The Appalachian Trail: Through the Mountains of 14 States

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I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today, we tell about one of the most popular walking paths in the United States, the Appalachian Trail.One of the most popular activities enjoyed by Americans is spending time in forests and walking along paths through the country. This activity, called hiking, has led to the creation of paths throughout the United States. Some of these paths, or trails, are short. Some are only a few kilometers. Others are many hundreds of kilometers.

One of the longest is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The trail is the first completed part of the National Trails System.  The trails system was established by Congress and the President in 1968

The Appalachian Trail is more than 3,400 kilometers long.  It starts in the northeastern state of Maine and ends in the southeastern state of Georgia. The trail goes through 14 states.

They are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.

The path takes walkers through the Appalachian Mountains. They extend from the Canadian Province of Quebec to the southern American state of Alabama.

The Appalachian Mountains are among the oldest on Earth. They first began forming about 1,000 million years ago. During the millions of years since then, the mountains were changed and reformed by the forces of water and wind. Ice also changed the mountains, making many of them smaller and digging valleys and lakes among them. Many different kinds of trees grow along the trail. And many different kinds of animals live in the forests along the trail.

Land along the trail is protected by the federal government and by state governments.  Some parts are not protected by the government directly.  Instead, they are protected by legal agreements with private owners willing to permit people to walk across their property.

Walkers on the Appalachian Trail pass through some of the great valley systems of the mountains. They can look down into these beautiful valleys and see farms and forests stretching across the land for many kilometers. Farmland in the valleys is rich and productive. And some of the great events in American history took place in the valleys. For example, one of the great battles of the American Civil War was fought in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.The Appalachian Trail was the idea of Benton MacKaye. Mr. MacKaye first proposed creating the trail in 1921. Although there were many separate trails in different parts of the eastern United States, most of them were not connected. In 1925, representatives of several private organizations met in Washington, D.C. and formed the Appalachian Trail Conference.

Their idea was to create a trail connecting the two highest mountains in the eastern United States -- Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and Mount Mitchell in Georgia. It was another five years before development of the trail began, under the direction of Myron Avery. Seven years after Mr. Avery took control of the project, the Appalachian Trail was completed.  This happened on August fourteenth, 1937.

Creating the trail was a difficult job that involved the work of many thousands of people.  But there were no public celebrations or events to observe its opening.  Public knowledge of the trail grew slowly. Today, it is one of the most famous trails in the world. However, it is not the longest hiking trail. Two others in the western United States are longer. They are the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Still, the Appalachian Trail is the most famous.

People from around the world come to see the natural beauty of the mountains, lakes, rivers, and valleys near the Appalachian Trail.  The trail makes it possible to see much of this beauty without having to see cities, towns, and other parts of the modern world. Instead, people can see many places along the trail that look very much the way they did before humans arrived many thousands of years ago.

This is one of the main reasons why the Appalachian Trail is so popular among Americans, especially those living in the eastern United States. The trail is not far from most of the major cities along the eastern coast, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.  It provides a place where people from these cities can leave behind the worries of modern life to enjoy the peace and beauty of nature.Most people who use the Appalachian Trail go mainly for short walks that last for less than a day. Many of them want to look at the different kinds of plants and animals that live along the trail

For many other people, the Appalachian Trail provides a chance to spend several days camping and hiking. They walk along the trail carrying all the things they will need to survive for several days. These hikers carry food, cooking equipment, water, sleeping bags and temporary shelters called tents.

In New Hampshire's White Mountains, there are special camps along the Appalachian Trail where people can stay.  The Appalachian Mountain Club operates these camps. The club is one of the 32 groups that belong to the Appalachian Trail Conference. Volunteers in these groups supervise and operate the Appalachian Trail through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service.

The Appalachian Mountain Club has about 90,000 members. It is the oldest conservation organization in the United States.

The Appalachian Mountain Club operates several camps along 90 kilometers of the trail.  Each camp provides hikers with shelter, beds and food.  Each camp is located about a day's walk from the next one.

These camps are so popular that it is necessary to request to stay at one a year ahead. It is especially difficult to find a place in such camps during summer weekends.

Many people hike along the trail to such camps with their families. Writer Eileen Ogintz is one of those people who stayed at an Appalachian Mountain Club camp with her family.  She found it very different from what her family does every day at home. She and her family had to hike up a mountain path in the rain to get to their camp.  There are no radios or televisions.  So families spend time talking with each other.  After two days in the wilderness, her family enjoyed the experience.

The Ogintz family's two days on the Appalachian Trail is similar to the experience of many people.  The first part is difficult.  But the rewards of experiencing nature are very satisfying. This may be enough for most people. But there are some people who want more than just a day or weekend on the trail. These people try to walk from the beginning of the trail to the end.

They usually start at Springer Mountain in Georgia in the early spring. Generally, they hike the more than 3,400 kilometers to Mount Katahdin in Maine in five to six months.

One person who tried to walk the Appalachian Trail is writer Bill Bryson. Mr. Bryson tells the story of his long walking trip in his humorous book "A Walk in the Woods."  However, he and his friend did not complete the trip as planned.

At the end of their long trip, Mr. Bryson and his friend asked each other how they felt about the experience and if they were sad to leave the trail. After thinking about it for a while, the two agreed that they were both happy and sad about ending their trip.

Mr. Bryson said he was tired of the trail, but still very interested in it. He became tired of the endless forests, but felt great wonder at their endlessness. He enjoyed the escape from civilization, but wanted its comforts.

At the end of "A Walk in the Woods," Bill Bryson suggests that his experiences on the Appalachian Trail changed the way he looks at life and the world.This Special English program was written by Oliver Chanler.  It was produced by Mario Ritter.  I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


Correction: This report said Mount Mitchell is in Georgia; it is in North Carolina. Hiker Raymond Myers wrote: "Also you say that the Appalachian Trail starts in Maine. That certainly slights Georgia, where over 90 per cent of through hikers start each year!  The trail has a terminus in Maine. It does not 'start' there. Same for Georgia."