The Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Background and Location
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a continuous, marked footpath that traverses the Appalachian Mountain chain from central Maine to northern Georgia, in the Eastern United States for a distance of approximately 2,180 miles. The Appalachian Trail (or “A.T.” as it is often called) was originally designed, constructed, and marked in the 1920s and 1930s by volunteer hiking clubs joined together under the umbrella of the Appalachian Trail Conference, which is now called the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), an NGO formed in 1925 and now based in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail was designated a unit of the US National Park Service in 1968.
Since its inception, ATC has worked with the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, other federal and state agencies, local communities, and its affiliated Trail-maintaining clubs to develop, maintain, and promote use and protection of the Appalachian Trail. Today, the Appalachian Trail is considered a premiere example of a public-private partnership engaged in the conservation and management of a nationally significant resource.
Approximately 260,000 acres have been acquired or designated through management agreements for protection of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. This protected corridor now forms a slender greenway from Georgia to Maine, connecting more than 75 public land areas in 14 states. The responsibility for managing these lands, the Trail footpath, Trail facilities, and the vast array of natural and cultural resources that exist on these lands is a collaborative effort between ATC, its 31 Trail clubs, the US NPS, USFS, and other partners in a complex cooperative relationship referred to as the “Appalachian Trail Cooperative Management System.”
Images of the site
Size and Location
The trail is a continuous pathway starting in Central Maine in the northeastern United States, and finishing in Central Georgia, in the southeastern part of the country. Its total distance is 2,180 miles, or approximately 3,508 kilometres. The highest point on the trail is Clingmans Dome, in the state of Tennessee at 6,643 feet (2,026 metres), while the lowest point is at Bear Mountain State Park, in New York, at 124 feet (38 metres). The trail passes through 14 states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
Flora and Fauna
The 260,000-acre land base of the Appalachian Trail contains a vast array of scenic and natural wonders: magnificent alpine and mountain habitats, spectacular lakes, rivers and streams, stately hardwood and coniferous forests, and pastoral fields, farmlands, and meadows.
The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Alabama in the United States to Newfoundland in Canada, in a north-south alignment, which is thought to have enabled species migration throughout history. This ancient chain of mountains has helped shape the natural history of North America by providing gradients in elevation, latitude and moisture that have helped species persist through historic periods of climate change. The Appalachian Mountains’ peaks, coves, and valleys provide isolated climatic refuges for boreal and subtropical species found nowhere else in the world.
Today, the Appalachian Mountains hold one of the richest assemblages of temperate zone species in the world. The Appalachian Trail’s protected corridor anchors the nation’s Eastern forests, which are ecologically vital components of the nation’s natural resources, protecting watersheds that serve more than 10% of the nation’s population. The Southern Appalachians, never impacted by glaciers, are a center of endemism for terminally slow organisms, including snails, vernal herbaceous plants and salamanders. Rivers also drain to the south in the Southern Appalachians, which allowed many species to escape ice-age extermination. As a result, the Southern Appalachians have an exceptionally rich diversity of fish, mussel and crayfish species. In addition, other common species found on the trail include the American black bear, snakes such as the Eastern timber rattlesnake and copperhead, deer, elk and moose, which are most commonly found in northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont).
Through a series of natural heritage inventories carried out between 1989 and 2001, researchers identified more than 2,100 occurrences of rare plants and exemplary natural communities. Populations of seven threatened or endangered and 360 individual state-listed rare species of plants were among those documented. More than 80 globally rare plant community types have been identified to date on the Trail, including red spruce/Frasier fir forest and Southern Appalachian mountain bogs – two of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States. Also present along the trail are other rare habitats and unique plant communities, such as alpine tundra, subalpine krummholz (stunted trees that occur near the tree line on a mountain), grassy balds (open summits densely covered with native grasses), and heath balds (habitats found along narrow ridges and mountain crests that consist of dense evergreen shrubs, especially rhododendron), among others
The beauty, splendor and solitude the Appalachian Trail offers is not immune, however, to external threats, such as power lines, pipelines, mobile telephone towers, residential and commercial development and an array of other pressures that threaten ecological integrity as well as visitor experience. These external threats, coupled with the force of global climate change, present an extraordinary challenge to managers of the Trail.
The responsibility to manage so many natural, cultural and scenic features along the Appalachian Trail does not fall to any one agency or organization. The A.T. Cooperative Management System includes more than 100 public and private partners. These agencies and organizations carry out many of the tasks that are needed to preserve the Appalachian Trail’s remarkable array of natural and cultural resources. One important task at hand is to educate and engage youth to usher-in the next generation of future stewards and effect positive change.