Appalachian Trail Histories


Browse Exhibits (36 total)

Benton MacKaye, the 'father' of the Appalachian Trail, had hoped to create a trail where the workers of the cities could go and be out with nature. Unfortunately, MacKaye in his idealism didn't think there would be a need for groups to look for groups or individuals who may get lost as they hike along his trail. Since the Appalachian Trail is now over 2,000 miles long, there should be, and are now, groups that will help locate those who get lost on it. 

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The Appalachian Trail traverses history as well as Geography. In Virginia, the trail runs through Shenandoah National Park, established in 1935, as one of the first National Parks (along with Great Smokey Mountain and Mammoth Caves National Parks) in the Eastern United States and in the South. This presented a challenge to the National Park Service. The National Parks in other parts of the country were full integrated, at least in theory. Now that there were to be National Parks in the Jim Crow south, the Park Service was faced with the unsavory prospect of segregation in the new parks. The National Park Service policy at the time was to comply with local law and that meant the park would be segregated. This decision did not go down easily with everyone. From the Park’s beginning, African Americans and their white allies spoke out against the policy.

Nonetheless, initially at least the plan was for segregated facilities in Shenandoah National Park. Facilities for White visitors were constructed in the new park, while facilities for African Americans lagged behind. Complaints about the lack of facilities for African Americans were brushed off. As luck would have it, the Department of the Interior, of which the National Park Service is a sub-agency, was led by Harold Ickes, a longtime supporter of African American civil rights. Harold Ickes, aided by his advisor on Negro Affairs, William J. Trent, Jr., pushed for the creation of facilities for African Americans in Shenandoah National Park, but at the same time worked for desegregation of the entire park. Eventually a facility for African Americans was constructed, the campground at Lewis Mountain, but Ickes continued to push for desegregation and after World War II, the signs for segregated facilities quietly came down, the park was desegregated.

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The Appalachian Trail to some has to been considered a family-friendly past time. However, anything with such a good image will always have a seedy underbelly and that is what has become an overwhelming part of the trail's legacy. As the trail becomes more popular with hikers and people alike drug use has become a thing of popular culture and with changing attitudes towards drugs it has become even more accepted. Throughout the 20th-century and into the 21st-century drug use specifically, Marijuana has maintained a celebrated history on the Appalachian Trail with the solo smokers to outright parties in the Trail Towns. While it is common to participate in drug and alcohol it is still illegal on federal land which, is what most of the Appalachian Trail is considered. Despite the changing drug laws in various states, hikers are taking a risk to bring a party atmosphere to a somewhat lonely experience. 

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The Appalachain Trail is just another place on the map without an understanding of the people that hike the trail. By telling the stories of their journey, whether this be through traditional means such as books, leaving parts of their story in trail registers, online, or in the oral tradition, their stories inspire and inform others of the difficulties and triumphs their experience.

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The American Chestnut tree once grew in abundance throughout the Appalachian Mountain region, from the southern United States to Maine.

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This exhibit focuses on the current issues facing the National Parks Service and Baxter State Park, which hosts the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  While the National Parks service tends to advocate for the increasing awareness and use of its various parks and the multitude of benefits its users will experience, Baxter State Park in Maine has a different set of beliefs.  Baxter State Park is a unique entity founded by former Maine Governor Percival Baxter with the mission to preserve the purity of the region's wilderness with the minimal intrusion of mankind.  The park's mission does not include advocacy for maximizing usage of recreational areas, but rather sets strict limits on numbers of guests allowed at a time.  The prioritization of wilderness over people sets Baxter State Park apart from the National Parks Service and has led to issues when hikers along the Appalachian Trail who are unaware of or simply disregard the unusual restrictions and regulations of the park on their way to the northern terminus at Baxter Peak.  The few miles of the Appalachian Trail that exist in the park are maintained by both the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and Baxter State Park employees.  This exhibit will seek to examine the source of the fundamental ideological differences as an explanation for the more recent conflicts between Baxter State Park and Appalachian Trail hikers and the National Parks Service.


For the most part, hiking on the Appalachian Trail is a safe activity.  In fact, for the 2016 Hiking year there is only one recorded case of an actual bear attack.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, approximately three million people visited the trail this year (2016). Taking the numbers in hand, the chances of a bear attack are roughly one in three million. 

However, along with bears there are several other dangers that come into play.  Some of which many overlook when planning to visit the Appalachian Trail. Many dangers, very easy to avoid but also just as easy to overlook and become a serrious problem. Before embarking on a hike, whether it be for a day, a week, or the full through-hike.  One should learn about what potential dangers there are and keep an open eye to their surroundings. 


With the Appalachian Trail slowly becoming more and more popular one of the newest trends is getting a tattoo. Tattoos have an interesting history in general and have even developed their own unique history with the Appalachian Trail. From tattoo artists, stick and pokes, and various inspirations this exhibit will explore the tattooing of a trail.

Every year, thousands upon thousands of hikers pass through on the Appalachian Trail, whether thru-hikers or section hikers, all have the same goal, to reach the end of the trail. However, whether one is a thru-hiker or section hiker, attempting to complete the Appalachian Trail with no assistance is difficult. Fortunately, however, for hikers along the Appalachian Trail, people in surrounding communities strive to act as Trail Angels, performing Trail Magic for the hikers through and organization and or family; looking to help hikers reach their goal of completing the trail. Through this exhibit, the meaning behind, reasons for, and impact of Trail Magic along the Appalachian Trail will be revealed. 

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The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.), stretching 2,189 miles across 14 states, is cared for by a coalition of federal and state agencies, as well as by 31 volunteer Trail clubs. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the main conserving organization of the A.T., oversees these various clubs and contributes to their funding. However, the given amount varies, depending on aspects of each Trail club's level of activity. As a result, the Trail clubs are engaged in an undeclared competition, for substantial funding from the ATC. 

The AT, originally purposed by Benton MacKaye, a forester who wrote his original plan called "An Appalachian Trail, A Project in Regional Planning.” MacKaye's idea detailed a grand trail that would connect a series of farms and wilderness work/study camps for city-dwellers.  Since the idea of the AT was first conceived, it had the intention of being used as an escape away from the stress of the workplace and industrialization. This wilderness escape slowly became an escape for not only working class people, but United States Veterans looking for a way to recover from their often traumatic wartime experiences. It is here at the intersection of finding peace and mental wellness that we discover why Veterans started using the AT as a means to walk off their war scars.

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Warrior Expeditions is an organization that outfits and supports veterans who wish to thruhike various trails accross the United States as a form of therapy. The organization currently supports hikes on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Florida Trail, and the Pacific Northwest Trail. On top of the Warrior Hikes, Warrior Expeditions also offers a Warrior Bike on the Trans America Trail and a Warrior Paddle on the Mississippi River.