Appalachian Trail Histories

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Browse Exhibits (4 total)


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.

Damascus in Autumn.jpg

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.  

 

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.

Theresa Stierle Appalachian Trail Near Shenandoah National Park1.jpg

   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.