Earlier this month, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy announced that the official length of the AT for 2018 would be 2,190.9 miles. Last year the distance was 2,189.1 miles. I wonder if I knew the trail would be 1.8 miles longer this year that I would have hiked last year!? Seriously though, this reminds us of the critical role the ATC plays in preserving access to and enjoyment of the trail.
Not only does the new offcial length remind us that it is a very long way to walk from Georgia to Maine, but the Trail is an ever changing thing – almost organic in nature. It is said that there may not be any portion of the original Trail when it opened in 1937 still in existence. The southern terminus was originally at Mt. Oglethorpe. The Trail is over 100 miles longer than when Earl Shaffer completed the first thru-hike in 1948. Many, many changes have been made and they continue, although not as dramatic. Typically the ATC is looking to relocate the AT on federal lands and/or to a broader corridor. It is also often building switch back or re-routing the trail to make the hiking experience less severe and more enjoyable.
Being reminded of the 2,190.9 miles reminds one of the monumental task in keeping the AT open and maintained. Last year over 3 million people walked at least some portion of the Trail. This challenge is so significant that the ATC utilizes one of the largest volunteer corps in the country. The ATC coordinates trail maintenance clubs, which provided over 250,000 volunteer hours in 2017. (My local club is the Old Dominion Appalachain Trail Club, which is responsible for 19.1 miles of the AT south of Rockfish Gap.) In May 2015, Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine reminded us about the magnitude of ATC’s responsibilities:
The longstanding success of the A.T. didn’t come without a lot of blood, sweat, and chainsaws. Over 6,000 volunteers and 30 trail clubs help to maintain the A.T., and ATC-backed initiatives like Trail To Every Classroom and the Appalachian Trail Community program help foster a passion to preserve and promote the trail.
The threats to the Trail are regular with disputes concerning road construction, mining, pipeline development and other commercial pressures – some of which impact the view shred even if the commercial activities are not immediately near the footpath. The needs are clear and present. Donating to the ATC will help the ATC and its maintaining clubs (and 6,000 volunteers) assure that the longest hiking-only footpath in the world will be available for generations to come.
Last modified: January 26, 2018