Appalachian Trail Histories

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During the first four decades of the Trail's existence, the majority of its route passed over private property. The local trail clubs and the ATC secured rights of way over these private lands through a series of agreements--some formal, some informal--that gave the clubs the right to build the trail across an individual's land, gave hikers the right to pass through, and sometimes included the right to build a shelter on the landowner's property. This sample easement from 1938 shows that the ATC was often able to secure these rights of way at minimal cost (in this case, $1.00). At the same time, these agreements were very fragile, generally giving the landowner the right to revoke or cancel the agreement with 30 days notice. As a result, the Trail was often rerouted when an easement was canceled, or when the property through which it passed changed hands.

Collection: Legislation
ATC405a.jpg

A trail maintainer along the Appalachian Trail in 1932. The caption on the reverse of this photograph reads: "Homeward bound, with her pack and pruning shears after a day's work on the Appalachian Trail." Trail volunteers like this young woman were, and remain, essential to the building and maintaining of the Appalachian Trail.

Collection: Trail Clubs
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Arthur Perkins was the first chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference. Perkins, a judge from Hartford, Connecticut, was an avid outdoorsman and member of the Appalachian Mountain Club. After assuming the chairmanship of the ATC, Perkins recruited a young attorney named Myron Avery to the Appalachian Trail project. Avery went on to become the second ATC chairman and was the man most responsible for the completion of the AT in 1937. Perkins was instrumental in turning the ATC into an organizing force for the building of the Trail and often served as a mediator between various individuals and organizations that had differing visions of how the project should proceed.

Collection: Builders
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Stephen Mather was the first director of the National Park Service, serving in that capacity from 1916-1929. Mather was one of the small group of like-minded conservationists and trail club members who founded the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1925.

Collection: Builders
Stephen_Mather_1916.jpg

Jean Stephenson (left) and Marion Park (right) on a day hike on the Appalachian Trail sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. Stephenson was the long-time second in command to ATC Chairman Myron Avery and Park was the long-serving secretary of the ATC.

Collection: Builders
PATC002.jpg

Trash left by hikers at the Wiggins Shelter in Virginia, May 1970. Increasing use of the Appalachian Trail by both casual and long distance hikers in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a number of problems such as increasing amounts of litter, increasing vandalism, and degradation of the environment around trail shelters. One response of the ATC was to urge trail maintaining clubs to remove trash receptacles from shelters (note the trash barrel in this image). Another was to embark on much more aggressive educational campaigns, like the very successful Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics program. In due to overuse problems like those pictured here, the Wiggins Shelter was removed from the Trail.

Collection: Trail Shelters
Wiggins Shelter.jpg

Long distance hiker Cherie Cummings photographed outside ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV, July 17, 1979.

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.

Collection: Hikers
ATC 1979.jpg

Photograph of Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery at Bake Oven Knob, October 1931. This is the only known photograph of the two men together.

Collection: Builders
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Family with dog at Appalachian Trail Conservancy's visitor center

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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.


Collection: Trail Shelters
ATCShelterdoc.jpg

Master planning document for the Appalachian Trail, adopted by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service in 1981.

Collection: Legislation
ATCompPlan.pdf