraculously coming back to the park.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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This exhibit focuses on the current issues facing the National Parks Service and Baxter State Park, which hosts the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  While the National Parks service tends to advocate for the increasing awareness and use of its various parks and the multitude of benefits its users will experience, Baxter State Park in Maine has a different set of beliefs.  Baxter State Park is a unique entity founded by former Maine Governor Percival Baxter with the mission to preserve the purity of the region's wilderness with the minimal intrusion of mankind.  The park's mission does not include advocacy for maximizing usage of recreational areas, but rather sets strict limits on numbers of guests allowed at a time.  The prioritization of wilderness over people sets Baxter State Park apart from the National Parks Service and has led to issues when hikers along the Appalachian Trail who are unaware of or simply disregard the unusual restrictions and regulations of the park on their way to the northern terminus at Baxter Peak.  The few miles of the Appalachian Trail that exist in the park are maintained by both the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and Baxter State Park employees.  This exhibit will seek to examine the source of the fundamental ideological differences as an explanation for the more recent conflicts between Baxter State Park and Appalachian Trail hikers and the National Parks Service.

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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