The Appalachian Trail -A Book Review

The Appalachian Trail: Celebrating America’s Hiking Trail


When I first sat down with The Appalachian Trail: Celebrating America’s Hiking Trail, it was to look at the beautiful photographs and to reminisce about our section hiking as we completed the A.T. Instead I kept being drawn to the words, to the story of the trail.

The history of the A.T. starts before the famous paper by Benton MacKaye which proposed a wilderness path along the Appalachian mountains. Though MacKaye’s proposal was in part an attack against the automobile, it was only with a car that people could contemplate using long footpaths. Before that, people went to resorts and walked circular loops.

While MacKaye thought, wrote, and proselytized with a pipe in his mouth, Myron Avery was the doer and is my A.T. hero. He was a maritime lawyer by day and an Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) volunteer and advocate 24/7, it seems.

He organized the Potomac ATC (site of the 2015 Biennial), and was the longest serving ATC chair. By walking and blazing every bit of the A.T. of its day, he became the first 2000-milers in 1936. The general public might talk of “thru-hiking” but for ATC, those of us who’ve completed the whole trail are called 2000-milers. The trail was declared finished a year later – hence the 75th anniversary – but a lot of the trail was still on private land and on roads.

This quote made me laugh aloud. Avery wrote to MacKaye.
“Had you ever worked on the Trail… you might well appreciate the reaction to such armchair suggestions…I do wish those who talk so much about the “footless’ Trail and the “wilderness’ Trail would really go out on the Trail.” So right.

MacKaye broke with Avery and went on to the Wilderness Society. Two other big dates in the history of the trail – 1968 when the A.T. became the first National Scenic Trail and 1984 when the National Park Service turned over the management of the A.T. to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Throughout all that history, the pages are sprinkled with wonderful photographs.

Lenny Bernstein–yes, he’s my husband–contributed two pages on the impact of climate change on the trail. The more extreme scenarios paint a scary picture of drought, more insects, and more hurricane force winds. After a fascinating history of the A.T. and its present challenges, the photo gallery starts.

Carolina Mountain Club members might go directly to the North Carolina/Tennessee photographs. We all know that those two states have the most beautiful sections of the trail.

If there is one negative, it’s that the book cover advertises a foreword by Bill Bryson without stating who wrote the text. Bryson made the A.T. world famous but he didn’t finish the trail and annoyed all of us who did.

Brian King is the author of this book and his name should have been on the cover in big print. King has been the mainstay of publications for ATC since 1987. He wrote the text, is the keeper of the A.T. history, and is ultimately responsible for all news that comes out of ATC. When you come to the ATC Biennial next year in Cullowhee, NC, you can meet Brian. He’ll be the one managing the ATC store selling books and mementoes in the exhibit area.

Even if you’ve been reading on an iPads, iPhones, and other devices, you need to touch, handle, and turn the pages of this book.

For all those with holiday lists, your problem is solved. Give this book to a hiker, trail maintainer, historian, environmentalist, or photographer. The best place to get the book is on the ATC website. As an ATC member, you’ll get a discount. But of course, there’s always Amazon.        

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