Appalachian Trail Histories

Hikers along the Appalachian Trail today can count on some sort of shelter approximately every 8-10 miles along their route. Construction of this chain of shelters began in the 1930s, but was not completed until after the Second World War. The original route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia included only one such shelter on Rocky Knob in Floyd County. Hikers along the original route had to camp either in tents or in the ruins of old barns or farm houses along the way.

The Cherry Tree Shelter, pictured here, was constructed right around the time that the AT moved away from its original route along Iron Mountain to the present route that passes through the Grayson Highlands. Some hikers who still followed the old route of the trail into the late 1950s reported staying at this shelter -- the only one west of the New River along the old trail route.

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Cutting the old route of the Appalachian Trail from the New River to Damascus along Iron Mountain was one of the most difficult tasks faced by the ATC in its early years. This section of the Virginia was not well mapped and ATC leader Myron Avery had to rely on local knowledge of abandoned roads, forest trails, and hunter's trails to find a usable route between the river and Damascus.

This first page of a much longer letter from Avery to C.S. (Clint Jackson), the Unaka National Forest supervisor in this part of the state, offers some insight into those difficulties. Avery was keen on making sure that his trail guides were precisely accurate and in this letter he says that he seems to be missing an entire mile of trail. The rest of the letter offers two different alternatives for making sense of the route and asks Jackson to weigh in on which one is the correct one.

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The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed across Comer's Rock in Grayson County, Virginia (elevation 4,035'). At the time there was a U.S. Forest Service fire tower on the summit of Comer's Rock and the area had been part of the Unaka (now Jefferson) National Forest since 1920.

Like many place names along the Appalachian Trail, there is more than one version of why this summit on the Iron Mountain ridge was named "Comer's Rock." One version has it that a Civil War draft-dodger named Comer hid there to avoid his military service in the Confederacy. Another has it that the lookout simply derived its name from the many Comers who lived nearby.