The view from McAfee Knob (in Virginia) on the A.T.
The view from McAfee Knob (in Virginia) on the A.T.

The A.T. at 100!

The world-famous Appalachian Trail turns 100 years old.

Some folks like short hikes, while other people prefer a longer stroll outdoors. Visitors to the Appalachian Trail can take a quick trip in an afternoon, or they can walk for months — nearly 2,200 miles (3,540 km) — from one end to the other. The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) connects 14 states throughout the eastern United States. It may be the most famous trail on planet Earth. And this historic hike is now 100 years old.

An American forester named Benton MacKaye came up with the idea for the A.T. in 1921. At that time, American cities were growing — and quickly. More people began working in factories. MacKaye thought these city workers should have a place to go to explore nature. He dreamed of a footpath that would connect “the tallest mountain in the north” to the “tallest mountain in the south.” That was Mount Washington in New Hampshire and Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.

MacKaye planned this trail through the Appalachian Mountains. In his mind, hikers would be able to walk for weeks along the crests of the ancient mountain range. But first, workers needed to build the trail. In 1922, construction of the A.T. began at Harriman State Park in New York. Officials opened the first section of the trail on October 7, 1923.

At first, the A.T. spanned only 15 miles (24 km) by Bear Mountain. Over the years, volunteers helped to build sections of the trail. By 1937, the A.T. connected Georgia in the south to Maine in the north. And it passed through Clingmans Dome, the highest point of the A.T. at 6,643 feet (2,025 m). In 1948, Earl Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire length of the trail — a “thru-hike.” A new U.S. law later changed the A.T. too. The National Trails System Act of 1968 made the A.T. a National Scenic Trail.

In 1980, a hiker named Larry Luxenberg began his hike on the A.T. “I was fed up with my life,” he remembered. “I was in a rut and decided to take this grand adventure.” Luxenberg admitted that he didn’t know much about hiking. But with “heart and ” he figured it out — and finished the A.T. in five months. Luxenberg later founded the Appalachian Trail Museum. It sits at the halfway point of the A.T. in Gardners, Pennsylvania.

“The Appalachian Trail opens the door to outdoor adventure,” said Luxenberg. And he told News-O-Matic that the hike “can be a life-changing experience.” It was for him and many others. That includes Max Swinhoe, who traveled to the A.T. from England. Swinhoe was born with a limb difference. She cannot use her left arm to pull herself up during a hike, yet she completed the entire thru-hike over five months in 2017.

“It was the best, hardest, most amazing life-changing experience,” said Swinhoe. “I laughed, cried, hurt, dug deep to continue, and loved the mission of walking with everything on my back.” Swinhoe called the A.T. “long, , and exhausting.” But she said she learned a valuable lesson as well. “It teaches you that if you want to achieve something in life, you will,” she said. Added Swinhoe: “You can dig really deep and find the energy.”

“It also teaches you to take a step at a time,” Swinhoe explained. And she told News-O-Matic that it was easier to finish the A.T. by breaking it up into smaller parts. “Don’t look at the whole scary thing,” she suggested. “Progress is progress, no matter how small.”

After 100 years, the A.T. has made a mark on America — and Americans. And each year, more than 4 million people step foot somewhere on the A.T. It’s much more than just a simple hike. Larry Luxenberg said the trail has helped bring the country together. People began building the A.T. about 60 years after the U.S. Civil War. During that conflict, people from southern states fought against people from the northern states.

“Benton MacKaye thought that the trail would help to tie the north and south together,” said Luxenberg. “He believed that this would be a peaceful project that would help knit the country together.” After all, hikers on the A.T. get to see and explore many different areas of the country. Luxenberg called that “a gentle way to you to different cultures.”

Updated October 5, 2023, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

The A.T. at 100!

The world-famous Appalachian Trail turns 100 years old.

The view from McAfee Knob (in Virginia) on the A.T.
The view from McAfee Knob (in Virginia) on the A.T.

Some folks like short hikes, while other people prefer a longer stroll outdoors. Visitors to the Appalachian Trail can take a quick trip in an afternoon, or they can walk for months — nearly 2,200 miles (3,540 km) — from one end to the other. The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) connects 14 states throughout the eastern United States. It may be the most famous trail on planet Earth. And this historic hike is now 100 years old.

An American forester named Benton MacKaye came up with the idea for the A.T. in 1921. At that time, American cities were growing — and quickly. More people began working in factories. MacKaye thought these city workers should have a place to go to explore nature. He dreamed of a footpath that would connect “the tallest mountain in the north” to the “tallest mountain in the south.” That was Mount Washington in New Hampshire and Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.

MacKaye planned this trail through the Appalachian Mountains. In his mind, hikers would be able to walk for weeks along the crests of the ancient mountain range. But first, workers needed to build the trail. In 1922, construction of the A.T. began at Harriman State Park in New York. Officials opened the first section of the trail on October 7, 1923.

At first, the A.T. spanned only 15 miles (24 km) by Bear Mountain. Over the years, volunteers helped to build sections of the trail. By 1937, the A.T. connected Georgia in the south to Maine in the north. And it passed through Clingmans Dome, the highest point of the A.T. at 6,643 feet (2,025 m). In 1948, Earl Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire length of the trail — a “thru-hike.” A new U.S. law later changed the A.T. too. The National Trails System Act of 1968 made the A.T. a National Scenic Trail.

In 1980, a hiker named Larry Luxenberg began his hike on the A.T. “I was fed up with my life,” he remembered. “I was in a rut and decided to take this grand adventure.” Luxenberg admitted that he didn’t know much about hiking. But with “heart and ” he figured it out — and finished the A.T. in five months. Luxenberg later founded the Appalachian Trail Museum. It sits at the halfway point of the A.T. in Gardners, Pennsylvania.

“The Appalachian Trail opens the door to outdoor adventure,” said Luxenberg. And he told News-O-Matic that the hike “can be a life-changing experience.” It was for him and many others. That includes Max Swinhoe, who traveled to the A.T. from England. Swinhoe was born with a limb difference. She cannot use her left arm to pull herself up during a hike, yet she completed the entire thru-hike over five months in 2017.

“It was the best, hardest, most amazing life-changing experience,” said Swinhoe. “I laughed, cried, hurt, dug deep to continue, and loved the mission of walking with everything on my back.” Swinhoe called the A.T. “long, , and exhausting.” But she said she learned a valuable lesson as well. “It teaches you that if you want to achieve something in life, you will,” she said. Added Swinhoe: “You can dig really deep and find the energy.”

“It also teaches you to take a step at a time,” Swinhoe explained. And she told News-O-Matic that it was easier to finish the A.T. by breaking it up into smaller parts. “Don’t look at the whole scary thing,” she suggested. “Progress is progress, no matter how small.”

After 100 years, the A.T. has made a mark on America — and Americans. And each year, more than 4 million people step foot somewhere on the A.T. It’s much more than just a simple hike. Larry Luxenberg said the trail has helped bring the country together. People began building the A.T. about 60 years after the U.S. Civil War. During that conflict, people from southern states fought against people from the northern states.

“Benton MacKaye thought that the trail would help to tie the north and south together,” said Luxenberg. “He believed that this would be a peaceful project that would help knit the country together.” After all, hikers on the A.T. get to see and explore many different areas of the country. Luxenberg called that “a gentle way to you to different cultures.”

Updated October 5, 2023, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

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