March 6, 2017 / Comments Off on The AT and the Origin of the Idea

The AT and the Origin of the Idea

[This post is rated “E” for expert, meaning it is far from basic information – it is not likely known by most.]**

Many who know me well know that I’m a history buff and I particularly enjoy the interesting (and sometimes extraordinary) origins of words, phrases, events, traditions and other things. Naturally I’d wonder who thought up the idea for the Appalachian Trail.  I found that the answer is pretty clear and well-established.

In October 1921 the Journal of the American Institute of Architects published an article written by forester and conversationalist (and sometimes philosopher), Benton MacKaye. [More about MacKaye in a future post.] That article, An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning, called for the construction of “a great trail” through the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to Maine. MacKaye’s vision was actually different and more ambitious than the footpath we have today. He envisioned not just a hiking trail but a series or system of recreational and farming camps that would create “an utopian refuge” from urban life.



Benton MacKaye


Inevitable, MacKaye was inspired in part by the Green Mountain Club and its 273-mile lone “Long Trail,” in Vermont, which existed at the time, having been conceived by James P. Taylor as early as 1910 as the country’s first hiking trail of any significant (multi-day) length. History now records that Benton MacKaye had his “epiphany” about the AT on the same mountaintop – Stratton Mountain in Vermont – where Taylor first conceived of the idea for the Long Trail.



Stratton Mountain, Vermont


In may respects, the creation of these long distance hiking trails in the first part of the 20th century was a response to the urbanization and industrialization of the United States in the last quarter of the prior century. Intellectually or philosophically, MacKaye’s “utopian dream” is a direct outgrowth of the romantic (and its related “transcendental”) movement, which arose during the second half of the 19th century.




Please follow this planned adventure as I use the year prior to starting the trip to discuss planning for my thru-hike as well as the history, personalities, and events about the Trail. (If you have not already, you can sign up at the right to receive an email whenever a new post is made).

Please feel free to pose whatever questions you may have about this planned journey in the “Comments” section below any post.

Finally, please share this site with others who might be interested in the Appalachian Trail or with my plan to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.


** Rating System.  Due to the difference experience level people have with the AT, I will “warn” people at the beginning of a post as to whether I consider the information “Basic” or “Beginner” level – for those essentially new to all things Appalachian Trail.  I like to think of Beginners as “Day Hikers.”  (Follow along and by the end of my hike you will be completely literate about the AT and thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.)  The other “ratings” will be “I” for “Intermediate.” and “E” for “Expert.”  I like to think of those with Intermediate knowledge as “Section Hikers” and those with Expert knowledge as “Thru-Hikers.”  [For instance, a Beginner will not yet know to what Section Hiker or Thru-Hiker refers.  More about Section Hikers and Thru-Hikers in a future post.]


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Last modified: December 27, 2017