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On February 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a special message to Congress in which he called upon his colleagues in the legislative branch to address the rapidly worsening state of the environment in the United States, and to take up an ambitious conservation agenda. In his speech, President Johnson called for the creation of a national system of trails, modeled on the Appalachian Trail:
We need to copy the great Appalachian Trail in all parts of America.
This speech spurred Secretary of the Interior Morris Udall to action, resulting first in the report Trails for America (1965) and then the National Trails System Act (1968). This latter legislation formalized the federalization of the Appalachian Trail.
The Act also instructed the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Appalachian Trail Conference, to submit "a comprehensive plan for the management, acquisition, development, and use of the Appalachian Trail." This plan was to include the "identification of all significant natural, historical, and cultural resources to be preserved." One consequence of this provision in the Act was the rerouting of the existing trail to new locations, such as McAfee Knob, that were deemed "significant" and worthy of preservation.