Appalachian Trail Histories


Browse Exhibits (7 total)

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.

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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Scenic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia lies at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. For Appalachian Trail Hikers, Harpers Ferry is significant as the approximate mid-point of the 2,178-mile trail. Harpers Ferry is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the headquarters for the AT.

Harpers Ferry is perhaps best known for abolitionist John Brown’s October 16, 1859 raid on the federal armory there. Brown hoped the attack on the armory would spark a slave rebellion. The raid failed, but it did help to focus the nation’s attention on the growing tension between pro and anti-slavery factions. Just 18 months later, on April 12 - 14, 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina launching the Civil War.

For those interested in Civil War history, Harpers Ferry is close to several battlefield sites. Antietam Battlefield is 17 miles away. Gettysburg Battlefield, in Pennsylvania, is approximately 60 miles northeast of Harpers Ferry. Manassas Battlefield is approximately 60 miles southeast in Virginia.  

The town of Harpers Ferry itself is a popular tourist destination offering restaurants, museums, and incredible views. Outdoor activities include rafting on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers and hiking the many trails. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive lie just to the south with an entrance to the park in Front Royal, Virginia.  


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   Invasive species have become enormously dangerous to the Appalachian Trail. They can be either animals or plants. Some general examples of invasive species are: snakehead fish, Chinese Silvergrass, and Parrot-Feather. This exhibit focuses on the invasive flora that one may encounter on the Appalachian Trail. 

   Invasive plants are not to be taken lightly on the Appalachian Trail, or anywhere for that matter. Some, such as the European Stinging Nettle, can injure humans. Others, like Parrot-Feather, can clog drainage systems and deplete the oxygen in water. Still others simply outcompete native species. The thing to remember is that invasive plants pose a major threat to the Appalachian Trail by causing bodily injury, damaging property, and harming the ecosystems there.  

  On this long stretch of wilderness, invasive species are nothing new. For example, while it is not technically a plant, Chestnut Blight has been well-established in the eastern U.S. since the first decade of the Twentieth Century. This disease is caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, and it succeeded in killing off nearly 100% of the American Chestnut population by 1950.

   One example of an invasive plant that was introduced to the Appalachian Trail is the Water Chestnut (Trapa natans). It was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800's for decorating aquariums. Unfortunately, it was most likely introduced into the wild when aquarists dumped their tanks out. The aquatic plant now floats in thick blankets in the waters of the Appalachian Trail, and its fruits have spines that are painful to step on.

    Notice that in a historical context, these two species were introduced to the U.S. around the same time period. One explanation may be the imports of plants during this era: Chestnut Blight was likely introduced by bringing over infected trees, while Water Chestnut was, as mentioned earlier, brought over for use in aquariums. 



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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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.