Appalachian Trail Histories

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The Appalachain Trail is just another place on the map without an understanding of the people that hike the trail. By telling the stories of their journey, whether this be through traditional means such as books, leaving parts of their story in trail registers, online, or in the oral tradition, their stories inspire and inform others of the difficulties and triumphs their experience.

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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. 

 

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.