The People’s Trail

Called the both the “footpath for the people” and the “people’s trail,” the Appalachian Trail stretches 2,185 miles from Main to Georgia. The trail’s terrain is diverse; accessible to novice hikers and appealing to seasoned rock-scramblers.

The trail as we know it was born from the mind of a regional planner from Massachusetts, named Benton MacKaye. MacKaye sought to create a hiking trail where people might retreat from urban life. His proposal, “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” was released in October 1921 at the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC).

During the 1920s, support for the trail grew to included prominent leaders and clubs of volunteers devoted to extending and up-keeping the trail. By 1937, the footpath existed in its entirety, though the war would divert the attention of many of its volunteers. (A war veteran, Earl V. Shaffer, was the first to hike the trail from Georgia to Maine.)

In the 50s and 60s protectors of the trail saw its future ensured only by way of federal land ownership and petitioned lawmakers (with an assist from conservationist and first lady Lady Bird Johnson), to pursue what would become the National Trails System Act of 1968. With its passing, the Appalachian Trail footpath became the first trail to be protected by the National Park Service (NPS) and land acquisition began in earnest.

The NPS gave ATC official responsibility for managing the trail in 1984. By 1998 just 100 miles of land was yet to be acquired. Ownership of the last stretch was obtained in 2014. (ATC dropped “Conference” in favor of “Conservancy” in 2005.)

It takes approximately 6,000 volunteers and 200,000 hours each year to keep the Trail in usable condition. From basic maintenance and removal of invasive plant species to mending bridges and building shelters, the work of volunteers if far-reaching. In Pennsylvania, there are eleven hiking and trail clubs who mark the state’s 229 miles of trails, sample water and monitor plant and animal life.

Williamson College of the Trades celebrates The People’s Trail at the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show. Using native plants, seniors from the school’s horticulture, carpentry, machines and painting departments exhibit what a stretch of the trail would look like during a Pennsylvania October.

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