Appalachian Trail Histories


Roy Ozmer

Roy Ozmer

Roy Ozmer (right), c. 1930s

Although Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery are the two men most responsible for the creation of the Appalachian Trail, the actual building of the trail from Georgia to Maine required many thousands of hours of volunteer work by countless individuals, most of them affiliated in one way or another with a local hiking club.

Before the Appalachian Trail could be built, a route had to be selected that would be both scenic and hikeable by the average outdoor enthusiast. North of the Potomac River, with the exception of much of the Maine woods, many trails already existed that could largely be knit together into a coherent route. South of the Potomac, however, there were few such trails. Thus, new routes through the mountains had to be scouted, blazed, and in many cases cut through the forests. Early southern trail builders relied as much as possible on existing paths and rough roads used by mountain residents or foresters, but few of those options showed up on government maps.

Thus, Avery had to recruit volunteers who were willing to assist the ATC with the finding and marking of a new route north from Georgia. The most important of those individuals was Robert LeRoy (Roy) Ozmer (1889-1969). Ozmer was a Georgia state forester who Avery recruited in 1927 to hike north from Mount Oglethorpe and mark out a route for the new trail as he went.

Roy Ozmer

Roy Ozmer on the trail (c.1930)

Ozmer enthusiastically took up Avery's challenge and began working his way north. Right from the start, he encountered unexpected resistance from the Knoxville-based Smoky Mountain Hiking Club, whose members wanted the Trail to end not at Oglethorpe, but at Cohutta Mountain, which would have brought the route much closer to their home base. Spurred on by Avery, who urged Ozmer to ignore any such distractions, Ozmer managed to blaze a trail first to the Tennessee border, and eventually all the way through the Smokies.

In 1930, Avery again turned to Ozmer for help, this time to scout the route from the Peaks of Otter (Virginia) to the Nolichuky River near Ozmer's home in Erwin, Tennessee. Ozmer jumped at the chance and late that summer sent Avery a full report on the 225 mile route he had marked. After receiving Ozmer's report, Avery wrote:

I have always had the highest opinion of what you would accomplish when you hit the trail, but this time you have amazed one who thought he could correctly gauge what could be done. You have succeeded in a way that far exceeds my expectations.

Without the efforts of hardy individuals like Ozmer, the Appalachian Trail would have taken much longer to complete. According to historian Sarah Mittlefehldt, Avery's reliance on scouts like Ozmer, even when using them upset local hiking clubs that Avery needed to help build and maintain the Trail, demonstrates his resolve to complete the project as quickly as possible, despite the toes that might get stepped on along the way.

Roy Ozmer, Hermit of Pelican Key

Roy Ozmer (1957)

After the Second World War, Ozmer moved to Pelican Key, Florida, near Key Largo, where he became a locally famous hermit. The reasons for his move and his decision to remove himself from society in this way are unclear. What is known about his later life as a hermit is that he was a bit of a local celebrity, being visited by, among others, the actor Burl Ives, and drawing occasional stories in local papers. He was also happy to receive visitors from the local community, who he happily regaled with stories of his earlier life in the southern forests.