Appalachian Trail Histories

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The months from June to November is a time span that has the potential to bring well-known destruction along the Gulf Coast, where memories of Katrina still linger. Hurricanes are destructive forces of nature that will damage or destroy everything that comes in their way with their monstrous winds and torrential rainfall. Inland United States is not free from their effects. Although the Gulf Coast is the most hurricane-prone region, the Mid-Atlantic and New England have certainly seen their fair share of storms. While the Applachian Trail may be rather inland, it too is not spared from many of the effects of Hurricanes.

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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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   Invasive species have become enormously dangerous to the Appalachian Trail. They can be either animals or plants. Some general examples of invasive species are: snakehead fish, Chinese Silvergrass, and Parrot-Feather. This exhibit focuses on the invasive flora that one may encounter on the Appalachian Trail. 

   Invasive plants are not to be taken lightly on the Appalachian Trail, or anywhere for that matter. Some, such as the European Stinging Nettle, can injure humans. Others, like Parrot-Feather, can clog drainage systems and deplete the oxygen in water. Still others simply outcompete native species. The thing to remember is that invasive plants pose a major threat to the Appalachian Trail by causing bodily injury, damaging property, and harming the ecosystems there.  

  On this long stretch of wilderness, invasive species are nothing new. For example, while it is not technically a plant, Chestnut Blight has been well-established in the eastern U.S. since the first decade of the Twentieth Century. This disease is caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, and it succeeded in killing off nearly 100% of the American Chestnut population by 1950.

   One example of an invasive plant that was introduced to the Appalachian Trail is the Water Chestnut (Trapa natans). It was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800's for decorating aquariums. Unfortunately, it was most likely introduced into the wild when aquarists dumped their tanks out. The aquatic plant now floats in thick blankets in the waters of the Appalachian Trail, and its fruits have spines that are painful to step on.

    Notice that in a historical context, these two species were introduced to the U.S. around the same time period. One explanation may be the imports of plants during this era: Chestnut Blight was likely introduced by bringing over infected trees, while Water Chestnut was, as mentioned earlier, brought over for use in aquariums. 

 

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The attack of Claudia Brenner and Rebecca Wight, an innocent lesbian couple spending a weekend hiking on the Appalachian Trail, would lead to Wight's life being cut short, a man behind bars and pave the way for legislation and inclusiveness for members of the LGBTQ community, both on and off the trail.

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

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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When preparing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, start and finish it in one go, there can be a lot of things to think about: what pack will you use, what kind of food will you eat, what shoes will you wear, who will you go with, etc. But, when thinking about all the different details of a complete of the Appalachian Trail, there's one other detail that actually causes some contraversy on the trail: in which direction are you walking? 

If a hiker chooses to be a North Bound hiker (NoBo), they will start at the Georgia end of the trail and walk towards Maine. But, if you choose to be a South Bound Hiker (SoBo), then you will start at Mount Katahdin in Maine, and walk south towards Georgia. Is there a right or a wrong way to walk? Not necessarily, but other thru hikers will tell you there certainly tell you there is a right and a wrong direction to walk, depending on whether you talk to a NoBo or SoBo. This argument between hikers from different directions comes from the different stereotypes and ideas about each group, and has actually caused a rivalry between each group. So, if you had to choose, which side would you be on? SoBo or NoBo? 

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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.

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The Appalachian Trail is a 2,190 mile long hike that covers fourteen different states stretching from Georgia to Maine. Thru-hikers, the tough backpackers that challenge themselves to completing the A.T in one hiking season are tested mentally, physically, and sometimes spiritually. With their gear strapped on to their backs, they mount up to follow the white blazes marked on trees and surround themselves with nature's blueprints. Well-experienced hikers are known to meticulously count the weight of each item they bring along. Despite careful weight consideration, hikers are still known to bring additional items that add unnecessary weight and take up already limited space. 

Benton MacKaye, the 'father' of the Appalachian Trail, had hoped to create a trail where the workers of the cities could go and be out with nature. Unfortunately, MacKaye in his idealism didn't think there would be a need for groups to look for groups or individuals who may get lost as they hike along his trail. Since the Appalachian Trail is now over 2,000 miles long, there should be, and are now, groups that will help locate those who get lost on it. 

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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.

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The Appalachian Trail to some has to been considered a family-friendly past time. However, anything with such a good image will always have a seedy underbelly and that is what has become an overwhelming part of the trail's legacy. As the trail becomes more popular with hikers and people alike drug use has become a thing of popular culture and with changing attitudes towards drugs it has become even more accepted. Throughout the 20th-century and into the 21st-century drug use specifically, Marijuana has maintained a celebrated history on the Appalachian Trail with the solo smokers to outright parties in the Trail Towns. While it is common to participate in drug and alcohol it is still illegal on federal land which, is what most of the Appalachian Trail is considered. Despite the changing drug laws in various states, hikers are taking a risk to bring a party atmosphere to a somewhat lonely experience. 

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