When a person sets out to hike on the Appalachian Trail, be it for a mile or for 2189 miles, you can bet the first thought isn't "wow, a lot of work must go into making this trail so incredible!" While the trail is free to enjoy for upwards of 3 million hikers per year, as you can imagine the costs to keep this trail not only maintained, but free from development and encroachment is astronomically. Enter our hero of this post: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Started in 1925 under the name Appalachian Trail Conference, the ATC was started by none other than Benton MacKaye - the original visionary of the Appalachian Trail. In the 1930s, Arthur Perkins from Connecticut took charge of the ATC and with the help of Myron Avery, a D.C. lawyer, was able to begin blazing and planning more definite routes for the trail. After a hurricane destroyed large portions of the trail in New England in the late 1930s, the 1940s saw many of the young men working as volunteers and trail blazers called off to World War II. However, the 1940s also brought the first major accomplishment of the trail - Earl Shaffer completed the first ever thru hike in 1948. His journey was long and was such a huge undertaking at the time that no one actually believed he had done it until his photos were printed.
The 1950s and 1960s saw big changes for the Appalachian Trail. Gene Espy thru hiked in 1951 and Emma "Grandma Gatewood" was the first female thru hiker in 1955 at the age of 67. She also thru hiked in 1960 and 1963, becoming the first person to thru hike the trail three times, as well as the oldest female thru hiker - a title she held for many years. The 1960s also saw the signing of the National Trails Act in 1968 by President Johnson. This was the huge first step into truly protecting the corridor on which the Appalachian Trail was located.
The backpacking craze of the 1970s brought on even more changes for the trail. It was becoming more popular and the subject of books and newspaper articles. The Appalachian Trail Conference also made their move out of Washington, D.C. to their current headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Land acquisition for the trail began to reach full speed, rerouting the trail off roads and private land onto more National Park System lands. In 1978, the ATC lobbied congress to be able to buy and maintain lands, bringing a victory for the ATC and maintenance of the trail, becoming one of the most complicated pieces of legislation in the history of the National Park System.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the popularity of the trail continue to rise, with more and more hikers walking the trail as both day hikers, as well as entire trail completions. Popular books were written about the AT and backpacking gear improved by leaps and bounds. By the time of the 2000s, we had seen a President doing trail maintenance (Bill Clinton in the 90s) and we only had about 100 miles of land left to acquire to call the trail corridor "complete." It wasn't until 2014 that the 100 miles of land in Maine, encompassing Saddleback Mountain, was formally completed. The 2000s also brought a name change to the Appalachian Trail Conference - it was changed to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to better express their efforts in attempting to conserve the trail for future generations.
Part one of this blog is all about the history of the ATC, but part two of this post will be all about what the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is doing for us today and why you should become a member. That post will be live next week.