One of the world’s most famous long-distance footpaths turns 80 years old this week, as good a reason as any to go for a hike.
On Aug. 14, 1937, the last section of the Appalachian Trail was cut and blazed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. They worked at 3,500 feet on the rugged ridgeline connecting Spaulding and Sugarloaf mountains in the jumbled high-peaks region of western Maine.
A large bronze plaque attached to a mossy boulder marks the spot of this historic occasion eight decades ago. There are no views from this remote spot, no craggy ledge or open summit, just a tangle of spruce and fir to either side of a clear corridor of trail marked with white paint blazes. To the right, it’s 200 miles to Katahdin. To the left it’s 1,989 miles to Springer Mountain in Georgia.
Benton MacKaye, a regional planner, forester, author and philosopher from Shirley, Massachusetts, is thought to have conceived of the Appalachian Trail while gazing out over the Green Mountains from the firetower atop Stratton Mountain in Vermont. MacKaye made his idea public in a 1921 article titled “The Appalachian Trail: An Experiment in Regional Planning,” which was published in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects.
MacKaye’s plan envisioned a skyline trail along the Appalachian Mountains from northern Georgia to New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Early support for the trail was enthusiastic, and in 1923, the first section of the AT was opened between Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain in New York. MacKaye helped convene the first Appalachian Trail Conference in 1925 to organize and focus the resources needed to locate and build the rest of the trail.
Myron Avery, a maritime lawyer from Lubec, was recruited in 1931 to serve as chair of the Appalachian Trail Club, a position he would hold for more than 20 years. The indefatigable Avery was the driving force in turning what was now the dream of many into reality on the ground. In 1935, Avery ensured that the AT would extend beyond the White Mountains by helping to form the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, which would construct the trail through the Maine wilderness from the Mahoosucs to Katahdin.
In 1968, the National Trails System Act established the Appalachian Trail as a National Scenic Trail (along with the Pacific Crest Trail) and called for the federal government and the 14 states along the trail route to establish a permanently protected AT corridor. The final piece of this complex land-acquisition puzzle fell into place in 2014.
You can celebrate the long and colorful history of the Appalachian Trail with an overnight backpacking trip this summer or fall. Choose from one of these favorites for some time well spent following in the footsteps of so many dedicated individuals on this incomparable pathway.
Baldpates: From Route 26 in Grafton Notch, hike in to Baldpate Lean-to, then tackle the west and east peaks of Baldpate Mountain for great views over the Mahoosuc Range.
Bemis Range: From the height of land on Route 17 south of Oquossoc, make your way over the four summits of the Bemis range for Saddleback and Mooselookmeguntic Lake views. Camp at Bemis Lean-to.
Little Bigelow: From Long Falls Dam Road in Dead River Township, hike in to Little Bigelow Lean-to, then wander up to the summit ledges for nice views of Avery Peak.
Moxie Bald: From Moxie Pond, trek in to Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to, then head up Moxie Bald for a 360-degree vista that includes Moxie Pond and Pleasant Pond Mountain.
White Cap: From Logan Brook Road, pack in to Logan Brook Lean-to, then scamper up to the subalpine zone atop White Cap Mountain for a grand panorama over the 100-Mile Wilderness.
Rainbow Ledges: Starting at Abol Bridge, walk in to Hurd Brook Lean-to, then continue to the extensive Rainbow Ledges for a sweet look at majestic Katahdin and Rainbow Lake.
The Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine, published by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, is your go-to resource for these fun hikes.