Appalachian Trail Histories


Browse Exhibits (48 total)

These animals don't live in the forest, but they do know the trail like the back of their paws. People bring their pets on the Appalachian Trail for a myriad of reasons, mostly because it gets lonely out there, but also for support.


When a hiker begins their trek on the Appalachian Trail, they might examine maps with labeled trail shelters, towns, and famous locations. Learning trail names helps a hiker recognize which direction they should go to reach their next destination along the Trail. However, not all hikers understand that certain regions possess significant histories before the Appalachian Trail's development. By learning about trail origins, a hiker receives an in-depth perspective about the choices made when establishing Trail sections. Mt. Katahdin, a famous trail destination, has a significant history with the Appalachian Trail, Baxter State Park, and the American Indian Penobscot Tribe. The Penobscot Tribe utilized the surrounding lands and summit as a resource for their survival as well as religious and cultural customs. However, Trail members and State Park officials are dealing with increased littering and damage to Mt. Katahdin's natural environment. Members from the Penobscot Tribe are also experiencing an increased disregard by hikers and visitors towards their religious customs and traditions still carried out today within Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin. Although these issues present difficulties in maintenance and preservation, the groups are reviewing and undergoing resolutions to these threatening problems. 

The Appalachian Trail is under attack.

This attack is largely invisible, yet omnipresent and ubiquitous.

This attack has been spearheaded by a very visible but faceless enemy, the casual hikers and dedicated hikers alike who love the trail. While not a war of malice, it's largely a war of ignorance and even convenience. This war isn't fought with bullets or missiles but with microscopic plastics brought by the masses of nature-loving hikers. 

The explosion of popularity on the trail, as well as the simultaneous increase of reliance on plastics and other disposables on the Appalachian Trail, has done extensive damage to the ecological health of the trail.  The increased foot traffic and destructive consumer culture have left gear, plastics, and other forms of pollution strewn about the trail. This exhibit explores these aforementioned problems through comparative historical analysis, ecological research, and the consequences of ongoing commercialization of the Appalachian Trail.

The future of the trail is determined by how the volunteer groups and government services address the increasing ecological damage that is damaging the trail.  After every book, article, or movie there is a greater increase in hikers alongside the trail that can often bring economic opportunity to locals at the cost of greater foot traffic and ecological damage. Particularly around shelters, the presence of humans has increased brought consequences in the form of increased pollution, littering, and extensive damage.

Benton MacKaye's initial mission and purpose in creating the Appalachian Trail was to bring people back to nature. Over the years, the trail has become one of the most popular hiking trails in the United States and thus has completed this initial mission. However, the sudden increase of humans in a part of nature that had not previously seen much human interaction carried a significant impact on the trial environment. While many policies, such as the Leave No Trace movement, have been enacted to slow the environmental degradation taking place on the AT, it is still important to recount the historic impact on the AT’s environment, and things that have been permanently altered.

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.


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 Appalachian Trail came into being as the result of the labor of hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers who toiled ceaselessly to survey routes, break trail through the mountains, negotiate rights of way from private landowners, and build shelters along the route. However, several individuals deserve particular credit when it comes to the history of the creation of the Trail. Benton MacKaye had the vision and Myron Avery had the relentless drive to complete the Trail, but many other lesser-known volunteers contributed countless hours to the design, building, and maintaining of the Appalachian Trail.


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?

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The Appalachian Trail occasionally suffers from incidents of crime both on the trail and in the surrounding areas. The majority of crimes are considered petty and within the misdemeanor classification. Marijuana use, alcohol consumption, and firearms possession all fit into this category and often go unreported. Because the trail lies secluded from nearby townships and police forces, it is often impossible for authorities to respond to the lesser incidents. If police are notified of such an incident, often times the perpetrator has long since moved on to another section of the trail by the time law enforcement has a chance to respond.

Other types of crime, however, are more serious and have lasting effects on the trail. Most notably, vandalism has been on the rise since the late 1970s. The most common form of vandalism on the trail is graffiti, which litters certain areas of the trail in abundance. Graffiti has often been considered acceptable by hikers as long as it remained within moderation, but recent snowballing effects have produced an increase of spray painting and wood carving near scenic locations. Local trail clubs and hikers are becoming increasingly upset at the ongoing defacement of natural locations, prompting restoration and cleaning efforts along the most popular sections of the trail.

Though not historically a commonly-reported crime, incidents of arson along the Appalachian Trail have spiked recently. From the southern range of the trail in northern Georgia to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, individuals are deliberately setting fire to the national forests. Arson suspects are very difficult to identify but several arrests have been made in the 2016 cases.

Other types of crime are more unorthodox and include individuals on the run from the law as well as those with strange concepts of personal conduct. Public acts of lewdness (nudity) as well as the occasional fugitive can sometimes be encountered, and though while these incidents are generally non-violent in nature, they can post a threat to the well-being of children and adults alike.

The most famous crimes along the Appalachian Trail are murder, and there have been several high-profile cases throughout the years including the 1996 double murders of Julianne Williams and Lolli Winans and the 1988 double murders of Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Ramsay. Because of the trail's seclusion in certain remote areas, several murder cases are still unsolved.

Please browse through this exhibit to learn more about these interesting criminal acts, and always hike with a buddy.


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 Appalachian region of the United States often gets a perceived stereotype that the rural people are poor, ignorant people who generally do not engage in civil society and only sit on their rocking chairs on their porches with a gun at their side, ready to shoot at any intruder to their illegal moonshine operation. However, the development of the Appalachian Trail clearly showed that this region of the country was rich with robust and complex networks of civil society.

This exhibit is meant to showcase how small civil societies who shared a common interest in creating the Appalachian Trail, strengthened democratic institutions and practices, particularly during a time of economic vulnerability and the spread of authoritarianism globally.

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.