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Definition: Appalachian National Scenic Trail from Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary

Footpath extending from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mt. in N Georgia; over 2000 mi. (3218 km.) long; traverses mountains of the Appalachian Range; highest point on the trail Clingmans Dome (6643 ft. or 2025 m.) in Great Smoky Mts.; completed 1937.

Summary Article: Appalachian National Scenic Trail
from America's Natural Places: South and Southeast

Known as the People's Path, the nation's first national scenic trail spans a multistate area beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine. The 2,175-mile trail was first envisioned in 1921 but not completed until 1937. The Trail Management Principles suggest that “the body of the Trail is provided by the lands it traverses, and its soul is in the living stewardship of the volunteers and workers of the Appalachian Trail community.” This extremely long footpath is enjoyed by more than four million visitors every year, who engage in short jaunts, day trips, and long-distance backpacking excursions depending on their adventuring interests. Two-thirds of the population of the United States lives within a day's drive of the trail, making it one of the most accessible outdoor resources in the eastern United States. The original plan focused on preserving the Appalachians as a wilderness belt that could function as an easily accessible retreat from urban life. Today, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is a volunteer organization that manages the entirety of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The natural and cultural resources associated with the trail and the educational opportunities all fall under the privy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as the preservation authority in charge. The result is a coordinated effort of nearly 40,000 members dedicated to preserving the trail for public use, enjoyment, and education.

The Georgia portion of the trail offers rugged hiking opportunities intersected by highway access points that sit roughly a day's walk apart. Although there are many steep areas along the trail, the average altitude is lower in Georgia than in the other southern states through which it crosses. The southern Appalachian Mountains remain today much as they were long before glacial movement transformed the lands to the north. Many rivers drain to the south, which provided a safe haven for many species during ice ages, and, as a result, the southern Appalachians contain a wide variety of freshwater animals. In an interconnected network of natural areas, the trail's protected corridor functions as an anchor for the nation's eastern forest lands, ultimately playing an important ecological and socioeconomic role.

Along the trail, no matter which part is hiked, there are many unique species of plant and animals to see. Between April and June, many species of trillium can be found along the way. It is one of the easiest spring wildflowers to spot, each species sporting three petals, three sepals, and three leaves. Also along the way is the Dutchman's britches flower blooming upside down with yellow-tipped white blossoms for which the plant is named. Late spring is the best time to see azalea in bloom as many species of this flowering shrub can be found throughout the southern Appalachian portion of the trail. Lucky hikers will spot the bald eagle, which now lives all along the trail. Successful reintroduction and preservation efforts have helped restore resident populations. With more than 2,000 threatened, endangered, or rare plant and animal species along its length, the Appalachian Trail offers unparalleled opportunities for experiencing nature up close and personal.

Further Reading

Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

  • Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.
  • Copyright 2010 by Stacy Kowtko

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