Appalachian Trail Conference, PO Box 807, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
One-fourth of the Appalachian Trail lies in Virginia. Shenandoah National Park has 107 miles of graded Appalachian Trail and many side trails. The proximity of the Skyline Drive—the Trail crosses it 32 times—and connecting links offer endless varieties of trips never too far from a potential base of supplies. Views here are extraordinary. The Trail continues roughly parallel to but generally many miles removed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It crosses the Parkway two times in one 70-mile stretch. It is then close to it, with several crossings, for a short distance in Jefferson National Forrest. This is a section of mature timber and wilderness with high summits, more impressive, perhaps, than any region to the north. In June, azalea, rhododendron and mountain laurel are outstanding. Among the many points of easy access for hikers: at Rockfish Gap and Reeds Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway; at Route 826 near Crabtree Meadows in the George Washington National Forest; on Route 56 near Tyro, at the swinging bridge. Look for the trail marker that pictures the hiker.
The first section of the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail was opened in October 1923 in Bear Mountain State Park in New York. Benton MacKaye was the first passionate and persistent advocate and visionary of the Appalachian Trail; under his guidance volunteers became an effective force lobbying for development of the trail. The continuation of the trail was haphazard at best throughout the 1920’s, and it was not until new leadership, under the direction of Myron H. Avery began in the early 1930’s, that the pace of trail development began to match the ambitions of it’s author. By 1934, 1,937 miles of the trail had been created through the efforts of fewer than 100 volunteers. The Appalachian Trail was finally completed on August 14, 1937, near Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. What looked like a completed trail, however, was to face many challenges in the years ahead.
A major hurricane in 1938 destroyed much of the trail in New England and the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway meant that almost 120 miles would need to be moved west. World War II meant that volunteers and the fuel and other provisions to support them were in short supply. In 1948 the published story of the first thru-hiker, a young man named Earl Shaffer, created great excitement, and by 1951 the trail was again continuous.
Increasing concern about the vulnerability of the trail to development meant that the Appalachian Trail Conference became vocal and effective lobbyists asking Congress to support the idea of federal protection of the trail. Support grew steadily, and culminated in an agreement called the National Trails System Act, adopted late in 1968 that provided for a series of “national scenic trails” within the National Park and Forests systems.
The effort of the National Park Service to acquire land to protect the route of the Appalachian Trail from development has resulted in all but 21 miles of the trail being acquired. The continuous trail dreamt of so long ago by Benton MacKaye has become a reality that provides an unparalleled opportunity for millions of people to experience first hand the power and beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
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