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The tradition of taking hiker photographs at ATC headquarters began in 1979. Staff member Jean Cashin ("Trail Mom") used a Polaroid camera to record passing long distance hikers at the sign by the front door. Over time, the practice became a standard procedure, and a numbering system was developed that serves as an informal registration system for these hikers.
In 1939 the Appalachian Trail Conference issued guidelines to its member clubs regarding the construction of shelters (then called lean-tos) along the Appalachian Trail. The goal, as stated in this document, was to place shelters approximately 10 miles apart:
Such spacing avoids undue exertion for travelers carrying heavy packs and yet permits "skipping" a lean-to by more strenuously inclined traveler's for their day's journey.
The design of the lean-tos was to follow the general design of the Adirondack shelter: three-walled, with a steeply sloping roof, and a stone fireplace at the front that would radiate heat into the structure.