HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — This year marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length from Georgia to Maine. The anniversary will occur on Tuesday, Aug.14.
The original Trail took more than 15 years to build and was completed on August 14, 1937. Construction involved the cooperation of hundreds of volunteers, state and federal partners, local Trail-maintaining clubs, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).
The AT travels through fourteen states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to its northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine. Over 250,000 acres of contiguous Trail lands are protected and managed along the footpath.
An estimated 2 to 3 million people visit the AT every year. Hikers from across the globe are drawn to the Trail for a variety of reasons: to reconnect with nature, to escape the stress of city life, to meet new people, strengthen old friendships or to experience a simpler life. About 2,000 people attempt to “thru-hike” the estimated 2,180 miles of the Trail each year, with only one out of four completing the entire journey.
“This year marks a milestone for the Appalachian Trail,” said Mark Wenger, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “Not only does this anniversary celebrate the completion of the Trail, it also celebrates the unique collaboration and determination of countless individuals, private organizations, and state and federal agencies in their efforts to complete this long-distance hiking trail from Maine to Georgia.”
The conception of the AT came from the October 1921 article “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning” in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects. Written by Benton MacKaye, he proposed the idea as an escape from daily life in an increasingly industrial nation. MacKaye originally called for a series of work, study and farming camps along the Appalachian Mountains, but building a trail to connect them soon became his primary objective. The Appalachian Trail Conference (now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy) was founded four years later in 1925.
Since the A.T was first completed in 1937, it has undergone a remarkable transformation. Almost 99 percent has been relocated or rebuilt. Hundreds of miles of the original route were along roads and passed through private lands. Thanks to the determination of Myron H. Avery and the ATC, the passage of the National Trails System Act, and the work of many partners and volunteers, more than 99 percent of the AT is now in public ownership. Not only is the footpath itself protected, but a corridor of land, averaging one thousand feet in width, is also protected.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the completion of the AT, the ATC will host a weekend celebration on August 11 and 12 at its headquarters at 799 Washington St., Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Highlights include guest speakers, workshops, activities, food, music and games.