After 75 years, Appalachian Trail still delivers adventure

Blazing a trail

Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 10:52 PM
Last updated Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 12:27 PM
  • Follow Rob Pavey

NEEL GAP, Ga. — It is midmorning on a drizzly, foggy Saturday and David Flynt is several miles into his 24th hike along the Appalachian Trail.

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Blood Mountain is the highest peak along the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail, offering hikers views of the Great Smoky Mountains. The final segments of the 2,180-mile footpath were completed 75 years ago.  ROB PAVEY/STAFF
Blood Mountain is the highest peak along the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail, offering hikers views of the Great Smoky Mountains. The final segments of the 2,180-mile footpath were completed 75 years ago.

“Each time we go, there might be a year or two in between,” the Woodstock, Ga., man said. “But you always want to come back.”

Known commonly as “the A.T.,” the famous trail celebrated its 75th anniversary this year – a milestone marked by the day in 1937 when the final segments of the 2,180-mile footpath were

Today, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that 2 million to 3 million people a year visit some portion of the A.T., which – for northbound hikers – begins at Georgia’s Springer Mountain and winds through 14 states to end at Maine’s Mount Katahdin.

“A lot of the thru-hikers wanting to make the entire trip show up in Georgia in the spring,” said Shelley Rose, the president of the 700-member Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, whose volunteers help maintain the A.T.’s 75 miles in Georgia.

The club is among more than two dozen groups that work with the Conservancy, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and state agencies to keep the trails clean, safe, well-maintained and properly marked with the A.T.’s iconic 2-by-6-inch white blaze.

“It’s a very unique management system that maintains and protects the trail,” Rose said. “In this case the federal government has effectively delegated maintenance to these local clubs.”

In addition to providing sweat equity, club volunteers also raise money to undertake larger projects, such as this year’s restoration of a historic Civilian Conservation Corps shelter at Blood Mountain – the highest point on the trail in Georgia.

Throughout its history, the trail has intermittently challenged, educated, delighted – and frequently confounded – generations of adventurers who attempt to hike its entire length.

Gene Espy, a retired aerospace engineer living in Macon, Ga., first visited the trail in 1945, during a camping trip between semesters at Georgia Tech.

“I was awed,” he said. “I decided right then, if I got a chance, I wanted to hike it.”

Espy, an Eagle Scout, fulfilled his dream in 1951, earning a place in history as the second person to hike the entire trail.

“Back then, the trail was a lot harder to find and you had to climb over fallen logs and blowdowns,” he said. “There weren’t many people, either. Sometimes you’d go a whole week without seeing anyone.”

Today’s A.T. thrives in a world made smaller by GPS and iPhones, offering new generations of hikers the opportunity to experience as much – or as little – wilderness as they desire.

“I was always afraid of heights, and this was a great way to overcome it,” said Pandora Hodge, of Atlanta, who made an inaugural trail hike last weekend with a group called “Run Girl, RUN,” which empowers women to pursue healthier lifestyles.

Jeff and Micah Lanning, of Tampa, Fla., chose the A.T. for a family vacation, bringing along – in addition to their four children – the family dog, Cooper, who carried his own backpack.

“We started at Springer Mountain five days ago,” Jeff Lanning said. “It was quite an adventure.”

The entire trip – 76.4 miles – took the family 10 days.

Hiking clubs such as the University of South Carolina’s Mountaineering and Whitewater Club also travel to Georgia to experience the A.T. firsthand.

“There are 15 of us,” freshman Brooke Turner said as the group took a break during a 12-mile trek to Woody Gap. “This is one of the places they go every year.”

For those who want some company or supervision on their trips, Georgia’s club sponsors hikes and outings almost every weekend, Rose said.

“We even do a series of shorter hikes, which, once combined, can allow someone to hike the entire 75 miles of the A.T. in Georgia within a one-year period,” she said.


• The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles.

• The trail goes through 14 states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Katahdin, Maine.

• Virginia is home to the most miles of the Trail (about 550), while West

Virginia is home to the least (about 4).

• “Thru-hikers” walk the entire trail in one journey. “Section-hikers” piece the entire Trail together over years. “Flip-floppers” thru-hike the Trail in discontinuous sections to avoid crowds, extremes in weather or start on easier terrain.

• 1 in 4 who attempt a thru-hike finish; most walk north, starting in Georgia in spring and taking an average of 6 months.

Source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy:

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soapy_725 10/08/12 - 06:23 am
Do we hear banjos playing.....

in the woods?

seenitB4 10/08/12 - 06:31 am
Beautiful mountains

I still love the views....especially during the fall season......sometimes we need to be still & soak up the scene around us......

seenitB4 10/08/12 - 06:38 am
Some history...


At the time they formed, the Appalachians were much higher than they are today -- more like the present-day Rocky Mountains. While the Atlantic Ocean was still in its infancy, the Appalachians were already being attacked by erosion. For the last 100 million years, erosion has carved away the mountains, leaving only their cores standing. Erosion continues today and is constantly altering the landscape of the Southern Appalachians.

seenitB4 10/08/12 - 08:05 am
How old.....

The Georgia Mountains Region or North Georgia mountains or Northeast Georgia is an area that starts in the northeast corner of Georgia, United States, and spreads in a westerly direction. The mountains in this region are in the Blue Ridge mountain chain that ends in Georgia. At over 1 billion years of age, the Blue Ridge mountains are among the oldest mountains in the United States and sometimes mistaken to be the oldest mountains in the world (in fact they are only about one third of the age of South Africa's 3.6 billion year old Barberton greenstone belt.). The mountains in this region are also a part of the vast system of North American mountains known as the Appalachian Mountains that spans most of the United States longitudally along the eastern areas of the nation and terminates in Alabama.

Dan White 10/08/12 - 08:54 am

Thanks Rob for a great article. Can't believe the Trail is 75 years old!

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