Appalachian Trail Histories

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Browse Exhibits (24 total)


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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The town of Monson, Maine, is the last town that northbound Appalachian Trail hikers enter before heading into the One-Hundred Mile Wilderness – or the first town that southbound hikers encounter after completing that remote stretch between the town and Mount Katahdin, the northeast terminus of the famed trail.

Monson’s 686 residents, as of the 2010 Census, enjoy a harmonious and interdependent relationship with the weary hikers who trek the Appalachian Trail each year.

It’s estimated that 3 million people hike the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail every year, with an estimated 3,000 attempted thru-hikes of the entire trail in 2016.

As a result, hundreds of AT hikers rely on Monson to stock up on supplies, shower, eat a home-cooked meal, run a load of laundry or pick up their mail. And numerous local businesses cater to these hikers, offering them a place to eat, refresh and spend the night.

Located in the southwest portion of Maine’s Piscataquis County, Monson is a small but beautiful town surrounded by mountains and forest.

Originally established in 1822, Monson was a quiet, sleepy town that saw its population double with the discovery of high-quality slate deposits in the late 19th century. When the slate mining operations became less profitable, the remote town appeared headed for extinction. But the town’s strategic location on the Appalachian Trail saved it from disappearing as hikers, initially few in number but eventually growing to hundreds each year, brought with them much needed revenue.

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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 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.

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 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.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.), stretching 2,189 miles across 14 states, is cared for by a coalition of federal and state agencies, as well as by 31 volunteer Trail clubs. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the main conserving organization of the A.T., oversees these various clubs and contributes to their funding. However, the given amount varies, depending on aspects of each Trail club's level of activity. As a result, the Trail clubs are engaged in an undeclared competition, for substantial funding from the ATC. 

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?

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. 

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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