Friday, October 29, 2010

Appalachian Trail and Then Some

If these people were on the skyline, and kept their eyes open, they would see the things that the giant could see.
–BENTON MACKAYE, founder of the Appalachian Trail, 1921

Benton MacKaye, 1879—1975

If you thought the 2175-mile path linking Springer Mountain, Georgia and Mount Katahdin, Maine was the full extent of the Appalachian Trail, then guess again.

If you count the International Appalachian Trail it goes much farther.

From 1995 to 2002, the IAT was extended north into Canada, running the 1900 miles from Katahdin to Belle Isle in northern Newfoundland.

And, the international version of the AT won’t stop in Canada, but will go trans-Atlantic. In the past month, trail clubs in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, England, Ireland and Wales formally joined the International Appalachian Trail conference, along with Greenland and Scotland, which joined last year. By next year, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria could be added to the IAT.

An article from the IATC, written by Cameron Burns, explains the European connection to the American mountain range:

That the Appalachians exist in Europe and Africa is no surprise to geologists. Ever since the Earth was formed, rocks and continents have been pushing each other around like kids in a schoolyard. When continents collide, they squash mountains up; when they draw apart, they crack the surface and form oceans.

Albert Mountain Tower, on the AT, Nantahala National Forest

As Maine-based geologist Walt Anderson noted, the Appalachian/Caledonide Mountains were formed about 369-380 million years ago, when the then-existing continents on the Earth's surface all collided to form the super-continent of Pangea. "This collision and uplift formed the Appalachians/Caledonides," Anderson told me. "There were no Appalachians before this time, although there might have been other and older mountains at other locations on Pangea (as some have speculated). About 275 million years ago, Pangea rifted apart, opening the proto-Atlantic ocean, and forming the continents as we know them today."

However, it's only in North America that the range is really regarded as a singular entity -- in Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, Norway, and the few parts of Africa where it can be found, it's just an occasional outcrop left over from a great period of earth-building that happens to share sediments and a history with the famed range along this country's eastern seaboard….

In countries like Morocco and Algiers, there are a few Appalachian-related rocks…. In northern mainland Europe (the Iberian Peninsula and across parts of France, for example) there are some Appalachian-related outcrops and hills….

In Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia, however, you have some major chunks of the Appalachians….

Hence, the famed “long walk” is becoming much longer, although through-hikers will be have to contend with hopping the ocean.

I’d like to know what Benton MacKaye would think of this plan. What he envisioned as the Appalachian Trail in the early 1920s was as much a social experiment as a foot-path. MacKaye himself called it a “project in regional planning,” and it included elements that aren’t the vogue in today’s America. Here’s something I posted a couple of years ago:

During its formative stages, MacKaye called the AT a “Barbarian Utopia.” He described a struggle between the “Civilizee” and the “Barbarian” and prescribed “outdoor culture” as a means of restoring a healthy balance between the natural and the artificial.

[The Civilizee] sees in the mountain summit a pretty place at which to play at tin-can pirate and to strew the Sunday supplement; our Barbarian sees in the mountain summit the strategic point from which to resoundingly kick said Civilizee and to open war on the further encroachment of his mechanized Utopia.

MacKaye envisioned much more than a hiking trail. He proposed that shelter camps along the trail would evolve into cooperative farming camps or, essentially, productive “communes.”

The community camp should become something more than a mere “playground”: it should stimulate every line of outdoor non-industrial endeavor….

The camp community is a sanctuary and a refuge from the scramble of every-day worldly commercial life. It is in essence a retreat from profit. Cooperation replaces antagonism, trust replaces suspicion, emulation replaces competition. An Appalachian trail, with its camps, communities, and spheres of influence along the skyline, should, with reasonably good management, accomplish these achievements. And they possess within them the elements of a deep dramatic appeal….

The building and protection of an Appalachian trail, with its various communities, interests, and possibilities, would form at least one outlet. Here is a job for 40,000 souls. This trail could be made to be, in a very literal sense, a battle line against fire and flood -- and even against disease. Such battles -- against the common enemies of man -- still lack, it is true, "the punch" of man vs. man. There is but one reason -- publicity. Militarism has been made colorful in a world of drab. But the care of the country side, which the scouting life instills, is vital in any real protection of "home and country." Already basic it can be made spectacular. Here is something to be dramatized.

Coweeta, viewed from the AT

MacKaye’s 1921 article is available online:
It has turned out to be a grand social experiment in ways MacKaye might not have imagined. Even so, many of MacKaye’s ideas for the AT are yet to fully materialize.

Our ultimate aim is more than just a trail–it is a whole system of them, a cobweb planned to cover the mountains of the eastern country. It is not ‘to turn the people loose in there’ and give vent to the vandal, but just the other way–to turn them loose to kill the vandal. Here is where the planning comes, for a playground and a living ground–well equipped, well cared for, and well used. –BENTON MACKAYE


Jim Parker said...

So pleased to learn of the extension of the AT into Canada. I don't know why this excites me since I doubt I will ever make the whole hike.

I do think this is just very cool.

GULAHIYI said...

I really appreciate your feedback. That's pretty much my situation - I really like the idea of the IAT even if I never thru-hike it myself. Unless I change my mind, I might be ending this blog soon, so it is unlikely I'll get around to writing their story - but the saga of Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery is a good one. While MacKaye had the vision and Avery really implemented the AT, their relationship was strained, to say the least. The "idealist" and the "pragmatist" couldn't stand each other, but without the both of them it might never have come into being.